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How to become a nutritional skeptic

The internet is good at giving you too much information all at once. Positive skepticism is one way to sort through the BS and get to the good stuff.

Long-time Followers of my blog know I am very critical of diets, supplements, and general health advice. The digital age has brought about a lot of good changes, such as access to mountains of information. There is an overwhelming feeling of constant, 24-7 uploads of information, which provides an opportunity for misinformation to sneak in along side the general accepted facts. How the hell is anyone able to make heads or tails of things? This blog post will hopefully help people understand how you can go about looking at claims and information and help make sense of things.

Ask For Evidence: Everyone wants something from you. It’s very easy to make a claim seem realistic. Hell, I can make claims too. “New studies show that listening to Rammstein makes you 200% cooler than people who don’t,” “Meta-analysis of several studies show people with nutrition blogs make better lovers.” See? It’s easy to make bullshit up (we’ll have to put a pin on the Rammstein thing though, I want to talk more about German metal). Asking for evidence is one way you can figure out what’s going on. Evidence from one study can show some interesting details, but if multiple studies show the same thing, there must be some truth to it. Many articles about “X food cures cancer!” are more or less inflating the effect of said food. Some studies I’ve read in a similar vein might have had a small effect, but generally not enough for it to really matter. This is where gathering evidence can help you determine if someone is bullshitting you or not.

Question Everything: A large reason why people fall prey to marketing campaigns has to do with everyone taking things at face value. Using my previous example, new articles come out about how one food cures cancer, or that eating something else improves mood. Some examples are red wine helping with vascular health, and chocolate boosting mood. Articles paint a picture like everyone should start drinking red wine by the gallon and chocolate by the pound with misleading headlines and often a lack of evidence. However, diving deeper into the claims of said articles, the research in question often indicates there’s a slight benefit from occasional red wine, and some mood boosting from dark chocolate (though, my opinion is some of this has to do with the caffeine and sugars in it). By doubting what marketing is promoting, you can often figure out that they are simply trying to sell you a product you probably don’t need.

Sympathy for the Devil: One way to help have a greater understanding of anything is to play Devil’s Advocate. Usually, you take the opposite stance to whatever, regardless of your personal beliefs. For example, if someone says that drinking a bottle of red wine a night is healthy and helps with cardiovascular health, you can take the role of Devil’s Advocate and start poking holes in this argument. Alcohol is a pro-oxidative chemical that’s associated with many negative health outcomes, and is also high in calories. No matter what benefit the chemicals in red wine have, excessively drinking it basically overrides any benefit there is.

Understand Bias: What’s the difference between a body builder trying to sell you some protein powder for muscle growth, a nutritionist trying to sell you a weight-gain pill, and a dietitian trying to promote plant-based proteins? All of them have different biases. The body builder and nutritionist are bias towards their products so you buy their crap, while the dietitian might be trying to promote plant-based protein for a variety of reasons, such as what diagnoses the client has, or because of their bias towards a vegetarian/vegan diet. Even I have biases in terms of nutrition. I am more liberalized in terms of diet, both based on my schooling, opinions regarding food and meals, and the types of people I provide care for. This means that my recommendations aren’t always the healthiest, but are more-so geared towards the general happiness and well-being of the person I am providing recommendations for.

These days, especially with the advent of the internet, it’s not difficult to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information coming your way. However, not everything said or written has your best interest. By being skeptical of things, especially with regards to nutrition, you can find better options than you weren’t provided with. Many people will try to sell you pills, diet plans, or memberships, many of which might not be beneficial for the individual. By asking questions, looking at evidence and expert consensus, and playing Devil’s advocate you can help determine what is best for you.

What kinds of things have you been skeptical about? Curious about more information on positive skepticism? Feel free to follow the link here.

By The Nutrition Punk

I am a dietitian living in Portland, Oregon. I write about a variety of nutrition and heath topics, with the goal of improving people's understanding of food and nutrition so they may be empowered against all the misinformation that is out there.

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