Making Sense of Nutrition Information

UW Health dietitian Cassie Vanderwall offers tips for sorting through nutrition claims.Madison, Wisconsin – It seems like every week the media is filled with new stories about diets or supplements that can help you live longer and healthier (or not).


Contradictory Messages


Whether it's coffee, red wine, red meat or carbs, it can be confusing to know how to maintain a healthy diet. And that's a problem.


"Consumers will often throw up their hands and say, 'I'll eat what I want' simply because there are so many contradictory and often incomplete messages out there," comments UW Health dietitian Cassie Vanderwall, MS, RD.


For individuals struggling with weight, it can be an emotional rollercoaster. A friend or relative may swear by a particular diet trend. And promises of rapid weight loss, even without exercise can sound very alluring. But, promises can be too good to be true. So how do you sort through all of the claims?


"Always determine whether the information is from a credible source," offers Vanderwall. "Your primary care physician is really there to help you navigate your health questions."


Even so, the internet is often one of the first places individuals turn to find health information. But be wary, just because someone has a list of credentials after their name, doesn't mean they are qualified to share information on a particular topic. And legitimate looking websites could just be trying to sell their products rather than be a resource for health information.


Trust Your Instinct


To help determine the credibility of a site, Vanderwall recommends starting by figuring out who the author is and the organization with which they are affiliated. Institutions like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), or the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are just a few of the institutions that offer reliable and vetted information.


"Trust your instinct, if something seems questionable it most likely is," Vanderwall says. While it can sometimes be difficult to determine the legitimacy of a site, Vanderwall offers a few questions to consider when reviewing the information, among them:

  • Who maintains the website? This information can often be found under an "About Us" link.
  • Does the website have advertisements or business sponsors, and are they clearly marked as advertisements?
  • Is there an editorial policy for information posted to the site?
  • How old is the information on the site? If there are no dates indicating when the content was reviewed, you have no idea how old it was.
  • Does the site request your personal information? If so, do they have a privacy policy indicating how your information will be used or shared?
  • Are the recommendations reasonable, or are you asked to cut out a particular food group entirely or to severely limit your food intake?
  • Are results achievable only by purchasing their product or information?
  • Is the product or diet plan endorsed by a celebrity?
  • Do the promises seem too good to be true (e.g. rapid weight loss just by taking a pill)?

"Weight management is very difficult," explains Vanderwall. "It takes effort, time and energy, and if someone is going to invest that energy, we want the results to be lasting."


What Worked for Someone Else May Not for You


It can be tempting to try something that worked for a friend or relative, but part of the problem is that it is impossible to know what they did. Just because someone is vegetarian, for example, doesn't mean they are eating the proper balance of protein, vegetables and fruit. And making significant diet changes can have consequences.


Vanderwall explains that when individuals change their diets, such as trying the Atkins diet where carbohydrates are greatly reduced, they can experience rapid weight loss but, become irritable and may even develop side effects like ketosis, which can be quite harsh a person's kidneys.


"Rather than simply eliminating a particular food group, it's more important to give the body the balanced nutrition it needs to use that energy effectively," she comments.


Vanderwall explains that bodies need healthy fats like fish, nuts, seeds and avocado. These healthy fats help put out the inflammation in our bodies. And, it's important to get a good and adequate source of protein. Also, keep in mind that whole grains, fruit and vegetables are considered carbohydrates. Rather than eliminate carbs entirely, choose healthful ones that contain fiber.


"When we achieve the composition that's healthy for our bodies, which is reflected by our LDL, cholesterol and blood pressure and more, that is when we'll feel and be healthier. It's all about balance," she concludes.


Date Published: 10/22/2014

News tag(s):  nutritionclinical nutrition

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