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  • Writer's pictureBarbara J. Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Is it possible to dispel misconceptions and misinformation? Yes. With authority.


the word fact inside a magnifying glass next to sticky notes with fiction written on them

Is the public confused about food and nutrition? Can it be challenging to differentiate between what is fact and what is fiction? Yes, and yes.


Dispelling believable-sounding misinformation and popular misconceptions is a constant job for nutrition professionals. After all, many self-proclaimed “experts” promote unnecessary and unproven ideas or instill fear in eating certain foods or food groups. Even worse, they are often slick communicators with convincing messages.


What can a nutrition professional do?


Is it possible to dispel misconceptions and misinformation? Yes. With authority.

To dispel misconceptions and misinformation requires more than expertise. It requires combining one’s knowledge of food and nutrition with communication excellence. When an expert communicates knowledge skillfully, they are an authority.


An authority can effectively present what is fact and dispel what is fiction. Their message makes an impact and has greater influence.


Section 2 of Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide was written to provide a guide for nutrition professionals to be able to identify credible, evidence-based food and nutrition information and communicate that knowledge effectively to the public. Let’s look at 3 steps to follow…


Step 1: Determine whether the source is credible.

Identify the source and assess whether the individual or organization is reputable, ethical, and has the credentials to be a reliable source. Have any potential conflicts of interest been properly disclosed? If the source is not identified, question the credibility of the information.


Media and social media sources can be credible or questionable. Identify the author. Examine the website. Check for complete references to where the information was obtained. Be skeptical until assured of credibility.


Step 2: Determine whether the information is accurate.

Go back to the original source of information to check whether anything was taken out of context, or if findings were incorrectly portrayed. For example, associations between variables are often presented as one causing another such as “high intakes of X are associated with Y” is described as “X causes Y.”


Headlines often sensationalize study findings and become click-bait to reel in the reader. By reading the original source one finds that the study was with mice, or cell cultures, or an extremely small sample size, yet the headline or even the entire article generalized it to all people.


For a weekly example of questionable headlines versus the actual studies, I recommend subscribing to ObesityandEnergetics.org


Chapter 5 has two helpful figures: “Fact vs Fiction Filters for Information Sources” and “The 10 Red Flags of Junk Science.” They are illustrated in this post: Are magical nutrition solutions real or a misconception? Learn the truth.


Step 3: Clearly communicate the truth. Be the expert with authority.

Help the public understand how to determine whether a source is credible and whether information is accurate. The challenge can be exposing falsehoods or half-truths without coming across as a negative critic. Express the truth in such a way that consumers recognize how much it benefits them to know the facts.


For example, a social media post or news article may instill a fear of eating non-organic strawberries. Explain the nearly non-existent risk of pesticide residues and the monetary savings they will gain as a benefit from learning that all strawberries are safe if handled with food safety in mind.


Personalize the information to help them understand what may or may not apply to their lifestyle or health. Do they need to avoid gluten? Probably not. Are there foods they would like to enjoy that contain gluten? Probably yes. Explain that grains containing gluten are perfectly safe for most people. No need to limit your intake or spend more on alternatives.


Create context where it is lacking so consumers clearly understand the true benefits and risks. Emphasize the value of dietary patterns over singular foods that are purported to be either superfoods or hazards to your health. How much of something would they have to eat or drink to either prevent disease or cause harm? It is likely more than anyone can reasonably consume.


Which step do you need to follow more consistently? Read more about becoming an expert with authority and communicating with excellence:


“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.” ~ Daniel Patrick Moynihan


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