Several organizations, representing over 100,000 food scientists, nutrition and medical professionals, have joined forces to help separate the ducks from the quacks. This joint task force is called the "Food and Nutrition Science Alliance" (FANSA) which includes experts from the American Dietetic Association (ADA), the American Institute of Nutrition (AIN), the American Society for Clinical Nutrition (ASCN), and the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). FANSA published a list of "Red Flags" to help alert the public to "junk science."
Antioxidants, phytochemicals, complex carbohydrates...is this the outline of a college chemistry course? Or is it dinner? Nowadays, the answer may be both. Scientific developments in food and nutrition are routine occurrences and phrases like "functional foods" are entering people's everyday vocabularies. But how can an average person separate the nutrition science from science fiction or "junk science" and know what to believe? Before reacting to nutrition studies that paint a grim picture of the American dinner table, lunch counter and breakfast nook, consider the red flags to spot "junk" science.
First and foremost beware of recommendations that promise a quick fix. There is no overnight cure that can melt off that fifteen pounds you gained on your vacation. It takes time to see results from valid nutrition therapy. Be skeptical of dire warnings of danger from a single product or regimen. Do you feel guilty, for instance, when you eat an egg? Use your common sense when you hear advice to totally avoid one food or another. If claims that sound too good to be true. They often are. There has yet to be a magic bullet developed to fix our health and nutrition issues. Changes take effort not just a wiggle of the nose or snap of the fingers.
Anyone can distort a conclusion. Exercise caution with accepting one single conclusion. Advertisers can turn preliminary findings into sales pitches with baseless claims, often for the sole purpose of economic gain.Get the facts; there are at least two sides of a story. Simplistic conclusions drawn from a complex study is often associated with misinterpretation. There is research, for example, that shows an "association" between television viewing and being overweight. "Junk" science would translate that to mean, "Everyone who watches TV gets fat". Beware, not all nutrition advice is accurate.
Recommendations based on a single study. "Preliminary" research should prompt you to stay tuned for more information. Dramatic statements that are refuted by reputable scientific organizations are another cause for concern. Be suspicious if there are no credible sources to back up a nutrition claim.
Notorious lists of "good" and "bad" foods should be your “Nutrition Yield Sign.” Nutrition is a science, not a moral issue. There is no such thing as good, bad, legal, non-legal, right, or wrong when it comes to food. A single food or meal doesn't make or break a healthful diet. Healthful eating comes from making informed decisions about all foods.
Be cautious with recommendations that are made to help sell a product. Your first question should be “What is the motivation behind the recommendation?” Recommendations based on studies published without peer reviews are need for skepticism and should have further investigation. Reliable nutrition advice can withstand the critical review of the nutrition community. Recommendations from studies that ignore differences among individuals or groups are biased against different genders, ethnic groups, and different age groups. Men aren't mice and women aren't men. Listen closely to research findings to determine how they apply to you.
Enormous advances have been made in the science of food and nutrition, leading to a fine-tuning of many recommendations about eating healthfully. Despite these positive developments, misinformation about the role of nutrition in health abounds in our society, allowing nutrition related misbeliefs, health fraud, and quackery to flourish.