September 18, 2019
As a Registered Dietitian (RD) and nutrition expert at Frito-Lay, I’m often asked where to find accurate and reliable nutrition information. There is no shortage of nutrition information available to consumers, but the reality is that it takes a lot of time to sift through, and can be very confusing to find credible information.
As an RD, it is my job to make decisions and provide nutrition recommendations based on scientific evidence. To stay up-to-date on all the latest nutrition knowledge, here are some of my favorite science-based nutrition sites:
- MyPlate, the USDA Food Guide which provides recommendations for healthy eating styles as well as handy on-line tools, including the “Supertracker” for the tracking of food, physical activity and weight
EatRight, the website for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest professional organization for nutrition professionals
International Food Information Council (IFIC), a science-based nutrition and food safety website with great resources for both professionals and consumers
Of course, the number of websites with nutrition information grows every day, so it’s important to have some easy ways to evaluate new sources for credibility. When I come across a new source, I ask myself these four questions to help determine if the information is trustworthy:
- What are their credentials? Check to see if the author or someone quoted in the content is a nutrition expert. The title ‘nutritionist’ does not necessarily indicate education in nutrition. Instead, look for a degree in nutrition (bachelors, masters or PhD) and/or credentials as a Registered Dietitian (listed as RD or RDN).
Does it sound too good to be true? For example, a 2016 study created a lot of buzz after the media reported a glass of red wine offers the same health benefits as an hour at the gym. Digging deeper, it turns out this study only looked at one specific compound in red wine (not the wine itself), and the researchers used over 100 times the amount that would be found in an average 5-ounce serving of red wine. If possible, try to read the original research. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Is the source appealing to my emotions or is it reflecting science? Too often, I see outlets using the power of persuasion to sell an idea and perpetuate a claim that appeals to your emotional side. Nutrition advice that promises quick fixes or “miracle cures” are sensationalized and often present testimonials of those who have experienced exceptional results. But these experiences usually can’t be reliably repeated and involve far too few subjects to be statistically significant. Under these circumstances, results are simply anecdotal and can’t be applied to the general public.
Am I confusing association with causation? A common mistake I see is to assume a cause and effect relationship simply because there is an association. For instance, we know there is an association between ice cream sales and rates of sunburn (they increase at the same time or year), but this doesn’t mean that eating ice cream will cause a sunburn.
Nutrition is an ever-changing landscape, with new trends (or fads) popping up all the time. As an RD, my education and training provide tools and insight to help understand where quality science can be found. But my first line of defense – and the one that I recommend for consumers – is to ask these four questions to help sift through the misinformation and focus on what is credible. Then, you can infuse the trusted scientific nutrition with the best of the latest trends to keep it fresh and fun – after all, flavor and enjoyment shouldn’t be in opposition to good nutrition!