Six strategies to identify reliable nutrition information

Written by Renée Ouellette, AHN student

Interested in reading about a nutrition-related topic? Trying to change your food routine for one reason or another? Good nutrition is an important part of overall health, which is why reliable nutrition information is essential when trying to make any kind of dietary change. Finding reliable nutrition information can be challenging with the high volume of false or inaccurate information out there. However, there are some quick and easy ways to identify a reliable source:

1. The author is a Registered Dietitian (RD) or Professional Dietitian (PDt)

Look for the author of the article you are reading. If there is no listed author, then it may not be the best source of information, unless it is found on the website of a well-known institution like a university or government. If you do find an author, it’s important to check their credentials. Are they qualified to be giving nutrition recommendations? Specifically, you can look for the initials “RD” or “PDt” which stand for Registered Dietitian, and Professional Dietitian, respectively. Dietitians are regulated health professionals who have completed rigorous education and training and have passed the Canadian Dietetic Registration Examination. Dietitians are responsible for providing safe, competent, and ethical nutrition services within their scope of practice and are held accountable by their regulatory college. Just like it wouldn’t be a good idea to accept medical or medication advice from a dietitian, it’s usually not a great idea to accept nutrition advice from a doctor or pharmacist given the small fraction of time spent learning about nutrition in medical and pharmacy school. Each health profession has a different scope of practice which is important to consider when seeking any sort of health advice. Specifically, it’s important to see the right professional for any given health questions or concern. Moreover, other titles like Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) and Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CPN) are not regulated and do not require the completion of the same training as dietitians. It’s important to know that in Ontario, anyone can provide nutrition information under the title “Nutritionist” even if they haven’t received any education or training in nutrition.

2. The article has been peer reviewed

It’s always a good idea to check if the article you are reading has been peer reviewed. Peer reviewing involves other experts in the field evaluating the research article and providing feedback to help ensure quality of any published research. If you’re using the U of G search engine “Primo”, there is a “Peer-Reviewed” button on the left-hand side of the screen that will allow the search engine to provide you only with peer reviewed information. Peer-reviewed articles will generally have an abstract summarizing the paper, authors will have credentials listed beside their names, and a reference list will be present.

3. The article lists sources of information

Check whether or not the original sources of information in the article are listed. Making sure the claims in the articles are supported by scientific studies is key to finding reliable nutrition information. Some questions you should ask yourself when verifying the reliability of the original sources are “Have these studies been conducted on humans or animals?”, “Is there more than one study supporting the claim made in this article?”, “Are the original sources of literature current and up to date?”. These are all important factors to consider when evaluating the relevance and reliability of the research.

4. The article is not promoting one or more products

An easy way to identify an unreliable nutrition source is if the author is trying to sell you a product such as a dietary supplement. The authors of the article might only present evidence that supports the use of their product and omit any evidence that might discourage you from purchasing what they are selling. Sites of this nature will often present evidence in the form of “personal experiences” where users of the product will explain their experience with it. This type of evidence is unreliable not only because the authors may only show positive reviews, but also because each person’s experience may be different when it comes to nutrition and using dietary supplements. Moreover, this type of evidence, also called anecdotal evidence, is subject to bias and placebo effect, making it unreliable.

5. The article claims do not seem to be “too good to be true”

Does the article claim a “miracle cure”, or a “quick fix” to your nutrition problem? Do the claims seem too good to be true? If so, they probably are. We have all seen articles claiming that their method of weight loss will allow you to lose 30 pounds in 30 days, or that losing 2 pounds per week is the ideal weight loss goal. Although doing a 30-day “juice cleanse” might cause you to lose lots of weight very quickly, it’s important to ask yourself if it seems like a sustainable nutritional change or goal.

Generally, losing 2 pounds of weight per week is unsustainable meaning people usually end up gaining the weight back. Moreover, many people turn to diets with clear-cut rules for weight loss. For example, the ketogenic diet suggests an extremely minimal carbohydrate intake. Generally, if a diet suggests ruling out an entire food group or macronutrient, it is not a sustainable weight loss method, nor is it beneficial to your health.

For more reliable information on the ketogenic diet, please see the post “The Ketogenic Diet”. Furthermore, diets that follow significant caloric restrictions may lead to slowing of your metabolism, muscle loss, and “rebound hunger” making weight regain almost impossible to avoid. Along those same lines, diets that suggest skipping meals are generally minimally effective for weight loss due to the risk of overeating at the next eating occasion. For more information on diets that involve skipping meals, please see the post “Intermittent Fasting”. Ultimately, sustainable lifestyle changes including consuming a well-balanced diet and doing regular physical activity will support optimal physical and mental well-being and allow your weight to settle at a place that is right for you. It’s important to remember that weight loss does not always equate to better health. Although the media often portrays weight loss and being slim as the be-all and end-all of health, many weight loss strategies like those mentioned above can be detrimental to your health both physically and mentally. On the flip side, making dietary changes to improve your health may not always result in weight change. Recognizing that health and weight are not always directly correlated, as portrayed by media outlets, is critical in deciding how you will approach any dietary change.

6. The article is free from grammatical errors

Finally, a very easy way to check the reliability of the information you’re reading is to see if there are any grammatical errors in the article. For obvious reasons, grammatical errors damage the credibility of the author significantly.

In summary, reliable nutrition information can be found using the six strategies discussed above. It’s important that the information be from a reliable source and is supported by science. Finally, use your own judgment when doing online research. If something seems too good to be true, it likely is.

Questions about your diet and nutrition needs? All University of Guelph students have access to Student Wellness Services nutrition services (free and fee-based options are available). Students can access these services in three ways: