Why skepticism and scientific literacy skills are key in the nutrition world.
I recently watched an amazing TED talk (watch here). I think it is so important for people to hear this speaker’s point of view. While I don’t agree 100% with what he says, his vibe is my spirit animal. I am coming up on my one-year Instagram-aversary and there have been so many wonderful things that have come out of it. There have also been some very eye-opening experiences. One being how many “influencers” that have zero scientific literacy skills are sharing scientific information that is inaccurate or misrepresented.
A HEALTH PROFESSIONAL’S ROLE WHO WORKS IN THE SCIENCES
I practice dietetics based on research. My job is to read the data, interpret the data, and decide if I feel strongly enough about the data to incorporate it into my practice. One study does not warrant a 180-degree change in my practice. Nor do studies conducted on animals or studies sponsored by the product that is being studied.
I have been amazed by how I can write basically whatever I want, and nobody is stopping me. I have never worked for myself before and always had a boss, editor, or thesis advisor checking my work. It is a little scary to me that I can post on my blog and nobody is verifying that what I am saying is accurate. It is my own paranoia that I include hyperlinks to the studies that I am referring to in case anybody is skeptical of what I am saying. Or that I proactively mention that a study was conducted on a certain animal instead of a human. (PS-I have seen way too many claims based off of a study conducted on animals and not humans. Different species have different ways to metabolize nutrients, so it is not an apple-to-apple comparison. Soy is a perfect example. It is known that rodents and primates metabolize isoflavones differently than humans do. So, if you see a study about soy based off of animal data, take it with an enormous grain of salt).
But how many people even question what I am saying? I have seen it first-hand on so many “nutrition expert” posts. They refer to a study when making some outlandish claim, and when I actually read the study they are referring to, the author of the post completely mis-represented the integrity of the study.
WHAT IS MOTIVATING THE SOURCE TO MAKE A HEALTH CLAIM?
One has to question the motivation of a lot of these “experts”. Are they selling a product? Are they desperate for IG followers? Do they even understand how to read research? Often, I find that people like to share information that is scary or sexy instead of my typical “eat more fruits and veggies!”.
In my past life, I worked for Gerber (love that cute little Gerber baby). At the time, Dr. Oz did a whole segment about arsenic in apple juice. People were outraged that companies like Gerber were feeding babies arsenic! Doesn’t that sound terrible? Woudn’t that make you tune-in to learn more? YOU ARE POISONING YOUR CHILDREN WITH ARSENIC JUICE!
FACT VS. CLICKBAIT
The truth is that arsenic is naturally occurring in many MANY foods. The amount of apple juice that would need to be consumed for a kid to die of arsenic poisoning is insane. Additionally, one needs to look at the synergistic effects (affects? Any grammar majors out there) of the other components of the apple. Antioxidants, vitamins, minerals….eating an apple with a trace amount of arsenic along with a boost of these nutritional powerhouses is much different than feeding your kids a tall cold glass of arsenic to go with their afternoon snack.
I am writing all of this because I see so many women FREAKING OUT about what they put in and on their bodies. Yes, I think there is validity to doing things like eating organic and staying away from BPA. But fearing the word “chemical” is not science-based. Everything is a chemical. There is no avoiding chemicals.
The question is whether the chemical is being provided in a dose and form that may cause harm. The man who spoke in the TED talk refers to ammonia and how it is used to kill bacteria in meat. One hears the word ammonia and may immediately decide that he or she is now a vegetarian. When one digs deeper and tries to understand instead of depending on the media to educate them, they will learn that sometimes ammonia VAPOR is used, and not the ammonia liquid that is highly toxic.
The point to my rambling is that I hope when a claim is made that it is taken with a grain of salt.If someone is making a claim, I would hope that they have evidence to back it up. Otherwise, it is an opinion. I base my recommendations off of science and then, to be honest, I give it my best guess. Science and nutrition are not black-and-white. Fear sells. Just keep that in mind when someone is telling you to stop eating apple.