Why Is Nutrition Science So Confusing?

by | Aug 2, 2021

Even for professionals, it can seem like nutrition science and the research behind it is a bit confusing. There are topics where experts can’t even seem to agree and everyone has differing opinions. But why is this the case? Why are some things debatable when it comes to nutrition?

Before diving into this topic, allow me to introduce myself!

My name is Tony Stephan, and I’m a dietitian business coach. I help RDs make more IMPACT and more INCOME through nutrition coaching. Before becoming a dietitian business coach, I was a dietitian nutrition coach. I served thousands of nutrition coaching clients over a time span of 12 years. My successful nutrition coaching business is what led me to where I am today. Now, let’s discuss why nutrition science can be confusing and difficult to discuss with clients!

Nutrition Science Is Young

Compared to other sciences, nutrition is still in its early phases. It’s relatively young. Other sciences such as chemistry and biology have been around for forever basically. However, the science behind nutrition is much newer. In fact, vitamins were only recently discovered in the early 1900’s while the beginning concepts of chemistry were founded around 1200 BC. Furthermore, the impact of one’s diet on the development and management of chronic diseases is just several decades old. 

Nutrition Research Isn’t Well Funded, And May Have Bias

Most nutrition-related research studies aren’t looking into preventive measures of nutrition, but more so treatment measures. In 2016 less than 1 million dollars was funded to research preventive nutrition. Meanwhile, billions of dollars were used to research metabolic diseases. 

There are often third-parties involved in funding the research that have a hand in the topics being researched. For instance, if a study was done on sugar intake and a soda company funded it, that may be a conflict of interest if their beverages contain sugar. They wouldn’t want anything bad coming out about sugar, so they might financially compensate them to say sugar is not bad for you. Another example of this could be the wine industry. Companies that produce wine might be inclined to financially support research looking at red wine’s possible protective effects on heart health. This is just one more reason to always read the entire article and look for conflicts of interest. 

Nutrition Science Is Difficult To Control Or Isolate

There are so many variables when it comes to nutrition and research that it is hard to account for every single thing that affects your health. Nutrition is difficult to isolate. If you ate a salad every day for 1 week, you may not notice benefits right away. It takes time and consistency. Studies have to be performed over long periods of time. This makes it harder and harder to control for external variables. It may also be hard to claim that a certain food has a specific impact when half of the study includes young, non-smoking, healthy people. Meanwhile, the other half of the study includes elderly people who smoke and have at least 1 chronic illness.

Most research studies done in regards to nutrition are observational studies. They use surveys to find their results. But let’s be honest here — how many people do YOU know could perfectly estimate what they eat in a day? Even with food scales, food labels, fitness watches, and more, there is plenty of room for error and inconsistency. So it’s tough to reproduce consistent results without having human study participants feeling like they’re controlled lab rats!

The Takeaway

Nutrition is a relatively new science that can be rather difficult to control and isolate. There may also be bias involved with how research studies are funded and operated. However, it is looking up as the ability to research nutrition is better than ever before. It only improves from here! 

What’s Next?

Do you struggle to communicate confusing nutrition science to your clients? If so, email me at tony@tonystephandietitian.com. Seriously, I want to hear from you! I enjoy giving back to this profession, and I would love to address whatever questions or concerns you have.

If you’re a dietitian looking to start your own nutrition coaching business, you are in the right place. I’m proud to be a part of the movement of dietitian entrepreneurs who are making more IMPACT and more INCOME! Check out some of our FREE resources below.

The Dietitian Nutrition Coaching Certification

Designed for RDs who want to connect their formal education into real world application!

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