Have you ever consulted Google or Wiki for speedy answers to a burning food, nutrition or health related question? Is fasting safe? How do I lose weight and keep it off? Do super-foods really exist? And a personal favourite; when can I expect that magic exercise pill to hit the market?! Finding accurate online information becomes even more complicated when we are bombarded with health messages that seem to be ever-changing and conflicting.
So, how do we separate fact from fiction?
You can STRIP² away the layers of online health information using the following clues on their accuracy:
- Single: are single or multiple foods and nutrients promoted? There is much more evidence of the benefits of healthy eating patterns over single foods.
- Study: size (more people, more power); duration (the longer, the better); and amount (the more studies showing the same results, the better).
- Time: is the website current, including the date content was last modified?
- Tone: a neutral tone describing both sides of the evidence can be more reliable than a one-sided, emotionally charged stance.
- Residence: where does the website live? Is it a trusted place such as a professional organization (.org), or government (.gov), or educational (.edu) institution?
- Restrictive: are entire food and/or nutrient groups eliminated?
- “I -I - Me - Me”: personal stories or testimonials, although important, aren’t strong proof that something works.
- Product: do you need to buy special products or services?
- Promises: a quick fix or magic bullet is rarely tried, tested and/or true.
It’s best to look at the above clues as guidelines instead of absolutes. For example, there are many companies that sell evidence-based, healthful messages and products. And, there is much we have yet to discover regarding the mind-body link, like the power of a “placebo”, whereby just thinking that a specific food, nutrient, or other harmless substance is good for us can cause unique health benefits.
Some final thoughts about information that promises to make us healthier, fitter, happier–all faster than the speed of light. Quick fixes are rarely the long term solution to our greatest ails and wishes. True progress often requires hard work, dedication and, sorry to be the party pooper-time. The magic of healthy living is often directly related to our personal efforts, including a willingness to carefully seek out information with an open, curious and ever questioning mind.
Today's blog has been written by Dr. Tanis Mihalynuk, Registered Dietitian. Tanis is the practice improvement dietitian at Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC and has written on diverse nutrition and health topics for patients, physicians and other health care professionals, students, educators, community partners and the public.
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