We live in an age where any medical question that requires a response is answered swiftly with a smartphone and quick “ask Google.” This applies to nutrition. “What food is good for stopping colds?”, “ask Google.” “What food is good for reducing spots?”, “ask Google.” “What food is good for insomnia?”, “ask Google.” With access to trillions of libraries of information and swathes of knowledge at its fingertips, we trust that online has all the answers and it seems can solve all your nutritional dilemmas and quandaries. However, with so much information comes that issue over who decides what information you see. Over-information saturation means that competition to get to the top of Google or into your social media feed has become a business and with this comes huge scope for manipulation for financial gain (just look at Google advertising). With so much information comes a lack of information. The HM Government outlined this in their recent online campaign calling this, “Disinformation”. Disinformation: To deliberately spread false information for targeted reasons.
Google and social media get it wrong. They lie to you. They are not a doctor or a dietician and nothing online is regulated. So many untruths are taken as fact as opinions spiral into trends which fund businesses and preach messages which eventually “influencers” and politicians stand up and sermonise to their echo chamber audiences to receive political grace and power.Laura Campbell
Social media and top-rated Google websites often tell you only what everyone ‘at a time says is right,’ based upon anecdotes and opinions (which may not be right). These popularity contests float into trends which Instagram influencers manipulate for financial gain. Google algorithms keep showing you similar information as the code thinks it’s telling you what you want to hear, even if it may be wrong. And so we all keep repeating the wrong dietary information in our societal ‘echo chambers’ thinking that because everyone else is saying and doing it, it’s right, when if it is factually wrong, it’s still wrong. Think avocados. They are good for you, but so are lots of other foods and they are very un-eco-friendly as they are flown in from all over the world to get to our plates?
We must always remember that very few Google websites or social media feeds are neither inspected for accuracy nor their sources verified for credible expertise and none of the data presented as facts is checked for their reliability of evidence. How often do you reference a source from your Facebook feed? How often do you say “right Instagram what medical journal is that claim from?”!! When it comes to nutrition, reading nutritional HEALTH information online or on your phone, (I do see the irony in this blog article) is well, BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH.
We must remember that ANYONE can put up a post claiming nutritional wizardry from some new superfood or lifestyle hack. My friend, an languages and arts graduate with no scientific education at all regularly writes articles for social media, broadsheet magazines and online on “healthy living and wellbeing tips” when, despite being a truly excellent writer, she hasn’t the expertise to make such claims. She just copies what is vacuously trending on Instagram to gain online popularity or is paid to produce content and sell things like everyone else. The nutritional information in most online websites is often unsourced and unreferenced and the writers often don’t have a clue about what they are claiming. Whether this is from a lack of education or personal experience, there is a knowledge gap which is fuelling trends in diet, fitness and lifestyle which is unhealthy and dangerously medically neglectful. Don’t trust ‘nutritional therapists’ or ‘ nutritional or fitness coaches” as these qualifications are non-protected terms and the title very easy to obtain and the expertise less academic and accurate. Only a Doctor or accredited Nutritionist or Dietician, a protected term for a biochemically trained nutritional clinician with university level professional training, really has the skill to write such information. The consequences of these ‘health promoting’ salesman material that we read as health evidence, is that people change their behaviour “to be healthy” and land up very, very unhealthy.
I am a nutrition and food scientist, food writer and I have had an eating disorder. I never dieted as part of this. That wasn’t and will never be, my thing. I couldn’t eat when anxious, got athletes triad (I was an athlete whose body fat got too low) and a workaholic and “life-aholic” and did too much in a busy, over-stimulating city, never rested as I pushed myself ambitiously too hard and the anorexia was my way of finding calm in the chaos, order with an eating disorder. However, I have watched friends succumb to eating disorders like anorexia and orthorexia (obsessive healthy eating) where they compulsively focus on their diet and restrict food groups or count calories (in apps that miscalculate) based upon some “Strava” or “MyFitnessPal” or “Healthline” app telling them what foods “are good foods” and “bad foods” and “lifestyle tips” which are often very unhealthy. They assume that what they are reading is healthy as they “read from a respected site” but even some respected sites now need to repeat what’s trending to keep up with their audience demand. Credibility is lost to pay bills at such a high cost to the reader. I have watched friends trying to fit in by using “protein powders” and “trying to beef up at the gym” based upon some protein bodybuilding trend they see on social media which leads them becoming impotent and depressed. I have watched beautiful girls, women and men (many of them doctors and lawyers with huge IQ’s and so much about them) slip away to nothing based upon some “healthy eating” or “FAD DIET” regime they read. My medical student friends with so much health knowledge living on smoothies which are nutritionally murdering their brains and bodies as they think they are “getting healthy.” It’s all bollocks, unsustainable and addictive and it’s dramatically terrible on individual levels. It can start the yo-yo fad-dieting addictions that lead to obesity (what you deny yourself you crave), it can deny your body vital food groups and vitamins and minerals needed for your heart, liver and kidneys. It can change your personality even as it can change your hormone levels (brain neurotransmitters and hormones such as Serotonin, the happiness chemical, Oxytocin, the love chemical and Oestrogen and Testosterone needed for wellbeing are made of fat so fat-free diets deprive you of the necessary biological molecules to be happy). It can alter the way you look, the way you see yourself, your health and your energy levels. Most scarily, it can kill you.
Always check you know the origin of the information you read and if they have any form of vested interests (are they gaining financially by making certain claims). When reading nutritional information always check your data…
Google and social media are neither regulated nor verified for the scientific accuracy of its nutritional information. Only blogs and information from reputable, trusted sites and expertise from reliable data and knowledgeable experts should be trusted. Don’t believe what you read. Look behind the pretty Instagram or Facebook, or whatever new site is popular in these fickle times, photo which is claiming all kinds of things and READ A BOOK or journal to verify the information. Even a simple GCSE textbook could be more accurate than some of the dubious claims made by “trenders” on Instagram or TickTock. A pretty picture could come at the cost to your health. Don’t believe all you see and read. Think critically and question everything. Or your health might pay the price.