10 Nutrition vs. Fact Filters

Picture of a magnifying glass with the words: Fact vs. Fiction: 10 Nutrition Information Filters.

Use these 10 nutrition fact vs. fiction filters before sharing social media posts, giving talks, writing articles, or following nutrition recommendations.

Promoting or following inaccurate nutrition information can:

  • Waste time and/or money
  • Be unsafe if the information proves harmful
  • Delay needed treatment if trying to cure a health problem with misinformation
  • Damage your professional credibility if you’re a professional nutrition communicator

Apply the following 10 “fact vs. fiction filters” for nutrition information sources.

I developed these nutrition fact vs. fiction filters for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics book, Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide. The book features 42 chapters from 57 Registered Dietitians / Registered Dietitian Nutritionists on the knowledge and skills for communicating in a variety of settings. As a resource to supplement my contribution to Chapter 5, “Nutrition Communicators Identify Credible Sources,” I created the following images and descriptions for this blog. Also, you can download a FREE “Fact vs. Fiction: 10 Nutrition Information Filters” PowerPoint, complete with speaker notes, of these images.

Nutrition Fact vs. Fiction Filter #1

Do you read the complete social media post and related article before sharing? In a study by Columbia University and the French National Institute, people share 59% of Twitter links without reading them. Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found that, in general, false news was 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth. 

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD, FAND, in her blog, Eating Beyond the Headlines,” details several examples of why you need to read more than headlines and examine the content using filters, such as those mentioned here.

Nutrition Fact vs. Fiction Filter #2

Does a claim sound too good (or bad) to be true? A claim that sounds too good (or bad!)  to be true, probably is. Beware of headlines that appear to be clickbait or share bait. They’re designed to make people want to click on them ‒ or even without clicking, share them. Common claims involve rapid weight loss or dire consequences if you eat a certain food.

Here’s an adaptation of a recent claim with names and products changed: “Jane started eating two servings of this fruit every day for a week and the results are amazing!” 

Nutrition Fact vs. Fiction Filter #3

Is the author selling something? Put on your detective hat. Check the type and source of testing to assure the information or product is safe. Also, what are the author’s qualifications in this area. More on these later.

Nutrition Fact vs. Fiction Filter #4

Do the facts appear cherry-picked, slanted or outdated? Are only supportive facts given? How recent is the information? For example, there might be several studies on a given topic, but a person only mentions the few studies that supports his or her viewpoint. Look for dates on cited studies … science is constantly evolving. Recommendations from older studies may no longer give the best advice.

Nutrition Fact vs. Fiction Filter #5

Is the research conclusion founded on correlation or causation? “Correlation” is when one variable increases or decreases proportionally to changes in the other. “Causation” means that one event causes another event to occur. For example, several experts in the 1950s believed ice cream caused polio. Both the number of polio cases and ice cream consumption peaked during the summer.

While correlation may show possible causes, it can’t determine whether something is a cause. More study found the polio virus was more virulent in the warm summer months and caused more disease. And, everyone could happily go back to eating ice cream!

Nutrition Fact vs. Fiction Filter #6

Is a recommendation based on a limited number of individual, persona, anecdotal experiences? People may say they feel better after trying a certain product, diet or treatment because they think it will make them feel better. It’s called the “placebo effect.” For example: Studies sometimes use placebos, such as an inactive treatment like a sugar pill, to evaluate the effect of a drug.

Nutrition Fact vs. Fiction Filter #7

Does the person’s degree of expertise qualify that person to offer advice in that given area? A common example is a physician or other health professional with no or limited nutrition training who gives nutrition advice without any current body of science to support it. Check out their degree and where they obtained it.

Some degrees can be obtained easily via the Internet. There are examples of animals whose owners obtained PhDs for them through diploma mills. One of the most famous animals with a PhD was “Dr. Zoe D. Katze (K-A-T-Z-E),” a housecat!

Nutrition Fact vs. Fiction Filter #8

Is the advice slanted toward a “health halo” around a topic? The “health halo” effect occurs when the healthfulness of a food is based on a single characteristic.  For example, someone may recommend a food because it is high in fiber. However, that food may be less angelic on closer look. A high-fiber muffin might be loaded with sugar and calories. Or it might be made mostly with a refined flour with some bran thrown in.

Nutrition Fact vs. Fiction Filter #9

Is the recommendation based on limited research? Before embracing a radical or unbalanced dietary recommendation, check out the research that supports it. Is the recommendation based on a few small samples of people? Has it proven successful and healthy over a period of time? One example is taking huge doses of a vitamin or mineral because an initial study suggested it might help prevent a specific condition. After further research, however, it might be found that taking too much could cause an adverse effect!

Nutrition Fact vs. Fiction Filter #10

Does the experimental design eliminate other causes? This filter goes along with the “correlation or causation” filter. For example, does eating a certain food cause a dietary problem or do people eat less of other high-nutrient foods if they fill up on that food? Did the experiment look at the total diet? Were less healthy people mostly the ones eating that food?

Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended of those not mentioned and no endorsement is implied for those mentioned. The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute an endorsement of the information, products or services contained  therein. No editorial control is exercised by this blog over the information you may find at these locations.  

This site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Talk with your health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. 

©2020 Alice Henneman