Healthy eating: it’s simple, right? Since feeding ourselves is such a fundamental part of life, one would hope that doing it well would be straightforward. Unfortunately, in today’s world, it's anything but. An ingredient that’s celebrated one day is demonized the next; nutritional advice changes over time, even from the same “expert” sources; and nutritional articles regularly report conflicting information. How are we supposed to know what to believe?
With the incredible volume of nutritional advice at our fingertips, it’s more important than ever to be an educated and informed consumer. As advocates for health, well-being and self-care, we at Navitas understand how overwhelming the endless information out there can be. That’s why we want to help better equip you to determine what nutritional “science” is valid and what should be taken with a grain of salt—or thrown out entirely.
Contrary to what the discipline might have you believe, science is not a doctrine; it’s a method. Science is a way of asking questions and determining results. However, how those results are interpreted and what conclusions are drawn from them involve a number of variables. Here are some examples: Scientific studies are often funded by parties with vested interests in the results, so the study may be conducted in a way that could yield results benefiting the funder. Even scientists who believe they are conducting studies objectively are imbued with bias, because…well, they’re human. In today’s digital world, news content is often exaggerated to grab our attention; this is particularly true of headlines. Ads are frequently crafted to look like they’re presenting objective or factual information. For all these reasons, critical thinking is a necessary skill to develop.
It may sound daunting, but you can easily start by following these simple tips:*
1. Be wary of extreme claims in headlines. They are often exaggerated to catch your attention. If you are intrigued, be sure to read the whole article and look for credible sources from which the claims are derived.
2. Read original research when possible. News articles can often alter findings or selectively highlight certain points to create a compelling story—even if it’s unintentional.
3. Follow the money. Find out where the funding for a study was sourced, as companies will often hire scientists to conduct studies in their interest. Methods or results can be skewed or misinterpreted for personal or financial gain.
4. Take note of the sample size. Larger sample sizes tend to have more reliable results.
5. Look for a control group. In all clinical research, the group that's being tested (by changing a behavior or eating a certain food, for example) must be compared to results from a control group, or a group that's not participating in the same activities. No control group = questionable science.
By following these simple tips, you’ll be well on your way to debunking bad science, helping you gain clarity and feel empowered to trust your food choices.
*Adapted from Compound Interest, “A Rough Guide to Spotting Bad Science.”