Friday Read: How to Tell Nutrition Research Fact From Fiction in the News

If you’re confused whether coconut oil is good or bad for you or whether alcohol will lengthen or shorten your life, you’re not alone. With so many nutrition studies receiving coverage in the news, it’s often difficult to discern truth from hyperbole.

A great article published today in the Washington Post discusses how we shouldn’t make generalizations based on the results from many nutrition science studies. The author explained it nicely when she said:

“The coffee studies in the news last week were what scientists know as observational studies. In these studies, researchers followed coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers and monitored when and how they died. The problem is, when you go about searching for differences between any two groups, you’re going to find them. ‘That doesn’t prove that coffee is providing the benefit,’ said David Ludwig, professor of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. For example, people who drink coffee regularly might have higher incomes, drink fewer sugary beverages, or lead more active lifestyles. Observational studies like these are useful for identifying interesting trends, but they do not demonstrate cause and effect.”

Nutrition is a particularly difficult topic for the media to cover. One nutrition study on its own likely won’t provide newsworthy, headline-grabbing content. “Truth can only emerge from many different studies with many different methods,” said Ludwig.

So how can you determine whether or not to believe a news story? Among other suggestions, the author warns to be wary of claims that cutting any given food from our diets will cure us. They sound too good to be true because they are.

To learn how to become a better interpreter of nutrition science in the news, read the full article from the Washington Post here.

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