It seems like every day there's a new nutrition headline in the press: "Ditch Carbs!" "Eat the Right Fats." "Don't Eat After 7 p.m." "Fast Two Days a Week." It's difficult for consumers to sift through the myths and facts and know whom to rely on for information they can believe and apply. Between what you read in magazines, hear on the news or follow on social media, it's even possible to hear conflicting information on the same day. I recently came across two stories exemplifying this point; the first encouraged eating breakfast, while the other suggested it was beneficial to skip your morning meal several times a week.
Diet and nutrition stories can sometimes be compared to tabloid magazines; they get people talking by making an outrageous claim. So when it comes to getting the latest dish, what's a confused consumer to do?
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First, look at the author's credentials. Although stories about diet and nutrition are hot, not all reporters are nutrition professionals, and they're often not registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs). Many journalists, however, are trustworthy correspondents who rely on quotes from dependable resources. Second, make sure to read beyond the headline. An attractive title doesn't necessarily tell the complete picture or explain the details of the research. Third, the fact that a study is reported doesn't mean it's credible. Do some reading to determine how many subjects participated in the study and where it was originally published – a peer-reviewed scientific journal or the National Enquirer? Also, check to see who funded the study. If a beverage brand that uses artificial sweeteners in their products financially sponsors a study concluding that artificial sweeteners are good for you, you should be suspicious of the results. Studies funded by non-related third parties generally provide non-biased conclusions.
Here's how to sift through nutrition advice to help clear the confusion:
Keep in mind that diet books are meant for masses. Maybe a book is a best seller, but that doesn't mean it's providing the best advice.
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Be cautious of diets that eliminate an entire food group. Consistently and carefully consuming a variety of complex carbs, lean protein and healthy fats promotes weight loss that lasts. If you're counting the days (or pounds) until you can finally ditch your diet, that's a sure sign that the pounds you lost will end up being found.
Don't automatically believe magazine articles. It's hard to find a magazine that doesn't wear a diet-related headline. Last week I spotted one that I was quoted in during the 1980s – the same cover could have been printed again today. Sensational stories sell, so be sure to read between the lines and pay attention to the author's credentials.
Beware of quick fixes. Avoid vitamins, herbal preps, tonics and juices that promise overnight weight loss. There is no single miracle food or food substance, so it's best to look in your fridge for the answers, instead of looking at misleading advertisements.
Be wary of "always" or "never" lists. Unless you have a food allergy, in most cases, no food should be 100 percent off limits. Eating a well-balanced diet of foods that love your body leaves plenty of room for foods you love, too.
Find an expert who provides personalized guidance with a plan tailored to you and your lifestyle. A "one plan fits all" approach rarely provides long-term success. Be sure to choose an RDN who has experience with your specific needs. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness can be frightening, so find someone who has successfully worked with similar patients in the past. RDNs can also help you make sense of science and guide you through confusing supermarket aisles. You can read more about RDNs by visiting the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics's website.
Keep these tips in mind the next time you see a popular claim in the press. Get the facts, consult with several professionals and do what feels right for you. The more educated you become by relying on credible, scientific sources, the healthier you'll be.
With the popularity of social media, anyone can be deemed an expert in health and wellness. Where do you get your nutrition news?
[Read: Debunking Common Nutrition Myths.]
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Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.