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

What misconceptions drive you crazy? Conquer them with truth and respect.

Updated: May 30, 2023

woman making a crazy expression with finger to forehead and tongue sticking out

Misconceptions are a nemesis to food and nutrition professionals. On one extreme are claims that a little gummy chew will melt away pounds and at the opposite extreme are claims that something in our food will cause major bodily harm.

Falsehoods like this have been around forever (think snake oil), but with the internet and social media, they spread further and faster than ever. Consider how often such claims show up in your news feed.

In this post, let’s explore some of the most common misconceptions nutrition professionals must deal with and begin a series discussing ways to conquer them with truth and respect.

Common misconceptions frustrate nutrition professionals.

If you ask Registered Dietitian Nutritionists to list the misconceptions about food and nutrition that frustrate them most, they are likely to include:

  • Simple solutions actually work: Easy fixes, magical foods and supplements, fad diets…

  • Nutrition scientists cannot agree.

  • Nutrition is an opinion and not a science.

  • Everyone is a nutrition “expert.”

  • Dietitians only create meal plans or help with weight loss.

  • Fruit is full of sugar and therefore unhealthy.

  • Eating carbohydrates is unhealthy.

  • Eliminating certain foods is the key to a healthy lifestyle.

  • Foods from animal sources cannot contribute to sustainable nutrition and agriculture.

  • Sweeteners will kill you.

  • Fruits and vegetables on the “dirty dozen” list are dangerous.

  • Processed food is bad for you.

  • Eating GMOs will alter our genetics.

What makes a misconception?

Many of these misconceptions stem from all-or-nothing thinking, a misunderstanding of risk or a scientific principle, an inability to put information into context, or a universal desire to get quick results with minimal effort.

Misconceptions can be based on ignorance, or they can be perpetuated by ulterior motives. Over the upcoming weeks, we will dig deeper into several common nutrition misconceptions and explore how to conquer them with truth and respect.

We will begin this week with misconceptions about who the real nutrition experts are.

Will the true nutrition experts please stand up.

Everyone is NOT a nutrition expert. Becoming an expert in nutrition requires extensive study that can generally be identified by credentials earned.

Professionals who have earned the RD (Registered Dietitian) or RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) credential have completed a 4-year degree in nutrition that includes extensive coursework in the sciences, completed a supervised internship and advanced coursework, and passed a registration examination.

These credentials are awarded and maintained by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. RDs and RDNs must complete 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years to keep their credentials current.

Nutrition experts can also be nutrition scientists who have completed graduate work in human nutrition and earned a Master of Science or a Ph.D. in nutrition. Their expertise may be more research-oriented rather than practice-oriented and may be specific to a particular area of nutrition.

Other medical disciplines including doctors, nurses, and pharmacists may have had little coursework in nutrition or a lot. Credentials such as RN, MD, or PharmD do not guarantee nutrition expertise.

Self-proclaimed experts and social media influencers often have strong opinions about nutrition but may have no more expertise than their personal experience. Just because a person was “successful” in losing weight or managing a condition following a specific course of action does not prove its effectiveness.

A related misconception is that the expertise of dietitians is limited to creating meal plans or helping people lose weight. The reality is that dietitians are knowledgeable and skilled in providing medical nutrition therapy for a wide range of diseases and conditions, promoting public health, developing and implementing food and nutrition policies, and conducting research as well as much much more.

When assessing whether a claim is true, evaluate the source. Look for credentialed nutrition experts, such as RDs and RDNs. Also, look for peer review and the support of expert organizations such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics or the Food and Drug Administration. A group of experts is more credible than one.

Conquer misconceptions with truth and respect.

Misconceptions can be tightly held and hard to change. Therefore, to conquer a misconception, we must identify common ground and recognize the reason behind the belief. Our rebuttal must be truthful yet respectful. No one wants to be labeled as gullible.

When someone relays a misconception that portrays someone as an expert, offer to check out the source before labeling it as unsubstantiated. Ask politely whether the expert has credentials signifying expertise and what evidence they provide to support their claims.

Acknowledge what makes the claim attractive and believable as well as what could indicate it may be untrue. Avoid argument and encourage discernment. Combine truth with respect.

“Every misconception is a poison: There are no harmless misconceptions.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

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