Getting Nutrition Advice From the Internet: 4 Warning Signs to Look For

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You can find just about any information online these days—including more health-minded advice than anyone could possibly make sense of. The internet is typically the first place we turn to when we want to improve our eating habits or look up what foods and supplements to add to our shopping carts. It’s also where we come across links and advertisements in our feeds that bombard us with information on the latest health trends, fad diets, and whatever else is buzzing in the wellness space. However, with so much unchecked nutrition advice existing online, a lot of what we come across is inaccurate or misleading. The Washington Post recently interviewed four “myth-busters”—skeptics collectively using science to combat the pseudoscience that has taken up residence on the world wide web.

“Where there’s a huge magnitude of bad info, there needs to be a huge magnitude of good info coming out to counter it,” asserts one such skeptic and pseudoscience-fighter Yvette d’Entremont, a writer, analytical chemist, and forensic scientist. She and the three other scientists highlighted in the article make clear it’s not just about debunking false claims and misinformation but about promoting science and reason. “The scientific community has a responsibility to make sure information is translated clearly, and there is more need for people who are science-based to answer the call,” expresses Timothy Caulfield, professor and research director at Health Law Institute of the University of Alberta. The biggest takeaway from the story is how to sift through the information and approach everything with a discerning eye. “We’re not saying not to read them, we’re saying to look at them with a bit of skepticism and see where their info comes from,” advises D’Entremont. Below are four of the top warning signs to look for that signal bad information.

They make their case on one study or personal anecdotes. While new studies and personal experiences certainly are valuable, if someone is attempting to make a strong case from that alone, it is wise to be skeptical of their claims. Especially if the subject includes serious medical concerns, the author should be providing multiple sources to support what they’re asserting.

They provide no references to reputable journal studies. If an article is making scientific claims yet provides no sources, that’s an automatic red flag. Still, if they are linking out to sources but they’re not from reputable academic journals, you may want to be wary. Bad information has a way of spreading unchecked, so when in doubt, track statements down to their original source.

One treatment protocol is said to heal a long list of conditions. It’s common to see certain supplements or diets touted as a cure-all. While there are certainly nutrients and herbs that boast a number of health benefits, it is worth taking a second look if anyone is claiming that any one thing corrects a laundry list of ailments.

The words “magic” or “miracle” are used. Just as you should be wary if a property listing uses empty words like “fantastic” or “spacious,” see words that overpromise as red flags. 

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