Can I trust Nutrition Advice on Tik Tok?

Can I trust Nutrition Advice on Tik Tok?

Tik Tok has taken the world by storm. The app allows users to create short, entertaining videos that range from comedy and talent to educational videos. Some Tik Tokers also provide nutrition advice.

Tik Tokers discuss how to lose weight, how to prepare meals that follow certain diets, and some debunk nutrition myths, to name a few. While Tik Tok can be a great place to share useful information, it also raises questions:

  • Who is providing this advice?
  • Are they providing good advice that is based on research?
  • Is the advice safe to follow?

Determining the credibility of the nutrition information you find on Tik Tok is very important. The Tik Tokers you follow do not know your unique health history and they may suggest something that can actually make your health worse. They also may not be educated in nutrition and may provide false information.

So how do you know if the nutrition advice you’re receiving on Tik Tok is good?

  1. Check the credentials of who is providing the advice.
  2. Look for any of the 10 red flags to spot questionable information. If you spot a red flag it means that the information is NOT good or needs to be looked at closer.
  3. And remember: Always talk to your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet or health.

Check their credentials

The first step is to see who is providing the nutrition advice. Check the Tik Toker’s short bio to see if they list any credentials that indicate that they are an expert in health or nutrition. Some credentials to look for are:

  • RD or RDN, which means they’re a registered dietitian
  • MD, which means they’re a medical doctor
  • PhD in nutrition or something very similar

Look for these 10 red flags

Even having one of these credentials doesn’t mean that the Tik Toker is providing good advice.

You will still have to look for the 10 red flags which warn you that the information provided may be questionable. [1]

If someone on Tik Tok says something on the following list, you know it’s time to pause and evaluate to see if what they’re saying is true. Use these ten questions to determine sound advice not just on Tik Tok, but in all sources.

Red danger flag at the beach before a storm or hurricane

1. Recommendations that promise a quick fix

If someone is promoting a diet or a product that will help you fix a health problem quickly, that’s a red flag that the information is questionable. This is often the case for weight loss. They might say that “if you just eat this diet” or “if you just buy this one product”, you’ll lose weight quickly. We all want a quick fix, but did you know that people who lose weight gradually and steadily—NOT quickly– are more successful at keeping weight off? [2] It’s recommended that you lose no more than 1 to 2 pounds a week.

Next time someone suggests a quick fix, recognize it as a red flag.

2. Dire warnings of danger from a single product or process

Another red flag is when someone calls out a single food or nutrient as being bad or dangerous, like sugar, carbohydrates in general, or fat. While too much of any of these three nutrients may cause problems, a balanced diet can include all three in moderation. Using dramatic language that labels food as “toxic” or saying that one food “makes you fat” is an unnecessary fear-based approach.

Smartphone screen with the application tik tok.

3. Claims that sound too good to be true

When someone claims something that’s too good to be true, it’s a red flag. For example, a Tik Toker may promote a 3-day juice cleanse and “detox” your body. Detoxing your body sounds pretty great, right? The truth is, your body already has a detox system in place, including your liver and kidneys that acts as filters in the body. [3] Beware of promises that seem too good to be true.

4. Simplistic conclusions drawn from a complex research study

Research is complicated. There are a lot of factors that need to be considered.

Tufts University provides this example of how it can be misleading to draw simple conclusions from a complicated research study. An Australian study provided mice with a high-fat diet containing one of the main ingredients in coffee: chlorogenic acid, or CGA. The mice that got this diet and CGA developed more of a certain type of fat than other mice. The mice didn’t drink a single drop of coffee, but the headlines about the study included “Drinking 5 cups of coffee will lead to obesity” and “Wrong amount of coffee could kill you.”

So what’s wrong with how the study was interpreted? CGA is not actually coffee. It’s an ingredient incoffee. Coffee is made up of multiple ingredients and cannot be judged based on just one ingredient. Research should be considered with all of the details.

5. Recommendations based on a single study

Speaking of research, nutrition recommendations should not be made based on one study. The results of a study need to be considered in the context of all of the studies on that topic that have been conducted. If someone says something that doesn’t seem to fit the norm and only quotes a single study to back it up, it’s a red flag.

6. Statements refuted by reputable scientific organizations

If someone says something that doesn’t line up with what scientific organizations are saying, it’s a red flag. For example, someone promoting the ketogenic diet will most likely promote eating a lot of foods high in saturated fat, like butter. This advice goes against the Dietary Guidelines of Americans created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. Their guidelines recommend keeping saturated fat consumption to less than 10% of your calories a day. [4] Check out our blog on the ketogenic diet to learn more.

Here are some trustworthy sources for nutrition information:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Food and Drug Administration
  • National Institutes of Health
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
  • American Heart Association

7. Lists of “good” and “bad” foods

Front view of african woman in white shirt keeping tasty chocolate plate in one hand and healthy apple in another on blue isolated background. Serious girl choosing between good and bad food.

Listing foods as “good” or “bad” is a red flag. Food is more complicated than that.

For example, you might think that fruits and vegetables are “good” foods and that ice cream is a “bad” food. For some with advanced kidney disease, some fruits and vegetables can have too much of certain nutrients for their kidneys to handle. [5] Eating too many of these fruits and vegetables can cause health issues for them. On the other hand, ice cream might bring someone joy on a hot summer day. Ice cream has the important nutrients calcium and phosphorus in addition to added sugar and saturated fat.

Do you see how foods are more complicated than “good” and “bad”, and how foods can mean different things to different people? The next time you see someone label a food as “good” or “bad”, know that there’s more to the story.

8. Recommendations made to help sell a product

Is the person giving you advice also trying to sell you something? Red flag. For instance, maybe the person pushing the paleo diet on Tik Tok has also written a book on the paleo diet and wants you to buy it from them.

Not all people who have written books or created products are necessarily trying to trick you into spending money, but if you see that a sale is involved you should pause and do more research. Check any of the trustworthy sources listed in #6 to see if scientific organizations support the advice you’re getting.

9. Recommendations based on studies not peer reviewed

Research studies go through a very thorough process to be published called “peer review.” The process involves other experts determining if it is quality research. Research published in peer reviewed journals have been approved by other experts in the field.

Referencing research that was not published in a peer reviewed research journal is a red flag because the research did not go through the same important process to check its  quality.

 10. Recommendations from studies that ignore differences among individuals or groups

Research can be very specific to certain populations. Was the study conducted on individuals that were white, black, Hispanic? Men or women? Adults or children? Did they live in a certain area of the country? All of these factors can influence the outcomes of a study. Tufts University asks, “If it was a study that was done in healthy young males, what makes you think the results are going to apply to post-menopausal females or kids?”

If someone tries to apply research that was conducted with a very specific population to everyone, it’s a red flag.

Make sure to remember these ten ways to spot misleading nutrition information on Tik Tok and other sources.

Written by Taylor Newman, Ph.D. Candidate | Edited by Laurel Sanville, MS, RDN, LD

[1] Tufts University

[2] CDC

[3] Harvard Health

[4] USDA

[5] Davita

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