Unit 2 – Planning Healthy Diets

2.7 Nutrition Literacy

What is Nutrition Literacy?

Now, more than ever, it’s essential to develop skills in nutrition  literacy, defined as the ability to find  accurate nutrition information, understand the information, and use it to make healthy food choices.  Another aspect of literacy, especially related to nutrition, is the ability to determine whether the information is accurate and realistic.

Individuals with low nutrition literacy do not understand or use information on  food labels and  consume  diets filled with fried food, sugar sweetened beverages,  and ultra-processed food.  Those with a high level of nutrition literacy consume more vegetables, olive oil, and nuts, all characteristic of a Mediterranean diet.[1]

Importance of Nutrition Literacy 

If you follow the latest in nutrition in the media for long enough, you’ll start to see recurring themes. You’ll see stories in the news about many of our favorite foods—like eggs, butter, coffee, and chocolate—that seem to flip-flop about whether these foods are good or bad for us. You’ll notice seemingly eternal debates about whether dietary fat and carbohydrates are valuable macronutrients or villians. You’ll watch as particular diets come in and out of fashion—and then back into fashion another decade or two later. And you’ll see countless "click-baity" stories about the health benefits of eating so-called superfoods, or the dangers of eating others.

After completing this unit, you should be able to: Identify the sequential steps of the scientific method, and understand the importance of reporting research results in peer-reviewed journals. Describe the different types of research studies used in nutrition, including the quality of evidence, advantages, and limitations of each. Be aware of some of the limitations of nutrition research, including the challenges of studying complex dietary patterns and the influence of industry funding. Understand differences between scholarly (peer-reviewed) and popular sources for nutrition information. Evaluate sources of nutrition information and distinguish between credible sources and junk science. Identify the qualifications of nutrition professionals and career opportunities in the field of nutrition.

Even if you don’t pay much attention to nutrition topics in the news, you’ll hear a ton of conflicting opinions and information just by talking to the people around you. Maybe your best friend has gone gluten-free, your dad is on a keto diet, and your friend swears the Whole 30 diet has been life-changing. They’re all trying to convince you to join them in their latest fad diets, but your head is swimming. They can’t all be right, and you don’t want to just follow the latest fad. You want to find accurate information that’s based on solid scientific evidence. How can you identify it in a sea of conflicting and overwhelming information? Who can you trust?

It can be hard to filter through it all, especially when it’s attached to strong opinions, emotions, and people trying to sell their product or point-of-view. And yet, we all need to make choices about what to eat, at the very least for ourselves, and often for others. You may have the responsibility of feeding family members in different stages of life, with different needs and preferences. And if you work in the health professions, you may have patients or clients who look to you as a source of reliable information about nutrition and wellness. Of course, the problem of conflicting and overwhelming information is not unique to nutrition; you’ll find the same issue in many other fields.   A person who is “nutrition literate” will be able to distinguish fact from fiction.

 The main purpose of this book  is  to develop and hone your skills in nutrition literacy.

The next chapter will introduce you to the scientific method, because science forms the foundation of how we know what we know about nutrition. You’ll learn about the different types of research studies and each of their advantages and limitations. We’ll discuss various sources of information, such as scholarly and popular sources, how each of them can be useful in different ways, and how to evaluate them. We’ll provide a review of general science topics that will lay the foundation for a complete study of nutrition.

  1. Taylor, Matthew K et al. “Nutrition literacy predicts adherence to healthy/unhealthy diet patterns in adults with a nutrition-related chronic condition.” Public health nutrition vol. 22,12 (2019): 2157-2169. doi:10.1017/S1368980019001289


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Introduction to Nutrition and Wellness Copyright © 2022 by Janet Colson; Sandra Poirier; and Yvonne Dadson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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