Why You Should Take Nutrition News With a Grain of Salt
Are you confused by seemingly contradictory studies about what's healthy and what's not? Here are six tips for navigating nutrition stories, plus the healthy diet that scientists actually agree on.
It seems like every time I go online I see a story declaring that fat is bad (or good), cholesterol in foods is dangerous (or harmless), meat is wonderful (or terrible), butter is back (or not), or, yes, salt is to be shunned (or embraced).
Sound familiar? Online and on TV, we are bombarded by nutritional news that often seems contradictory and downright confusing. It's almost enough to make us throw up our hands and say, "If only the scientists could agree!"
Well, the good news is that the scientists can agree. In November I attended a nutrition conference in Boston sponsored by Oldways, a non-profit that promotes healthy eating through science and heritage. A who's who of the nutritional world presented studies at the event in support of particular dietary patterns. They didn't always agree, but at the end of the event the scientists came to a consensus: eat more fruits and veggies, reduce red meat consumption, skip sugary beverages, consume more whole grains, eat mostly unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and cut out junk food, among other things. Read the 11-point consensus here.
Am I right? We've heard this all before. What about meat and butter and that one study that said kale was bad? Those are the fun, sexy, juicy stories that make us all want to click.
But, the truth is, even though it seems like the science changes on a daily basis, in nutrition there is more that the experts agree on than they don't. And, sadly, it isn't usually the stuff of click-bait.
To help us all navigate nutrition news stories, including those with the jaw-dropping headlines, Kelly Toups, a registered dietitian at Oldways, offers these tips:
- Go beyond the headline. Headlines are meant to entertain, rather than inform. Case in point? Recent headlines reported that vegetarian diets are harsh on the environment, when actually, the study in question didn't even look at vegetarian diets. To get the full details, you oftentimes have to seek out the actual study and do some reading, or at the very least click and read the whole story!
- Step back and look at the bigger picture. Rather than debating the merits of a low fat diet versus a high fat diet, take a look at what all of the healthy eating philosophies have in common. While each nutrition philosophy has a slightly different approach, most contain a wealth of fruits, vegetables, pulses, and whole grains, and limit sugary beverages and highly processed snack foods.
- Check the logic. Does the article you're reading contradict common sense? It's important to evaluate new research, even if it challenges long held assumptions. However, remember that one controversial study doesn't unravel decades of nutrition research.
- Don't be swayed by celebrities. Celebrities are often the first to tout their devotion to one extreme diet or another, but that doesn't mean that their approach works in the real world. In fact, it doesn't necessarily mean that their approach works at all. Instead of seeking out how movie stars stay glamorous, seek out advice from reputable health and nutrition organizations and leading universities.
- One size doesn't fit all. Just because one person or one study group had an incredible health transformation through a new diet, doesn't mean that it will work for you. Similarly, while some people must avoid certain foods for medical reasons (such as celiac disease or lactose intolerance) this does NOT mean that eliminating food groups is a healthy choice for everyone. For example, surveys show that gluten-free foods are shown to be more expensive, higher in calories, sugar, and sodium than their gluten-containing counterparts.
- Relax. Nutrition is simpler than you think. News articles seek something new to say every day, making it seem like good nutrition is constantly changing. Have faith in what you know: whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds are good for you, and junk food isn't. If your cart looks like the new Oldways Cart, the nutrients will take care of themselves.
So continue to click on the nutrition news stories you see. I know I will. Hopefully they will inspire us to eat better. But, don't forget to take them with a grain of salt...and a big serving of vegetables.
For more up-to-date nutrition news you can trust, check out Parents' Scoop on Food blog.