With the growing awareness supporting the connection between diet and overall health, many people are taking their personal health and nutrition decisions into their own hands. From various websites, television, radio, newspapers, advisements, or friends and family, finding reputable nutrition information has become a task in its own.
Accurate nutrition information is supported by science and offered by experts in the field of nutrition and dietetics. A qualified nutrition expert has a specialized degree is dietetics, nutrition, or related sciences, while on the other hand, terms like “nutrition coach” should be looked at with caution and are often self-proclaimed experts without proper education nor qualifications
It’s easy to expect that anything that is printed or sold must be truthful but misleading claims about food and nutrition are difficult to control as well as limits on what government agencies can do to curb fraudulent nutrition misinformation. But by educating yourself, you can become more aware of the multitude of false claims and advertisements and how to spot these false and misleading claims.
Learn the Top 8 Red Flags for Misleading Nutrition Claims:
- Promise a quick fix—“lose up to 10 lbs in 1 week!”
- Dire warnings of danger from a single product or regimen.
- Recommendations based on a single study
- “Spinning” information from another product to math the product’s claims.
- Dramatic statements that are disproven by reputable organizations.
- Starting that research is “currently underway.” Meaning that there really is no current research.
- Non-science-based testimonials, often from celebrities.
- Claims that sound too good to be true
Types of Nutrition misinformation:
Fad Diets are defined as unusual diet and eating patterns that promote short-term weight loss, with no concern for long-term weight maintenance or overall health. These diets are often trendy and may be popular for a short period of time.
Health Fraud is similar to fad diets, except that it is intentionally misleading, with the expectation that a profit will be gained. Health fraud includes products or diets that have no scientific basis, yet are still promoted for good health and well-being. Common examples include promises of “fast, quick, and easy weight loss,” or a “miracle, cure-all product.”
Misdirected Health Claims are statements made by producers that lead people to believe a food a healthier than actually the case. Examples include foods that are “low-fat” or “low-carb,” yet still very high in calories.
Weight-loss schemes and devices are the most popular form of fraud. Weight-loss is a multibillion-dollar industry that includes books, fad diets, drugs, special foods, and weight-loss clinics. Some products or treatments may lead to weight-loss, but the effect is usually temporary. In addition, fad diets may not provide adequate calories or nutrients and can be harmful. Most dietary supplements are not reviewed and tested by the government before they are placed on the market.
Athletes are often more susceptible to these claims of weight-loss or performance enhancing supplements, as an attempt to gain a competitive edge. Athletes that already adhere to proper training, coaching, and diet, may look for an advantage by resorting to nutritional supplements.
The only way to lose weight effectively and safely is to increase activity while decreasing food intake. Weight-loss should be gradual, 1 to 2 pounds per week, to allow for the development and maintenance of new dietary habits. Consult a professional in nutrition to determine a safe and effective weight loss program.
How to Recognize a Professional
Examine the authors qualifications. Anyone can claim themselves as a “health” or “nutrition coach” without any formal education or training. When looking for a professional, he or she should be educated in the field of nutrition/dietetics, preferably hold a degree from an accredited university, or hold a recognized certification in the field, such as offered by the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists.
Summary: How Can you Protect Yourself?
The best way to protect against questionable health products and services is to be as informed as possible. Know who the professionals are and be aware of these common themes with nutrition misinformation when evaluating questionable advertising and sales techniques:
- Does the seller promise immediate, effortless or guaranteed results?
- Does the advertisement contain words like “break-through,” “miracle,” “special” or “secret”? There are terms that are not factual and used to appeal to your emotions.
- Does the company offer testimonials from people who claim to be “cured”?
- Does the seller use guilt or fear in order to sell a product?
- Does the seller claim the product is only available in limited quantities?
- Is there a “money-back guarantee”?
- Are the claims backed by reputable sources
Board for Certificaiton of Nutrition Specialists https://nutritionspecialists.org
U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ProtectYourself/HealthFraud/default.htm
Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Consumer Information: Health & Fitness. Available at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/health-fitness
National Institute on Aging (NIG) https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/online-health-information-it-reliable
Position of the American Dietetic Association: Food and nutrition misinformation. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 06(4), 601st ser. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16639825
Rachel Scheer is a Certified Nutritionist who received her degree from Baylor University in Nutrition Science and Dietetics. Rachel has her own private nutrition and counseling practice located in McKinney, Texas. Rachel has helped clients with a wide range of nutritional needs enhance their athletic performance, improve their physical and mental health, and make positive lifelong eating and exercise behavior changes.