By Jessica Cook, BNutrSc (QUT) MDietSt (UQ)

In today’s information overload society, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the endless nutrition information that is available. It is now hard to escape the bold nutrition claims told by the media, such as “Eat this”, “Don’t eat that”, “Lose weight fast” or “New amazing diet”.

Therefore, being able to distinguish between evidence-based nutrition information and media-fuelled nutrition claims will help to both prevent confusion and improve your nutritional health. The Food and Science Alliance (FANSA) has developed the “10 Red Flags of Junk Science” to assist in being able to make informed food choices. Some of these points are explained below.

 

Good vs. Bad Foods

Food isn’t evil. The Australian Dietary Guidelines highlight the importance of having a good variety of different foods to best meet your dietary needs. Although there are many foods that should be only eaten rarely, such as foods with high saturated fat, sugar and salt. These ‘sometimes’ foods are not recommended to be completely excluded from the diet. However, it is common for fad diets and junk nutrition claims to separate foods into good vs. bad, eliminate foods from the diet or have strict guidelines to follow. These include diets such as The Alkaline Diet, The 5 Bites Diet, The Paleo Diet and more. Instead of following these strict diets it is important to have a balanced variety of different foods.

 

Quick Fixes

Quick fixes when it comes to improving health through diet are rare, and should therefore be considered with suspicion. Guaranteed weight loss or other ‘magical’ health benefits are often promoted through nutritional supplements and novel superfoods. These claims will often be backed up by medical jargon and scientific terminology, however, it is important to check this against official recommendations by reputable sources such the Dietitians Association of Australia and current research. Remember if these claims sound too good to be true, this usually means they are.

 

Product Promotion

The nutritional supplement industry is one of the world’s fastest growing industries, with annual revenue expecting to reach $80 billion in the next five years. So, it is important to not get confused between new nutrition research and their marketing techniques. Anecdotal evidence for nutrition claims are usually found alongside the promotion of these products, such as seen with Raspberry Ketone advertisements. Product endorsements by popular celebrities, such as Khloe Kardashian, Miranda Kerr and Mark Wahlberg, are also commonly used to promote such products.

It is important to be aware of these marketing techniques in nutrition claims as these often contain a lack of scientific evidence and have high levels of bias. The Australian Dietary Guidelines explain how adequate nutritional status can be met through eating a balanced diet with a variety of plant-based foods, thereby dismissing the need for such nutritional supplements.

 

Based on Insufficient Evidence

The media is great at keeping us up to date with all the latest information. However, this can sometimes lead to the wrong information being portrayed. An example of this is a study showing the link between potato consumption and gestational diabetes. This article emphasizes how eating potatoes in pregnancy increases a woman’s risk of developing gestational diabetes, however fails to include other findings and the complexities of this 10-yearlong study. Finding causal associations between foods and health outcomes is surprisingly difficult due to many possible confounding factors. Therefore, it is important to be aware when the media is emphasizing the findings of a single scientific study, rather than assessing where these new findings align with previous literature and what is known about that field.

Another point to consider is that many of amazing claims made about foods such as red wine, turmeric or acai berries are based on cell culture studies with conditions and results that can’t necessarily be replicated in humans. When you are deciphering the boat load of claims made about a product, you need to check if the evidence is from a large human trial or promising results from a petri dish.

 

Check for Peer-Reviewed

When reading scientific studies regarding nutrition topics, it is important to check whether the article has been peer-reviewed. Articles and studies that have been peer-reviewed are assessed by experts in the field to assure the findings are accurate and valid. These studies can be found in peer-reviewed journals and through scholarly databases. By using peer-reviewed studies as a source of your nutrition science, you should feel confident that the information you are reading is not junk science.

Having well-informed health and nutrition knowledge is important for many Australians. Therefore, using these simple tips, and being able to successfully differentiate between evidence-based nutrition information and junk nutrition claims, you will be able to make more informed food choices and help improve your overall health.