On 15 February, I presented to nutritionists and students at the University of Westminster on the potentially damaging effects of nutrition misinformation, on behalf of the Dairy Council. Why? Because since 2009 I’ve been concerned about fake news on nutrition being dished out by non-experts and being taken as fact by people who just want to eat a little better.
What’s the fuss about Fake News in nutrition?
Here are just three reasons:
- There are real risks of teenage girls cutting out milk because they’ve read that dairy foods are fattening. Often I’ve found that they’ll replace milk with diet drinks, and this can lead to low calcium levels at a time of rapid growth. 90 per cent of peak bone mass in girls is achieved by the age of 18 years (Source: National Dairy Council), and milk and dairy foods are a rich source of calcium, phosphorous and protein. Bottom line – cut out dairy at a time of growth and development and you could significantly reduce bone mineral content and strength. See 30 sec video via Twitter.
- Ever been sucked into a fad diet by a gorgeous-looking celebrity? Magic fat-burning foods and promises of speedy weight loss lure people into miracle quick-fix diets. Such diets often mean you miss out on whole food groups, which can lead to low levels of essential nutrients, tiredness, grumpiness and more. You will probably lose weight, and fast, but such diets are not based on any good research and you could end up even heavier than where you started if you continue to dabble in faddy diets. The British Dietetic Association Fact Sheet on fad diets suggests we be suspicious of therapies like colonic irrigation and that “many people claim to be experts in nutrition yet have limited knowledge and offer no protection to the public”.
- More and more people are wrongly self-diagnosing a food allergy or intolerance. “Research quoted in the Institute of Medicine Report (2016) suggests that up to 20% of people think they suffer from food allergy or food intolerance”, says Dr Carina Venter, allergy specialist dietitian at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “Yet the real figure lies somewhere between 1-3%”.
It’s somehow trendy to be going “gluten-free”, and the number of retailers and restaurants providing gluten-free options are a testament of how good this craze must be for business. But the rise in self-diagnosis of gluten sensitivity in my opinion makes a mockery of the challenges of people with a true diagnosis of coeliac disease. (Cutting out gluten isn’t just about ordering the gluten-free pizza – you need to laboriously check all labels for gluten and it’s in everyday items like soups, ready meals and beer). People with gluten intolerance need the expert advice of a specialist dietitian, otherwise you risk dietary imbalances.
The talk at Westminster University on fake news was picked up by the press, and the British Dietetic Association is keen to promote the importance of an evidence based approach to nutrition. I’ll be running a Twitter chat on the subject for Dietitians Week in June 2017, as part of RDUK.
Don’t believe everything Dr Google tells you. Celebrities have stylists, beauticians, personal instructors – as well as air-brushing – to make them look as good as they do. There are real (sometimes long-term) problems associated with bad food and diet advice. So check the credentials of the author and the source of your information. Look out for RD or RNutr after the name of the author, and you can trust sources like the BDA, NHS Choices, Diabetes UK, British Heart Foundation and similar authoritative organisations.
Dietitians are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council and are required to abide by a strict code of conduct that protects the public. The word “dietitian” is a protected title and it can only be used by qualified professionals. Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals to be regulated by law, and are governed by an ethical code to ensure that they always work to the highest standard.