Sorting the wheat from the chaff – identifying valid, reliable nutrition research
Nutrition headlines are often sensationalized to say what we are hoping to hear and news stories often slant or misinterpret the data if there are any real data. How can you tell if what you are reading is factual and safe?
Nutrition makes the news almost daily because food is a common denominator; everyone has to eat. Many of us want to eat well, feel better and avoid chronic health conditions, so we are watchful; we are looking for the answer(s). Unfortunately the answers are not clear cut. Nutrition headlines are often sensationalized to say what we are hoping to hear and news stories often slant or misinterpret the data if there is any real data. How can you tell if what you are reading is factual and safe? These are some tips Michigan State University Extension recommends.
1. Look at who wrote the story. What are their credentials? What are they promoting? Whose payroll are they on? The best case scenario is to get information from an individual who has the education and expertise to speak on the topic and who is a neutral party. A Registered dietitian writing on the benefits of soy sounds like a good source, but if he or she is employed by an entity that sells or promotes soy, he or she may be presenting a biased view of the research.
2. Consider the source of the information. Recent studies cited that an article without links or references is meaningless. If there are links or references, examine them. Who did this study? Were the researchers objective and non-biased? For example, a research study on the benefits of breastfeeding that was paid for by a formula company may not be non-biased.
3. How many individuals were involved in the study and were they people like me? A single study involving 100 or less individuals is not likely to be completely valid. If that study was done using 100 healthy males between the ages of 18 and 24 the findings may not apply to middle aged women or senior males. Larger numbers and more varied populations or multiple small studies yielding like results tend to make research studies more reliable.
4. Where are you reading the information? Some web sites and popular magazines are more concerned about accuracy in reporting than others. Those that are concerned will list their sources and make them available for their readers to review.
Taking the time to evaluate an article before investing the energy and perhaps money into making nutrition related changes is usually a good investment. Using solid sources that have been reliable over the long run is a good way to stay on the right track and to avoid falling for sensationalized nutrition myths.