Don’t Believe Nutrition Hype
“Sugar is toxic!”
“Carbs make you fat!”
If you believe every headline like those in the media or the Internet, you might not eat anything! That’s because much of the nutrition advice portrayed there is not based on science. It’s important to look at the entire body of evidence before eliminating healthful foods in your diet.
One specific case of hype over fact is canned tomato products, which have been panned in some media articles because of BPA linings in cans. However, the FDA says that current exposure to BPA—a compound in the linings—is not a risk. On top of that, the tomato industry has already moved away from BPA in cans, and over 90% of retail canned tomato products in the US no longer use BPA. One thing’s for sure: Tomato products are a healthful food, linked with multiple health benefits, such as heart health, skin protection, and reduced risk of prostate cancer. Check out the statement on BPA in tomato products here. You can also check out our science library with over 700 studies categorized by health issues.
We asked some of our favorite dietitians to provide their best tips for how you can determine if that nutrition article you’re reading on the Internet is sound advice.
Dietitian Tips for Finding Sound Advice
- “I always recommend checking the source of advice. Is it a reputable evidence based source, is it written by an RDN? There are many that call themselves nutritionists but not everyone is an RDN with the education and credentials,” says Janet Brancato, MS, RD, owner of My Nutopia.
- “If the message sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Science is not usually as sensational as headlines make it sound. Nutrition science is complicated, very difficult to study (it’s not just about food), and there are many forms of bias, which means really sound nutrition information will always be represented with caution,” says Diane Norwood, MS, RD, CDE, The Wandering RD.
- “A red flag for me is when a food or food group is referred to as ‘toxic’. Very rarely is a food in our food system ‘toxic’. It’s fearmongering and used to gain media and consumer attention. Credible nutrition professionals don’t use those tactics,” says Kate Chury, RD, Thinky Bites.
- “If generalizations are made (e.g. all sugar is bad for you) and terms like ‘always’ is used, be skeptical. Absolutes shouldn’t be used across the board as nutrition is so individualized. Look for an explanation/reasoning for the information provided and how it jives with previous research,” says Nikki Nies MS RD, We Dish Nutrition.
- “If one way of eating, especially with a strict list of good vs. bad foods, is touted to lead to perfect health, cure a myriad of symptoms or conditions, it’s probably not true. It usually starts with how a person ‘cured’ themselves of XYZ and acts like that makes them a professional nutritionist for all,” says Adina Pearson, RD.
- “I have had clients that were triggered by apples, or lettuce or corn or basil! But surely not every client,” says Jan Patenaude, RDN, CLT
- “Clients come to me with questions all the time about stuff they read and want to know if it’s really true. I always encourage checking the sources behind those claims. It’s also important to think about who’s writing it or what the general beat of that particular publication is and to keep in mind that headlines are meant to draw attention but that the content of the article may actually have a different message when you read on,” says Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, Jessica Cording Nutrition.
- “I often ask clients to ask themselves if the information makes logical sense. For example, how many people do you think are really gaining excess body fat from eating too many carrots, grapes, or bananas?” says Michelle Loy, MPH, MS, RDN, Go Wellness Co.