• Barb Mayfield

Don’t be fooled – separate fact from fiction


four blocks spelling out fact switching to fake

Have you ever played an April Fools joke or prank on someone? Have you ever been the target of one? If so, you are familiar with just how easily we can fall for all types of falsehoods.


When it comes to information about food, nutrition, and health, having accurate information can be a matter of life and death. At the least, it can affect one’s quality of life and pocketbook! Don’t be fooled – learn to separate fact from fiction!


As a nutrition professional, I often wonder… How many of the messages transmitted every day about food and nutrition are factual and how many are fictional?


I know the public is confused. Heck, sometimes I’m confused about what is truth and what is bogus. How about you? Have you ever fallen for falsehoods?


Where do we find misinformation?

If someone has a question about nutrition, who do they turn to? Considering there’s only one dietitian for every 3,722 Americans, they will likely turn to Google. Does Google have answers? You bet! Type “nutrition” into Google and get over 2 billion results. How many are correct?


In addition to bogus sites on the internet, social media is a top source of misinformation. It’s no wonder consumers are confused. False information is nothing new. More than one hundred years before the internet came into being, way back in 1855, the reverend Charles Spurgeon quoted this old proverb in a sermon:

“A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.”


Who knows fact from fiction?

Health professionals, like dietitians, also seek information via Google, Twitter, and other online sources, but are better equipped to separate truth from falsehood. For example, articles promoting “cleanses” and “detoxes” are popular. But do we need to cleanse and detox?


Ask a dietitian and you will learn that “cleanse” is what we need to do on the outside and the only time we should do it on the inside is before a colonoscopy. They will likewise tell you that “detox” is what our livers and kidneys do, and no special product or program is necessary.


Why do we fall for what isn’t true? Because falsehoods tell us something we want.

When we seek information, we gravitate to messages that confirm our current beliefs and satisfy our desires best. When we want something to be true, we are more likely to believe it and discount anything that contradicts it. We call that confirmation bias.


Additionally, truth is usually less enticing and more mundane than misinformation. When something promises quick and easy results to solve a problem, we will want it to be true.


How can we avoid being fooled? Be skeptical, check sources, question motives.

When a statement or a story sounds too good to be true, go to the original source. Don’t just rely on online sources like blogs and social media to keep current. Consumers can access nutrition research at Science Daily and Google Scholar.


Go ahead and ask Google, but make sure to visit reputable websites like Nutrition.gov, a USDA-sponsored website that offers credible information, or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


Evaluate the motive for any claims. If a website or article is selling something, scrutinize it carefully. Is scientific research cited? Has it been reported accurately or is it presented in an effort to promote sales? Commercial interests need to be considered when evaluating claims.


Stories and claims about nutrition must be interpreted based on the strength of the evidence and the credibility and motive of the source.


Bottom line – be skeptical. Be willing to look at the original research, if it exists, and assess the credibility of the source and the author. Remind yourself and others: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Falsehoods abound in cyberspace.


April Fools’ Day has been “celebrated” for centuries. Although its origin remains a mystery, several historical events are speculated.


Regardless of the day of the year, don’t be fooled – learn to separate fact from fiction.


“There are two ways to be fooled: One is to believe what isn’t true, the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” ~ Soren Kierkegard


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