If you want advice on heart health, you ask a cardiologist. If you want to know why your Labrador is limping, you turn to your veterinarian. If you have questions about your diet — well, that’s another story.
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There’s no shortage of people willing to give diet advice. But if you get bad advice, you could fail to lose weight or, worse, you could develop nutrient deficiencies that seriously affect your health. Use these five warning signs to weigh advice on the one thing none of us can live without: food.
1. There’s no science involved
If an expert states that three sticks of butter a day will help you get back into your skinny jeans, there had better be some research behind it.
“If an expert states that three sticks of butter a day will help you get back into your skinny jeans, there had better be some research behind it.”
Check for signs of sound science. The strongest studies are in peer-reviewed journals and are usually conducted over several months or even years. They have a large sample size to show results are not just a one-time fluke. The numbers will change based on the type of research, but the bigger the better — 100 people is a nice starting point. Studies should not be funded by an organization that can profit from the results. If a claim sounds too good to be true, it might just be.
2. A food is promised as a “cure”
Nothing screams scam more than advice claiming one particular food will cure cancer, diabetes or another illness. Your risk for developing a chronic disease involves a complex mix of behavioral and environmental factors. The same is true for managing and treating diseases. No one food will be the be-all, end-all of a disease. If it were, you’d hear about it — and a huge study would back it up.
3. Your expert lacks credentials
It’s easy to get an online certificate and call yourself a “nutritionist,” but people study for years to earn true expertise in nutrition. When you ask someone for advice, look for the letters RD (registered dietitian), PhD (in nutritional sciences, biochemistry, or molecular biology, for example), MPH (master’s in public health) or MD (many doctors specialize in diet and nutrition) after his or her name. And keep in mind that some registered dietitians do refer to themselves as nutritionists because it is such a recognizable term, but their credentials set them apart.
4. Someone tells you to eliminate an entire food group
Friends and family often forward me emails with the subject line, “Is this true?” What follows is an email or article (with no link to research) on why you should cut all carbs, all fat or all protein from your diet for miraculous results. If you see something similar, question it — big time. We need these things in our diet in some form or another. Anyone who suggests eliminating an entire food group does not understand human metabolism.
5. A diet plan involves selling food and supplements — but no education
Good health comes from a combination of a healthy diet, exercise and stress management. You can learn these things.
If someone sells you a plan based on foods that you never have to cook — and never even have to check the nutrition label — it’s not likely to last. Eventually, you’ll have to venture into the grocery store and make your own choices. Without the educational tools to do so, how will you know what to buy? Bottom line: Take the time and effort to learn how to read labels, shop for groceries, control portions and plan for a healthy diet. And ask yourself: Who is really benefiting from a diet where you have no control over what you eat?