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How To Tell Valid Nutrition Information From Hogwash

THESE DAYS, EVERYONE is a nutritionist. Dr. Phil has written a book on weight loss. Dr. Oz has touted green tea extract as a miracle weight-loss pill. These are famous doctors, so you can trust what they say, right?

Your next-door neighbor has lost weight by cutting gluten from his diet. Is that the way to go?

One day you’re cautioned that consuming eggs will give you a heart attack, and the next day they are OK to eat. How in the world do you know what to believe?

No area of science is changing as rapidly as the field of nutrition. As new research emerges, so do new recommendations. That’s not to say every recommendation is based in science. Here’s how you can discern which information is valid and which information is best to ignore.

IS THE SOURCE REPUTABLE? The letters MD or PhD listed after a physician’s name does not make this person credible in the area of nutrition. Would you ask a cardiologist your questions about back pain? A 2010 study by the UNC–Chapel Hill Department of Nutrition found that only 28 medical schools in the United States provided the recommended 25 hours of instruction on nutrition to their medical school students. Only 26 schools actually require a course on nutrition. Unless doctors take a special interest in nutrition and go out of their way to study it, they are not likely to be reputable sources of information.

The only professionals who have degrees in nutrition are registered dietitians (RDs) or registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs). The two terms are inter­change­able. You can recognize dietitians by the RD or RDN after their name or signature. This means they have earned a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nutrition. They have also completed a 1,200-hour supervised internship. They passed a national exam. They must complete 75 hours of continuing education every five years to continue using these credentials. A dietitian can specialize in certain areas after becoming an RD. Prior to opening Lifexcel, my professional experience was in nephrology. You could ask me anything about kidney failure, dialysis, or nephrology drugs and I could answer you. If you asked me to suggest the proper diet for a man training for a marathon, you would have gotten a blank stare. Not all dietitians specialize in weight loss. Make sure you get your information from one who is up to date on the research pertaining to the subject you’re interested in.

You will encounter people who have certificates in nutrition. These certificates are offered from various sources. These individuals cannot prescribe a diet or meal plan, but they can give general advice (e.g., avoid foods containing trans fat). Their training can be as simple as taking an online course and passing an open-book test. Be very skeptical of advice or counsel offered by anyone with a nutritionist certification.

Before you read a newspaper or magazine article on nutrition or diet, look to see who wrote it and check the author’s credentials.

IS IT TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE? Sorry, but you cannot lose 30 pounds in 30 days and keep it off without changing your diet. If a claim sounds too good to be true, it is.

IS THE RECOMMENDATION EVIDENCE-BASED OR OPINION? This is a strong reason to trust dietitians. They are trained to evaluate research and base their recommendations on scientifically proven evidence. For example, suppose a recent study involving 18 people indicates that eating one cup of alfalfa sprouts daily for six months produces weight loss. If I am an alfalfa sprout farmer, perhaps I take this information and run with it. But if I am a dietitian, I scrutinize the research – and even if it appears to be valid, I cannot extrapolate that this plan will work for all my clients just because it worked for 18 people. I would wait until many, many more studies showed the same results. Then I could say there is some validity to this.

DOES THE ORGANIZATION PRODUCING THE INFORMATION HAVE ANYTHING TO GAIN? Potential gain does not necessarily invalidate someone’s information, but it should make you examine the information closely. If a sales rep for a cleanse product is telling you that cleansing has these 22 benefits, be leery – the rep has something to gain. Ask for the research to back up these 22 claims.

Knowing how to weed through all the nutrition and weight loss claims will help as you continue your healthy lifestyle.