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How to Evaluate Nutrition Information

It can be challenging to know how to evaluate nutrition information on the internet (and everywhere else!). The amount of information alone can be overwhelming, and may lead us to click on the first link we see without assessing credentials. The result: misinformation spreads like a wildfire! However, knowing how to evaluate nutrition information can help equip us with tools and techniques to help sort out the junk science and find reliable and accurate nutrition information.

What is quackery?

Simply put, quackery is health fraud or junk science. More specifically, quackery is the promotion of services/products rooted in dishonest or unproven practices, especially in the health industry. 

This could be in the form of promoting foods or diets for their supposed health benefits, generalizations about foods or diets, and claiming or labelling a certain food to be much healthier than it actually is. 

Essentially, quackery offers false hope, usually in the form of quick fixes that aren’t necessarily in the best interest of the consumer.

“Why would someone want to do this?” you ask? The answer is often: for economic gain (a.k.a. to make money).

green apple with measuring tape on table in kitchen

Red flags for nutrition information:

1. Quick fixes: Sounding too good to be true

fitness magazines

If you look, you can find people promising quick fixes everywhere from websites of weight loss companies, to magazines promoting the latest fad diets, and ads on television and social media. The next time you glance at a magazine at the grocery store or flip through TV channels, be wary of statements like:

  • “21 day fix”
  • “Lose ___ lbs in only ___ days”
  • “Ripped in just __ minutes”


These statements may seem like the quick and easy way to reach your health goals (whatever they may be), but are not ideal for building a balanced, longterm, healthy life. 

Instead, reach out to your local dietitian or doctor and focus on seeking reliable nutrition advice from credible sources (more on how to find credible sources below!).

2. Dramatic statements + dire warnings

decisive woman choosing between apple and donut

This includes labelling foods as “good” or “bad”, and saying you must implement or avoid certain foods for their pro- or anti-health properties. It is also referred to as food faddism and is an integral part of fad diets.Watch out for statements like:

  • “Eat one ____ daily to lose/gain weight”
  • “Foods to avoid for weight loss/gain”
  • “Good foods” or “bad foods”
  • Only eat ___ ” or “never eat ___”

3. Selling a product

When evaluating nutrition information on a magazine or website, check to see if the company is attempting to sell you something, or if they are promoting a food/diet for deliberate economic gain. Look for things like:

  • Food products that claim massive health benefits, such as:
    • detox teas
    • supplements (herbal, collagen, performance enhancing)
  • Fad diet companies or large corporations that sell you a quick fixthrough:
    • apps
    • magazines & books
    • biased documentaries

4. Using "science" to support claims

fitness magazines

Science and studies can be manipulated to suit a company’s needs and support their claims, not only in health, but in any field (e.g. politics). Be wary of:

  • simple conclusions from complex studies
  • statements refuted by reputable science organizations
  • using the word “science” to support claims
  • using a single study
  • using a study that is not peer reviewed
  • using studies that ignore differences among individuals & groups

The “cars checklist” can help identify reliable nutrition information:

C – credibility

  • Authorship (does the author/organization have credentials? education?)
  • Organization (where did the information come from? personal testimony/one person or an organization?)
  • Peer reviewed (is the article edited/reviewed? recently edited?)

A – accuracy

  • Timely-ness (current?)
  • Completeness (does it consider different sides of the argument?)

R – reasonableness

  • Fairness (does it treat the opposition fairly?)
  • Objectivity (unbiased? underlying advertising?)
  • Moderateness (do they stay away from extreme statements/sweeping generalizations?)

S – support

  • Bibliography (are sources cited?)
  • Corroboration (do other sources agree/support?)
  • External consistency (is it consistent with the published literature?)

So who can we trust with nutrition information?

  • Educated & trustworthy experts with credentials (registered dietitians)
  • Government resources that are based on the knowledge of educated experts
  • Professional organizations providing reliable information

For more information, this is a great article to read: How to find food and nutrition information you trust

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