I didn’t want to miss the chance to address an albeit comical article that was recently shared on social media, titled Science’s Biggest Fail. All things diet and fitness took the prize. I know I’ve written about similar topics before – about how it’s hard for people to trust or listen to nutrition advice that is seemingly contradictory or always changing – and to a certain extent it’s true. Nutrition is a relatively young science, and science is about gradually crawling towards the truth over time. So it comes as no surprise that recommendations made years ago have become outdated, or replaced by newer science that is perhaps telling us something completely different. One thing I haven’t touched on that this article brings to light, is the role that the media has to play in perpetuating the ‘untrustworthiness’ of nutrition advice, and science in general.
If you asked me what I thought of dietitians as professionals, the first thing I would tell you is that they are conservative. They play it safe, and playing it safe is the name of the game when it comes to providing reliable and trustworthy information. It’s part of the job. Do you know why? Because of the sheer importance of not spreading false information for the sake of sensational headlines. This is not to say that RDs are out of date; they very much keep up with the times and are a big part of exciting, cutting edge research. It’s because dietitians play it safe that they should be trusted healthcare professionals when it comes to nutrition advice.
Dietitians don’t jump on board with the latest food trends or fad diets, but what they do do is compare the science to the claims that are being made in order to evaluate what might be good about a certain shiny, new, magic bullet approach to loosing weight, building muscle, sleeping better, or improving athletic performance, and what might not be so good. It’s important not to jump the gun and get excited about the promising results of a small study with no controls, because these are preliminary results. More research needs to be done. Conclusions can not be confidently made, but they are. The media isn’t safe, the media takes risks to attract attention, and the accuracy of information reported suffers greatly.
That being said, therein lies an opportunity for dietitians to change any such perception that diet and exercise recommendations are among science’s biggest fails. I love reading Jennifer Sygo’s column in the National Post. She is just one example of an RD who is doing some fantastic work to quell the flames of sensationalized science related to food and nutrition. Her media presence is refreshing and much needed, and a wonderful testament to the quality of information that RDs can provide.
So next time nutrition is making the headlines, think twice about holding the media to any sort of quality standard for providing reliable information. Let a dietitian do your dirty work – let them scour the research for you and apply their vast knowledge of the science behind nutrition, digestion, physiology, psychology, and biochemistry to decipher and decode what it all really means to your health, to your body, and to your well being.
Misleading headlines is just one factor that contributes to the confusing world of nutrition as we know it. This infographic nicely sums up eight other reasons that make healthy eating a little more complicated than we’d all like it to be.