For my very first blog post I want to cover an important topic – how to critically review dietary advice.
Whether it’s a scientific publication, an article you found on the internet, a blog post ;) , or even advice from a ‘nutritionist’, friend or family member, it is essential to evaluate information appropriately before drawing your own conclusions.
With easy access to a huge amount of information on the internet it appears that everybody has an opinion about nutrition and many even claim to be ‘experts’ in the field. With so much information out there it is hard to know what or who to believe. I can assure you that some people’s definition of ‘expert’ will be significantly different from yours or mine. This post aims to provide you with some of the skills necessary to critique nutrition information/advice and therefore help you come to your own informed conclusions.
Tips for analysing dietary information:
First start by asking WHERE did the information come from, and WHO wrote it;
- Who was the author?
- What experience/qualifications do they have on the topic?
- What are their incentives for writing the article/blog? (eg. are they being paid by a food company? Are they giving advice that will benefit their own research/theory/make you buy their product?)
- If critiquing a journal article, did it come from a peer-reviewed journal?
- If not, was there research to back up the claims? If the answer is no, then you are solely basing your trust in this information on the author themselves.
When assessing research you need to consider HOW the research was conducted;
- Who was the research conducted on (or ‘what’ if animal studies were involved)?
- How many participants were considered in the results?
- How was the research conducted (eg. Observational vs randomised controlled trial)?
- What did the results actually show (sometimes the conclusions drawn from results are misleading, it pays to look at the results yourself and seek advice on how to appropriately interpret them if you are unsure)?
Does the research conducted answer the question you are asking?
Was the research conducted in a population similar to yours (eg. If the research was conducted in China where food and lifestyle is significantly different to the New Zealand environment, you may need to be careful in assuming that those results will apply to you in the same way)?
Is the research current/up to date?
Were there any other potential explanations for the results found (An extreme example: If a study found an association between eating cheese and dying early, did they take into account that the people that died early all died in car accidents (completely unrelated to cheese consumption! – this is where you need to consider correlation vs causation) )?
I hope this short guide will assist you in critiquing dietary advice that you receive and encourage you to make informed decisions regarding your health and well-being.