How to Determine if Nutritional Information is Trustworthy

In a world inundated with food blogs, and vlogs, and celebrities trying to sell us things, it can be overwhelming to try to find any real science about what we should be eating. And as a man known for his efficiency, I’m going to cut right to the chase. No one knows. Seriously, science is only just beginning to get an understanding of the relationship between our bodies and food. But there are some things that are known with more certainty than others, and it is possible for the average person to evaluate data without needing a medical degree.

The scary thing is, you can’t even trust supposedly reliable sources, for example, Monash University who devised the low FODMAP diet definitely know their stuff when it comes to FODMAPs, but seem to have very antiquated ideas about nutrition overall. Their FODMAP diet app pushes the idea of eating a “balanced diet” whatever that means, and eating three meals a day, eating lots of fruit and vegetables, and consuming a lot of fibre. And while that might work for some people, a diet rich in fibre or plant foods can actually have devastating consequences to others. They also don’t seem to think gluten is as bad as it really is. In truth, no human being has evolved to process gluten and it irritates all of us to varying degrees. Just because you don’t have a noticeable reaction, doesn’t mean it’s not having an affect (1).

What’s really scary is when I encounter what is essentially propaganda in the media, for example, in Australia, bananas have had their own ad campaign for decades, we’ve been programmed to see bananas as some incredible health food. But it’s not, honestly you would be better off eating chocolate (well, dark chocolate anyway).

But bananas are natural, you say, so they’re good for you right? Well, no, this is what a wild banana looked like before we bred them into organic candy.

Inside_a_wild-type_banana
Looks tasty, right?

I decided to visit the Australian Bananas website out of curiosity, I wanted to know what rhetoric they used to sell bananas as a health food (2). The site really shocked me, it’s sheer propaganda. There is not a single medical or nutrition organisation affiliated with Australian Bananas. That said, some companies try to trick their consumers into thinking they do have medical backing, for example, Subway’s parent company calls themselves Doctor’s Associates Inc. That’s purely a name. At least Australian Bananas doesn’t stoop that low, they are honest about who is behind the campaign, if you scroll down to the bottom of the Australian Bananas website you will see that it is all funded by Hort Innovation, as the name suggests, they are about farming, not nutrition. This is how we ended up with the disaster that was the food pyramid.
What you won’t find on this website is any citations, this is just a commercial selling a product. Here are some choice lies:

1: “Low GI”
Depending on the source, bananas are generally listed as having a GI number of around 50-55, that’s just scraping under the line to qualify for high GI.2: This entire passage:
“Carbohydrate
Bananas have long been a favourite with athletes and active people. That’s because the carbohydrate in a banana becomes glucose in the blood providing an excellent source of long lasting muscle energy. The carbohydrate will also help replace muscle fuel stores after exercise and that makes bananas a great recovery food. Wholesome carbohydrate sources also help keep blood sugar levels normal. So if you’re feeling a bit jaded mid-afternoon, simply grab a banana.”
What they are discussing here is just the sugar rush or insulin spike that comes from consuming any sugary foods. If you’re an athlete, you can burn that off, if you’re the average person, that’s just going to turn into fat.

3. “Zero fat, cholesterol and salt”
While it is true that bananas contain none of these things, “Australian Bananas” is perpetuating the myth that fat, cholesterol and salt are the villains when they are actually crucial for our health.

4.”You can relax knowing that no-one has ever gotten fat by eating bananas.”
Citation needed.

5. “People are more likely to put on weight by eating too many fatty foods. If you are trying to maintain a healthy weight then eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and go easy on the fatty foods.”
CITATION NEEDED!

Now I won’t deny that there are nutritional benefits to bananas, I used to eat them every morning (when I thought eating three meals a day was a good idea). There’s micronutrients to be had there. But this is why people need to be better educated about nutrition. So they can make informed judgements.

Okay, so let’s get back to the initial question, who can we trust? Well, it takes a bit of detective work. Here’s a little activity for you; Have a look around the Australian Bananas website and then have a look at the Australian Avocados website (3), we can see more scientific sources and there is a much greater emphasis on nutrition.

That’s essentially what it boils down to, I can’t point to any one source and say we can trust them absolutely, even the most well-intentioned individuals get it wrong sometimes. But instead ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this source trying to sell something?
  • What qualifications does this source have?
  • Who was this study funded by?
  • How many sources support or agree with this information?
  • How much evidence do they have?
  • Do they claim to have all the answers or do they admit to the unknowns?
  • And finally: does it work for you? Some people thrive on a vegan diet, others swear by paleo or even carnivore. We are all unique and react differently to different foods. Bananas and avocados both personally cause me digestive issues, but other people can see benefits from either.

And above all, educate yourself! The more you know, the easier it will be to navigate this space of conflicting information. There are still news articles claiming the ketogenic diet is dangerous despite this being the way human beings have eaten since the dawn of time. I recommend reading actual books or listening to podcasts, interviews and talks made by nutrition experts. Get the facts from their source.

 

Citations

  1. Anne Sarkisian is an authoritative advocate on the effects of gluten on the body. Her book Toxic Staple is a good place to start if you wish to know more about gluten: http://toxicstaple.com/
  2. Australian Bananas: https://australianbananas.com.au/Pages/nutrition/the-magic-blend?fbclid=IwAR0cYJjcY4XjBLgRGtldJ1BuBKaSdLzYq8mVid2IHHIlGPZPDv6CUbujFlI
  3. Australian Avocados: http://australianavocados.com.au/the-daily-spread/health-nutrition

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