Q&A: How nutrition professionals can take an evidence-based approach to debunking food myths


This publish is sponsored by the Ajinomoto Group.

There’s a variety of misinformation on the market in relation to meals and diet, and many individuals can simply be swayed by opinions and false details that make them make misguided decisions. On this interview, meals, diet and media communication advisor Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RDN, LD, discusses what leads folks to consider myths about sure meals and the way diet professionals can use scientific proof to fight misinformation.  

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RDN, LD

How can myths and private bias cloud the interpretation of scientific proof and result in misinformation? 

Despite the fact that all of us have our personal private opinions, diet is a science, not an opinion. Bias usually comes into play when speaking about controversial matters or when there’s inadequate knowledge, when feelings take over and misinformation flies within the face of proof. Affirmation bias describes trying to find data, or “cherry choosing” knowledge, that’s in step with one’s beliefs. If our views are usually not in keeping with the proof, it’s our duty to make an goal, unemotional evaluation of the details and clearly talk the load of the proof or lack thereof when there’s restricted proof.  

How can diet professionals use the load of scientific proof to debunk myths?

One examine in isolation doesn’t change public well being recommendation, however sadly, typically it might probably change public notion. Meals and diet are very important to good well being, however myths can perpetuate unhealthy behaviors and have an effect on well being and wellness. It’s our skilled duty to speak the physique of proof in context and assist folks perceive the way it can help their private objectives. Earlier than doing so, we should recognize the place that individual is coming from and search widespread floor to assist them be extra open minded to our recommendation. Recommendation delivered with heat, a caring demeanor and compassion is most definitely to be heard.   

What are some scorching matters in meals and diet which might be producing myths or misconceptions, and what ought to diet specialists remember when evaluating the proof?

One instance is the resistance to genetically modified organisms, although they’ve been in our meals provide for greater than 20 years and the Nationwide Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Drugs has discovered “no substantiated proof of a distinction in dangers to human well being between present commercially obtainable genetically engineered crops and conventionally bred crops.”1 One other instance is monosodium glutamate (MSG), a standard family seasoning that has been utilized in meals for greater than 100 years. Regardless of a conclusive physique of proof displaying that MSG is protected, many individuals nonetheless affiliate it with numerous signs, though these haven’t been constantly demonstrated in placebo-controlled, double-blind trials.2 Struggle misinformation by staying updated, studying the literature — not simply the press launch, trying critically on the prevailing physique of analysis and consulting authoritative public well being establishments. 

Why is it that some folks nonetheless select to consider myths and misperceptions about sure meals regardless of the scientific proof debunking these claims?

When folks select to consider myths despite the science, it’s usually rooted in emotional or psychological causes. To make use of MSG for instance once more, contemplate a current survey from researchers at Behavioralize, which was supported by Ajinomoto, to raised perceive why some folks keep away from MSG regardless of proof that it’s protected. The findings recommend folks’s avoidance of MSG is rooted in feelings, emotions and misinformation discovered on the web that they consider to be true3. One other fascinating discovering is that individuals who keep away from MSG don’t have a factual understanding of the ingredient, however they consider they do. Scientists consult with this because the “Dunning-Kruger Impact.” It may be that it appears like a chemical and its title creates “chemophobia.” We should put the problem into context and assist folks perceive the science whereas additionally holding in thoughts the emotional weight that comes with folks’s selections and beliefs.    

What are your ideas on industry-funded analysis? What profit does it present to the physique of scientific proof and the {industry}?

All analysis ought to be judged on the standard of the examine, whatever the supply of funding. Trade-funded analysis, like all analysis, is obliged to transparency and disclosure. When funding isn’t reported, the standard score of the analysis is extra more likely to be diminished. A number of research have proven that there isn’t any vital distinction in favorable conclusions or high quality of analysis between industry-sponsored research and research that aren’t industry-funded4, 5. As an example, a examine analysis by the dairy {industry} discovered no vital variations between industry- and non-industry-funded research6. With a view to garner belief, we have to promote sound science in context and analyze the analysis with a essential eye. As RDNs, it’s also our moral duty to uphold the code of ethics of the Academy of Diet and Dietetics.

How ought to professionals talk recommendation when the science is rising? 

There’s little or no black and white in diet. Diet analysis is usually within the “grey” zone. Proof-based pointers and systematic evaluations are thought-about the very best obtainable sources, however when these don’t exist, such because the case with rising science, then main analysis or skilled consensus is the subsequent greatest obtainable. Kind a judgment understanding there’s uncertainty, utilizing the very best instruments to interpret and talk the newest science.

With regards to rising analysis, be clear that the analysis is rising, put it into context and all the time bear in mind “do no hurt.” It’s alright to convey uncertainty and, the truth is, you’re extra more likely to construct belief this fashion. Our job is to supply the prevailing skilled consensus over confusion, and stand united as diet specialists, serving as a balanced and grounded data hub, particularly in a time of faux details and dangerous traits.

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RDN, LD is a meals, diet and media communication advisor and proprietor of No Nonsense Diet, LLC. She lately retired because the director of diet for WebMD, the place she helped construct a state-of-the-art meals, weight loss plan and diet portal. She presently serves as a contributing editor to the Academy of Diet and Dietetics’ Meals & Diet Journal, is a member of the board of administrators of the True Well being Initiative, Inc. and Nutrition4Kids’ medical advisory board, and is a diet skilled for the Ajinomoto Group.



1. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

2. Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology. Executive summary from the report: analysis of adverse reactions to monosodium glutamate (MSG). J Nutr. 1995 Nov;125(11):2891S-2906S.

3. Behavioralize. 2020. Psychological underpinnings of monosodium glutamate (MSG) avoidance: Why is MSG shunned when specialists say it’s protected?

4. Chartres N, Fabbri A, Bero LA. Association of Industry Sponsorship With Outcomes of Nutrition Studies: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2016 Dec 1;176(12):1769-1777. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.6721. PMID: 27802480

5. Myers EF, Parrott JS, Cummins DS, Splett P. Funding source and research report quality in nutrition practice-related research. PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e28437. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028437

6. Mishali M, Kisner M, Avrech T. Funding sources and outcomes of dairy consumption research – A meta-analysis of cohort studies: The case of type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Int Dairy J. 2019 Aug;95:65-70. doi.org/10.1016/j.idairyj.2019.02.019

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