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Sorting Nutrition Facts From Fiction

sorting nutrition facts from fiction

While the words"fake news" are ones that until recently were unconnected terms, misinformation has always circulated. The difference is how it was passed along. You may remember the "telephone" game. A sentence is passed around a circle by whispering the sentence from one person to another. How much the end sentence differed from the starting one usually depended on how many people it was transmitted through from start to end.

We live in a world where we are blasted by information from all directions. Added to online information from social media, websites and apps, there are news outlets, printed materials, friends, family, neighbours, books and on and on! Can we trust that all that nutrition information that comes at us is accurate? The simple answer is no.

Nutrition misinformation can look like facts. It may have snazzy photos, have graphics that look like trusted sources or may be written by people with lots of letters and titles after their names. And in the online world, misinformation can move like wildfire.

Misinformation moves fast

The more times misinformation is shared, the more validity it may gain. Sharing misinformation adds to the confusion about nutrition and food. And I think we can all agree there is more than enough confusion about nutrition and food. Happily, accurate nutrition information can be found on the web. You just have to know where to look.

Look for nutrition information

One of the most rewarding things I do as a dietitian is to help people find accurate nutrition information. Accurate information is one of the tools that clients can use to make decisions about food and their health.

Since March is Nutrition Month, I decided to share some tips you can use when you are sorting nutrition facts from fiction. And provide some places where you can look for accurate general nutrition information. Please note that any information you find online (or from other sources) can not replace the personalized advice you will receive from a dietitian who will make recommendations based on your specific nutrition situation.

*** Disclaimer: I receive no compensation from any websites or associations that I include in this post. ***

Who should I talk to if I want nutrition information?

Find a nutrition professional in NS

In Nova Scotia, Registered Dietitians and Nutritionists are the only regulated nutrition professionals. That means only people who have completed a 4 year accredited university program AND the accredited internship AND passed the national dietetics exam AND complete continuing education every year AND who are registered with the Nova Scotia College of Dietitians and Nutritionists (NSCDN) can legally use these terms and practice in Nova Scotia. In simple terms, look for "RD", "PDt" or "RDN" following the person's name to know that the person is a regulated nutrition professional in Nova Scotia, Canada.

You can also check the Dietitian Directory to know that the nutrition professional you want to work with is an active member of the NSCDN. If you are reading this outside of Nova Scotia, check here to learn what titles indicate a regulated nutrition professional in the province where you live.

How can a Registered Dietitian (someone like me) help you?

How can an RD help me?

Dietitians are uniquely trained to translate scientific nutrition information into practical suggestions on how foods you eat can help you maintain your health. My job is to help clients find foods that fit their situation and will help them reach their food and health goals.

Dietitians can help people manage health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or food allergies, but we also help people deal with everyday food challenges. Things like making quick meals after work, stretching food budgets, enjoyable meals with cautious eaters, using labels in the grocery store, finding enjoyment in food and celebrating food experiences are only a few of the topics a dietitian can help you with.

Is there accurate nutrition information online?

Yes, there is.

Finding accurate nutrition information online is a website created and maintained by Dietitians of Canada to provide reliable and accurate nutrition information to Canadians. Dietitians of Canada is the national professional association for dietitians in Canada. On this website, you can find general information about many nutrition topics, written by dietitians. It doesn't replace individual advice from a dietitian but has useful information that can help you on your food journey.

Health Canada has food and nutrition resources on topics such as food, nutrition, food safety, labels, food research and allergies.

How do I decide if the nutrition (or other health) information I read is credible?

Deciding if information is fact or fiction

Start with the right source. You don't ask a gardener for help if you have a sore tooth. Look for websites that are created and maintained by experts in the field (i.e. Registered Dietitians), government departments (i.e. Health Canada), research organizations (i.e. Heart and Stroke Foundation) or medical institutions (i.e. Canadian Medical Association).

Ask yourself these questions when you are looking for nutrition information:

  • Who operates the website and what is the website's purpose? Check the "About" section for these details.

  • Is the site giving you information (i.e. a not for profit) or trying to sell you something (i.e. a business)? Reputable health sites want to give you information you can use, not sell you something. Business sites may provide accurate information, but their goal is a sale.

  • Is the author an expert in the field? If not, was the information reviewed by an expert in the field? Trustworthy sources provide references so you can verify the information.

  • Is it based on current science? Look for the date on the original article or post. A good guideline on science based information is within the last 3-5 years (or newer!). If information is older, it may be fine, but verify with additional sources.

  • Is it based on facts or testimonials? Facts can be verified by references. Testimonials are opinions and only reflect one person's experience. Their experience is not your experience.

FYI: Registered Dietitians in NS have a professional standards policy that prevents the use of testimonials in advertising or marketing.
  • Does a positive result depend on you eliminating entire categories of foods from your eating plan or only eating a prescribed list of foods? Healthy eating does not require the elimination of entire food categories, nor does it dictate only eating certain foods (unless there is a medical reason to do so, hence the need for personalized care).

And the last thing (and probably the most important thing) to ask yourself when you are reading (or hearing) nutrition content.

  • Does it sound too good to be true? If you answered yes, it likely is.

Too good to be true
Too good to be true

A note on health apps...Use the same questions to assess whether they are providing accurate guidance. And before you provide your personal health information, be sure that the app has appropriate privacy policies. There may be greater regulation coming in this area, but be a smart consumer in this area.

So what now?

Sort nutrition facts from fiction

Use your new found detective powers to pause for a minute when you are checking out the latest attention grabbing headline, the blog post or the reel that you scrolled past.

If a bit of information speaks to you and you can't answer the above questions in the information provided by the post or article, dig deeper, and check out the expert opinion to make sure you have accurate information (read on - I'm going to include links to some common expert groups). The info may be accurate and you can decide how to use that information. But if it is misinformation, you now know you need to be cautious and find out what the real deal is. Or chalk the info up as a "yeah, whatever" bit of info and file it in the recycle bin.

Before you make a change based on information you find online (or on an app, in a book, from a media article, your family, a friend or your neighbour), consult with your health care provider. Always better to be safe.
Slow down nutrition misinformation by fact checking.

Slow down the misinformation wildfire. Before you click, forward or share information, fact check it. Better yet, share accurate nutrition information from expert sources and be part of the information solution.

And if you need help finding an accurate source, ask. Your trusted health professional, whether that's your doctor, nurse practitioner, pharmacist or dietitian is your best bet to help you find the information you need.

A few places to find reliable nutrition information:

Of course, this is not a complete list, but a few places to give you a start on your nutrition journey. As always, let me know what you think in the comments. If you have a burning food or nutrition question, drop me a line. You may ask the question others want to know too!

Until next month!

Jenn the RD

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