Identifying Reliable Health Information

With all of the fad diets and differing opinions on what is the healthiest way to live out there, it can be overwhelming to figure out what to believe and who to trust. Are grains good or bad for me? Is a low fat diet my option for weight loss? Are all carbohydrates bad for me?
The problem with information about nutrition is that research is always being conducted on controlled environments, under controlled conditions, and usually focuses on just one or a couple factors or elements of the human diet. In reality, we all live in a world where our food choices may change daily based on availability, affordability, and taste preference; along with endless environmental factors that can alter our health apart from diet alone. That being said, nutrition research can still provide very beneficial information, when coming from an unbiased, reliable source. Follow these tips when looking for reliable health information:

1) Find out who runs the website/article you are reading
If the article or website is from a private group or person (.com, personal blog), the information being given is most likely structured to get you to purchase a product or buy into an idea posed by that company or person. Look for websites that end in “.org” and “.gov” when looking for information online, as these are non-profit sources that are trying to convey information as opposed to selling a product. For written material, look for peer reviewed journals and research magazines compiled by national health organizations like the American Journal of Public Health.

2) See who funded the research:
Whenever looking at research information, it is important to see who funded the research in the first place. If the article or website you are investigating advocates for a large increase in your milk and cheese consumption and the research done was funded by the American Dairy Council, you may want to take the findings with a grain of salt. Even if the results show different trends or patterns, these results can easily be skewed to show what the funders want them to show.

3) Cited Resources:
Make sure the facts and figures stated in the article are actually cited, and that the citations have real research to back up the claims being made. For example, anyone could write a health article stating that sodium and blood pressure aren’t linked in any way, without citing any proper research to give credibility to their claims. In a world of independent research through the internet, it is “reader beware”, leaving it up to you to see if the claims they make are credible.

4) Credentials?
All credible research sources will show the credentials of the people involved in the research itself. If a research project was performed by multiple PhD’s, MD’s, and RD’s, you can feel more safe that the research was conducted by people who knew what they were doing, and the results will be more credible.

5) How current is the information?

If you are reading nutrition research from over a decade ago, odds will be that the material may not be as accurate as possible, unless the experiments and research have since been repeated with similar results. Nutrition articles from the early 1990’s would have you believe that diets high in animal based protein and completely void of any carbohydrates (Atkins-style diet) would be ideal for health. Since this time we have conducted ample research into the role of complex carbohydrates on human health and now know that this type of diet is not only less than ideal, but can be quite harmful to long-term health. When evaluating nutrition research, try to find studies and articles conducted within the last decade to be sure they are the most up-to-date.

6) Testimonials?

If the website or article is focused on a certain nutritional supplement, diet, or health product, testimonials are usually good indicators that the information provided may not be based on sound science. Testimonials are usually a gimmick, utilized by companies so the consumer will see “people like them” have already benefitted from the product or diet.

7) Check multiple sites and articles
If health information is reliable and research done has been proven credible, the news will spread like wildfire across a multitude of websites and health resources. Don’t mistake this for “miracle pill” or “quick-fix” phenomena that make their way onto TV doctor shows and throughout social media. When true nutrition and medical research has been conducted by multiple sources and can be found on more than one credible website or news article, it can usually be trusted more than those found from a single source.

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