I absolutely love helpful nutrition advice. The thing I need to remind myself to do more often is to watch my sources. I’m careful, to a certain extent. For example, if I look something up, I’ll definitely pay close attention to the quality of the links I click. If I see advice on a personal blog or on Harvard Health’s site, I’ll definitely consider the latter to be more reliable than the former. It’s not any old person on the internet is wrong, it’s just that some organizations have more street cred.
Nutrition Advice is as Important as Medical Recommendations
The nutrition advice I follow plays an important part of my overall health. As such, it’s as important as any medical recommendation I might listen to. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to slip into the habit of seeing an influencer I happen to like making a recommendation…and then blindly following it without doing any further research.
The thing is, while I do love some of the influencers on my social media feeds, popularity doesn’t make them experts in everything. I need to keep reminding myself of that, because it’s amazing how I can come to trust whatever it is that they say. Charisma is a tricky thing!
What to Watch Out for in Nutrition Advice from Influencers
Influencers can give good nutrition advice. When they say to eat your veggies, talk to your doctor or focus on a balanced diet, those are all great recommendations. That said, when they start pointing to one superfood or another, a specialty or extreme diet, or even a vitamin supplement that is supposed to solve all sorts of problems – or very specific individual issues – that’s when little red flags should be raised. For me, they don’t always, but I’m trying hard to spot them earlier.
Here are some of the warning signs I watch for that will stop me from paying attention to nutrition advice shared by an influencer.
1 – Specific Recommendations Without Credentials to Back them Up
When Dr. Aaron Carroll of YouTube’s Healthcare Triage fame (who is also a practicing doctor, a medical school professor, vice chair of the Health Policy and Outcomes Research and director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research) recommends something, I tend to listen. He makes statements typically aimed at generally healthy American adults and supports everything he says with quality research (and explains why it’s quality research).
On the other hand, when a certain beauty blogger I like makes a recommendation…I try hard not to listen quite as closely without looking into the claims. Nutrition advice is like medical recommendations. Credentials are needed.
2 – Sponsored or Promoted Products
One of the ways influencers earn their living is to talk/post about products. Their posts are sponsored or otherwise paid for (through affiliate programs or other earning strategies) by companies trying to sell products or services. As such, while an influencer isn’t necessarily actively deceiving, they do have other reasons to talk up a product aside from how great they think it is. Those other motives can skew the impression they’re giving of it, deliberate or not.
3 – Overblown Statements and Claims
One of the reasons influencers are as successful as they are, is that they have a knack for drawing clicks, attention and interaction. They don’t do this by being understated. This is fine when professing adoration for fashion or art they might like. When it comes to medical claims or nutrition advice, it’s something else. If a promise or statement about a certain food or product is big enough, listen to your gut and take a second look at other quality sources talking about it before you believe it.