As the vegetarian sharks in “Finding Nemo” chant together, “Fish are friends, not food.” Their lifestyle change didn’t go according to plan and was completely forgotten at the first opportunity, and many of us can relate. Following through is the hardest part of any goal. Eating habits may not be genetically ingrained, so finding the right place to start and taking the steps to achieve change can be difficult.
Julie Metos, associate chair of the Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology at the University of Utah, talked about the best resources for students looking to make changes to their eating habits, yet aren’t getting the results they expect.
“I would say the main problem that people run into is that they just hit Google and they don’t really think about the source of the information,” Metos said. “They just kind of go for what the first hit is or what sounds correct to them, but with nutrition information, you have to realize that there are a lot of people who would like to influence your opinion — such as food companies, marketing companies and even individuals that are selling a product, so you definitely have to … beware.”
Google isn’t always a reliable source. Companies are able to purchase ad placements or alter product descriptions to make it more likely their product shows up when keywords are typed into the search bar. Google may be the fastest way to keep up with current trends and new recipes, but the best places to go for the science behind new diets and food trends are accredited websites.
Finding Trustworthy Sources
Websites like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which can be found at www.cspinet.org, or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, www.eatright.org, are the best sources for online food research. They will even help you find diet plans and weight loss strategies that work best for you.
The CSPI is the best place to get nutrition information and conduct food research. It’s “considered America’s food watchdog,” according to Metos.
“The Center for Science in the Public Interest does a lot of work on nutrition and they have a really great way of making it very accessible to consumers and people looking for information,” Metos said. “They publish a nutrition newsletter with really researched tools that talk about popular nutrition controversies, what’s up to date and evaluate them.”
Students at the U are able to use the Marriott Library and the Eccles Health Library — both have large databases of up-to-date resources. Metos recommends students take Nutrition 1020 or some other introduction to nutrition and health class so they can develop the necessary skills for evaluating nutrition information.
Research may be a little harder for those who prefer physical sources or aren’t the most tech savvy — books and magazines may actually be the worst source when it comes to doing food research.
“Generally speaking, I would say that I wouldn’t trust any book that you find on the shelf at Barnes and Noble about diet or nutrition,” Metos said. “I would encourage people to dig a little deeper.”
Metos encourages people to look further into claims in diet books, because oftentimes it’s just that, making claims. Many of these diets haven’t been tested by a wide variety of people and suggest there is a right way to eat. Metos doesn’t like the word diet itself because changing habits isn’t supposed to make someone miserable. Diet books frequently focus on the diet itself and create a plan most people find difficult to follow or one where people are required to cut out foods their bodies need.
Thankfully, those looking for the smell of paper aren’t out of luck. There are books listed on the CSPI’s and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ websites that have information on diets that are nutritionist approved. Metos recommends taking a look at those lists, as well as the DASH diet.
“There’s also a book that I think is pretty good that’s in the Dummies series called ‘Nutrition for Dummies.’ … And then Consumer Reports does an annual review of diet books and then makes recommendations and theirs are always pretty great,” Metos said.
Focus on More Than Recipes
For those looking for a quicker way to consume information, magazines are a must. While most magazines are fun, they are not the best place for the kind of information gathering food research requires. Bon Appetit, Cook’s Illustrated and Southern Living are great for recipes. The best magazine for food research is Cooking Light. This magazine has a more science-based focus when it comes to food, while the others are more chef-based.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to food and nutrition research is to look for sources. If the information in the article, book, magazine or newsletter isn’t citing a registered dietitian or nutritionist, one who can be identified by the letters RD or RDN following their name, then it is best to look elsewhere. RD and RDN mean a person is credentialed in clinical and community nutrition, as well as food science.
Food research is like any other research, but just because people tend to do it for themselves, that doesn’t mean they should be more lackadaisical about the standards they hold other information to. The wrong diet plan can lead to disappointment and minimal results with frequent setbacks and cheat days when temptation takes over.