In the age of digital media, it’s safe to say that we sometimes have access to a lot of information. When it comes to nutrition and wellness, information comes to us from all angles. You have likely noticed celebrities and influencers who at times have no credentials and are promoting diet and supplement advice. While food and health tips from laypeople are meant to do no harm, I would argue that there are many reasons to stay away from dietary recommendations from those without adequate qualifications.
First, nutrition is a relatively young and constantly evolving science. What we now know to be true is based on years of research, but it is inevitable that nutritional science will improve and develop over time. Adding to this ever-changing type of diet are the numerous competing voices on the subject. From chefs and personal trainers to bloggers and actors, there are many non-experts out there who publicly communicate about what to eat for health. Unsurprisingly, many people are overwhelmed and confused.
Medical nutritional therapy, an evidence-based approach to treating disease through a personalized nutrition plan, can only be offered by qualified, registered nutritionists. While non-dietitians can freely share their thoughts and opinions about food and nutrition, they should not treat the health conditions of others.
It is up to consumers to think critically and decide how to figuratively digest the continuous onslaught of nutritional information in the media. Here are some important considerations:
Diet recommendations should be adjusted
Influencers often share their favorite products and daily eating habits as suggestions for their followers. It’s important for people to understand that advice and other anecdotal tips that work for me are not a substitute for personalized attention. What works for one person – even if that person has a lot of online followers – is not necessarily best for others. Delving into influencers’ nutritional opinions can delay the ability to access the right plan that really works best.
The role of professional accountability
Healthcare providers are bound by ethical principles, regulators and professional associations, but not people who express their opinions on the internet or on social media. As a result, laypeople often talk about a topic with no education or training when endorsing products and books. Stick with the professionals armed with science; You can also answer questions about claims that you read online.
Ultimately, nutrition is a science-based field and the best health and dietary recommendations come from experts who can understand and translate the science. Unfortunately, a lot of time, money, and energy can be wasted following the wrong advice. In addition, non-experts who deal with nutrition – even well-intentioned ones – can oversimplify and perpetuate myths and misrepresent the facts. Of course, misinformation has potential consequences.
So how can we arm ourselves with the best nutritional information? While there’s nothing wrong with caring about what celebrities eat or feed their families, keep in mind that they probably don’t know more about health and nutrition than the average person. If you want to improve your diet or change your eating habits, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian first. Look for health and wellness books and websites from qualified practitioners or reputable organizations. Probably the best course of action is a tailored plan from a caring and recognized professional.
LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered nutritionist providing nutritional advice and counseling to individuals, families, and organizations. She can be reached by email at RD@halfacup.com.