Chances are that even if you didn’t leave your house today, if you’ve turned on your smart phone or television or read a newspaper or magazine, you’ve been exposed to at least one product that makes a nutrition claim. These products may claim to promote weight loss, boost energy, prevent cancer, or make you look and feel younger. Although when most of us hear some of the more extravagant claims we can immediately realize that they are too good to be true, we often want to believe that there really is a magic cure to all of our health problems. We might start to actually believe some of the far-fetched health claims over time. Thankfully, there are ways we can determine if a product really will do some of the things it promises to do. When analyzing a health claim, we can apply some of the following basic guidelines:
- Does the product claim to do something that seems totally contrary to what you know about nutrition? If you have doubts, do some research into the subject. Remember to stick to scholarly articles that have been peer reviewed (PubMed and Google Scholar are some free places to find research articles). And, of course, don’t trust everything you read on the internet. Did you find tons of “evidence” that a certain diet works wonders on someone’s blog based on personal testimonials? Second guess that, my friends.
- Be wary if a health-related nutrition claim only focuses on the positive aspects of a product and dismisses the negative aspects, claims to be a brand new discovery or breakthrough, claims to be able to cure a disease, sounds too good to be true, or has an extreme bias against current medical treatments. These could be red flags that the claims are not actually valid.
- Check to see who is making these claims. Is it someone with strong scientific or medical credentials, or is it just some random person who just wants to make money by selling their product? However, sometimes credentials don’t mean anything. I’m sorry to say that plenty of RDs (registered dietitians) sell questionable supplements even though we should not.
- If there was research done that supports the claims, look into the size and duration of the study. Can the experimental findings be replicated by others? Do the findings actually prove the validity of the health claims? Most people don’t know how to read a research study, and that’s beneficial for many companies. As a dietitian, we often interpret these studies for the lay public so you can figure out what the findings actually were. Check for articles in newspapers or online written by people with healthcare credentials. We’re more likely to correctly interpret the findings.
- Be wary of press conferences on new groundbreaking findings. These are done to generate interest, but don’t get caught up in the excitement and forget to analyze the claims.
On this note, take a look at my checklist for determining if a health website/blog is legit.