We are constantly being inundated with information about what we should or shouldn’t be eating to look and feel our best. It seems that every time I am on the playground I pick up on a conversation discussing the latest program that requires complete elimination of entire food groups for a month. And, just last night, I counted 11 documentaries on Netflix related to food, nutrition and health. How do you know what to believe?

The International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) recently conducted its 12th Annual Food and Health survey. The survey revealed that eight in 10 (78 percent) of respondents say that they encounter a lot of conflicting information about what to eat/avoid. More than half of those respondents (56 percent) say the conflicting information makes them doubt the choices they make. About one in four consumers (28 percent) say they rely on friends and family for nutrition and food safety information, which tops other sources including conversations with registered dietitians, health-focused websites, and the news.

I conducted an informal survey of my co-workers in the New York office and across the Food + Beverage Practice here at Padilla, and found that the top sources of nutrition information for this cohort are blogs/social media and news sources.

So, with all the ways to ingest food information out there, how do you know what is the most trusted?  Here are a few questions to ask yourself while navigating the nutrition “noise”:

  • Does the nutrition information come from a credible source? Currently, anyone with a keyboard can dispel nutrition advice and start-up a website. Check to make sure that the person or organization doling out advice has the correct credentials and a corresponding degree from a reputable university. There are many celebrities and personalities with zero nutrition education credentials communicating information that is not backed by science, and could potentially be harmful.
  • Where’s the data? Check to make sure that what you are reading is backed by science. Make sure that the article includes a link and/or citations to a peer-reviewed scientific study. For a better understanding, and to help you make your own judgments, go beyond the headlines and read the actual study in its entirety – or ask a trusted health professional to help you decipher the science. And keep in mind, we cannot draw conclusions from one study on a particular topic – even if the study is of the highest quality and peer-reviewed. For nutrition science to become a widespread recommendation, there needs to be a strong body of supporting evidence. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library (EAL) is a good place to start, an online resource featuring a growing series of systematic reviews and evidence-based nutrition practice guidelines.
  • Is it a Diet in Sheep’s Clothing? Does the information pinpoint one food or entire food group as a culprit for health problems, weight gain and/or disease? This type of information tends to prescribe a pattern of eating that is overly restrictive and not sustainable in the long run. Other red-flags are recommendations that require you to purchase a pill, powder, DVD’s or special containers to measure all of your food. Eating healthfully is simple.  It requires making smart food choices a majority of the time and staying hydrated with water.

In my experience, I have found that most people aren’t aware of basic nutrition science, and human anatomy and physiology. Once you become familiar with how the body works and processes food, you will remove the words “cleanse” and “detox” from your vocabulary forever. As always, the most trusted source for nutrition information is a credentialed food and nutrition professional, such as a registered dietitian or other medical professional.