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The Deconstructed Dish: How to Sift Nutrition Facts from Fiction

By Jenn Randazzo, MS RD on August 14, 2014, categorized in Health, Plant-based Nutrition

The Deconstructed Dish: How to Sift Nutrition Facts from Fiction

Who has time to stay savvy about latest nutrition research these days? Besides, a nutritional breakthrough or wonder food makes headlines every Monday only to be disproved by Tuesday, right? Even though you may be seconds away from tossing in the kitchen towel and just eating your favorite comfort foods because you’re so frustrated and confused, don’t yet.

Nutrition trends come and go, but I’m here to provide you with evidence-based, sustainable ways to improve your health.  Each month, I’ll focus on a nutritional hot topic, sift through tons of research, separate fact from fiction, and provide realistic solutions to help you improve your life.

Research. I’m so over it. It seems like every single day there is a new study that disproves the one that just came out two days prior.  It feels almost spiteful, really; like a driver with road rage who squeals past you while giving you the death stare soon after you simply merged into “his” lane.

Evidence-based—but only with good evidence.

I’m a registered dietitian who supports science-based findings and ongoing research, but, admittedly, I’m frustrated by how a lot of it is brought to us, the public.  Raise your hand if you’ve heard, “A recent study suggests (insert healthy claim here).”? Now, keep that hand up if you then are informed the details of the study, like how many participants, what was the statistical significance, who funded it, during that same segment.  Yeah, I didn’t think so. Me neither.

To be fair, it’s not entirely the reporters’ fault.  The public is hungry for news, and we wanted it yesterday. Since the media isn’t always going to separate good research from random Joe Schmoe asking three friends over to complete a survey, we need to do it ourselves. Shocking, right?

Although I’ll list a few criteria to look for when it comes to determining good research, I need to start at the basics: use your judgment. If you hear research that supports a statement that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Big, bold claims can often have the smallest, meek public impact. So, before doing anything drastic, check in with and listen to your intuition.

When deeply evaluating research, make sure it:

  • Is peer-reviewed. Peer-reviewed studies are those that are scrutinized by fellow professionals to determine the validity and reproducibility of the research. You can find peer-reviewed research in a variety of academically-supported places including libraries and article databases, like PubMed and EBSCOhost.
  • Can be reproduced. A study that cannot be reproduced is not considered reliable or valid. Successfully replicated studies often become the cornerstones of future research in a particular field. Could you create this study again, using new participants? Or was this a once-in-a-lifetime type study design.
  • Is authored by a professional within the field. For research on health-related topics, select studies with credentialed clinicians as authors. For academic inquiries, look for individuals with doctoral degrees. Seeking experts within particular fields can enhance the credibly of the research findings.
  • Is conducted blindly, or double-blindly. Where the subjects or subjects and researchers are “blind” to the desired outcome, risk for bias and manipulation for favorable results drastically decreases which increases the validity of the study.
  • Contains many participants. Studies that contain more randomly-selected subjects can provide researchers with a higher confidence level, which allows their claim to be stronger and more scientifically valid.
  • Is funded by an independent, unbiased third-party. Often, research is funded by special-interest groups, which can in one way or another, influence research results. The more valid, unbiased research studies are funded by unbiased parties that are solely interested in public health.

So, the next time you’re listening to an early-morning round-table talk show and a new study is announced, don’t rip your hair out with frustration or run to the drugstore for the promoted “weight loss potion.”  Simply, take a deep breath and then do a little research of your own.