There are countless places you can go for information and advice on nutrition. The internet, friends or family, health professionals or alternative health practitioners – all are ready with answers. However, it’s likely you’ll receive many different answers. How do you sift through the vast amount of information?  Asking these three questions will get you off to a good start.

1. Is this based on research?  Research aims to objectively investigate a question in an organized way. Can it be flawed and done poorly? Certainly. Will it conflict? At times, yes. But if the source’s advice or info isn’t based on research, where is it coming from? Likely a guess, assumption or lived experience – all of which are more biased and less reliable than research.

If the answer to this first question is no, proceed with caution (if you proceed at all). If it is yes, move on to the next question to evaluate if the research is worth considering.

2. Is there high-quality research?  There is a lot of “research” around that doesn’t deserve consideration. When determining the quality of the research, look for these key phrases:

  •           Animal research –Often, this is where research starts. However, because there are many obvious differences between animals and humans, this type of research can’t be applied directly to you and me. If someone is urging you to make changes based on animal research, it is wise to wait for research involving humans.

  •          Observational research –This type of research observes people. There is no intervention, we simply watch and collect data. While this research can be done with many people and over many years, there will always be factors that can’t be controlled and that influence the results, despite the researcher’s best efforts. That’s why we look for the next type of research on our list.

  •         Randomized control trial (RCT) –This is high-quality research. It is more controlled and less biased than observational research. Keep your eye out for RCTs!

  •         Systematic review and meta-analyses –These are the gold standard. A systematic review collects all the relevant research and considers it as a whole. A meta-analysis further analyzes the results. This is the best research to use when you are considering make changes to your diet.

3. Do other trustworthy sources agree?  Headlines may lay claim to groundbreaking discoveries or someone may claim that more of ‘x’ food will change your life. If there is truth to the statement, experts are sure to agree. Look for a second opinion from a registered dietitian or individual with a MSc or PhD in human nutrition. (Stay tuned in a follow-up blog for a list of nutrition sources you can trust).

Bonus question - How does this research fit with the variables in your life? Regardless of how good the research is, nutrition needs to be considered in light of the other variables in your life. If changes to how you eat impacts your spiritual, emotional, mental or relational health in a negative way, are they really worth it? Not everything you read, despite how good the information is, will align with your values, beliefs and resources, and that is okay.

Store these questions away for the next time you come across a piece of nutrition news or advice. Depending on the answers, leave it where you found it, tuck it away to consider as more is uncovered or carefully consider how it fits in your life.

Resources      

If you are interested in nutrition and enjoy sharing it with others, I would highly recommend these excellent resources:

·      Understanding, Evaluating, and Communicating Nutrition

o  Part 1: A Researcher’s Perspective

o  Part 2: Accurate Research Reporting

o  Part 3: Research Funding

 

·      Can Bias and Balance Coexist?

 

·      3 Tips for Evaluating Online Nutrition Information[



 

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Kristina Isaac, RD.

Registered Dietitian

Kristina (BSc, RD) is a registered dietitian and blogger for Nourish Move Thrive. She enjoys finding creative, fun and simple ways to communicate the science of nutrition.

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