diet misinformation
diet misinformation

Health And Nutrition Advice: How To Tell Fact From Fiction

Posted on December 30, 2022 by Bethany Thayer

Should I eat eggs or avoid them? Will following a ketogenic diet help me meet my goals? Is intermittent fasting good or bad?

With seemingly flip-flopping health headlines and limitless information available online, it’s no surprise that many of us are confused and overwhelmed by conflicting health and nutrition guidance. But if you take a step back to assess what you read and hear, you’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions.

How To Spot Misleading Health Claims

If you’re interested in a celebrity diet, or you want to adopt a trendy lifestyle change, it’s important to be aware of potential red flags. And there’s a slew of them lurking on the Internet.

To cut through the pseudoscience and help consumers stick to the facts, the Food and Science Alliance (FANSA) put together a position statement on the red flags of junk science. Among the highlights:

  • Promises of a quick fix. Losing weight, changing your body shape or even getting over a virus takes time. So be wary of diet plans, products or potions that promise rapid results. Such product claims may appear to be backed by solid science (and experts), but unless your own medical doctor verifies the information, be skeptical.
  • Dire warnings about a single substance. In health and nutrition circles, it’s not uncommon for people to vilify things like carbs, high fructose corn syrup and trans fats. True, substances such as sugar and trans fats are not good for you in large quantities, but a small amount of any food isn’t going to hurt you. Health and disease are complex processes; there’s never just one thing to blame.
  • Implausible claims. Whether a cream promises to erase crow’s feet or a spa claims a 30-minute drainage massage can melt away fat, simple solutions aren’t likely to produce lasting results. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Simplistic solutions based on a single study. News headline writers are notorious for sensationalizing research findings into statements like "Coffee helps you live longer" or "Drinking beer bolsters bones". Unfortunately, nutrition studies are complicated. It takes decades for scientists to understand the benefits — and drawbacks — of different foods and nutrients.
  • There are no “good” or “bad” foods. True, you should load up on some foods and enjoy others only occasionally, but no food is all good or all bad. Your best bet is to eat a wide variety of foods and consider following the 80/20 rule: Eat healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains 80% of the time and enjoy — without guilt — less healthy favorites like ice cream, red meat and processed snacks 20% of the time.
  • Recommendations made for product promotion. Be wary of books written by “experts” when the advice hinges on purchasing products or supplements that you can only get from them. If one person or one company is going to benefit from the sale, consider it suspect.
  • Advice based on studies that are not peer-reviewed. Scientific studies that explore nutrition are complicated. To assess whether a study is worth noting, check to make sure it’s peer-reviewed. With a peer-reviewed study, experts who are not part of the research team analyze the methodology and findings to ensure accuracy. If a study doesn’t hold up to that process, it’s not reliable.

How To Be A Savvy Health Consumer

It’s easy to fall prey to misleading claims, particularly when you’re desperate for a solution to a puzzling health problem.

So how do you distinguish between health facts and fiction? Researchers establish findings as “facts” when they use the scientific method and their results can be repeated. Misinformation, on the other hand, is fueled by fads and trends. Unfortunately, catchy news headlines and media reports are most people’s key source of information, and these sources rarely provide the necessary context to help you decode the advice.

For health information you can trust, turn to established health authorities such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and ignore information that contradicts their positions.

Concerned about your personal health care needs? Consult your physician or a registered dietitian since there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to health and nutrition advice.

Looking for more nutrition advice and want to make an appointment with a registered dietitian? Call 1-855-434-5483 or visit Nutrition Services on

Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN, is the director of the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Learn more about Bethany.

Categories : EatWell

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