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5 Things to Look for to Ensure Nutritional Scientific Research is Sound

Posted by PCC Institute for Health Professionals on June 19, 2017

iStock-594941060 (1).jpgAs a nutritionist, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest nutrition research to provide your clients with evidence-based care. Every day, new scientific research reveals the benefits or harmful effects of foods, from coffee and alcohol, to organic fruits and vegetables. Education for nutritionist can help you stay on top of the latest information, but you can read research on your own, too.

Be careful when researching; not all research is created equal. Some published research is flawed or doesn’t contain the whole story. It can be hard to know what new evidence you should incorporate into your practice and what may not benefit your clients.

Ensure you are following qualified nutrition scientific research by using these tips:

5 Things to Look for to Ensure Nutritional Scientific Research is Sound

1. Source

First, look at what journal the study came from. The journal should be peer-reviewed, meaning before the study was published, other researchers, nutritionists or physicians looked over the research to make sure it was well-conducted.

The other way to determine if it is a reputable journal is to see how many times that journal is cited in other journals. A lot of citations generally means the research is trusted and has a large impact (called impact factor) on the field of nutrition. Some reputable nutrition journals include the Annual Review of Nutrition, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Nutrition Reviews.

The paper itself shouldn’t cite the researcher's own work. It should cite works from a variety of researchers. This shows that the research is based on views widely accepted by experts in the field.

2. Design of the study

The larger the study, generally the more reliable its results. A study with only five subjects can’t show any meaningful patterns or results. A study of 5,000 subjects is more likely to show evidence of a strong pattern you can trust.

The length of the study matters, too. A study that last for years provides more reliable results than a study conducted for a few weeks. Nutrition has long-term effects so needs long-term studies.

>> Learn more about Functional Nutrition

3. Human vs. animal study

In nutrition, it is especially important that the study’s subjects were humans, not animals. Many nutrition studies start out with white rats or mice, but these animals may react differently to diet changes than humans. For instance, mice are more prone than humans to develop conditions such as bladder cancer. If a study says that a food or drink causes cancer, but used mice as subjects, it may not be a reliable result. The study will need to be repeated in humans.

4. Correlation vs. causation

Many studies only point out a correlation without proving causation. For instance, a study may show that people who drink diet soda are more likely to be overweight. However, this may just be a correlation. People who are overweight just happen to drink more diet soda than people who don’t drink diet soda. While diet soda may be involved in the cause, these sorts of studies don’t prove that diet soda is the culprit.

A good study would show how diet soda causes weight gain, perhaps by affecting the metabolism or blood sugar. If a study can’t show why the results are the way they are, it may just be a correlation. Correlations are not strong scientific evidence.

5. Results have been reproduced

Replication is key in the scientific method. If an experiment or study’s results can’t be repeated, they were likely flawed or false. You can find out if nutritional scientific research has been replicated by searching a paper’s name online. This should bring up other research it has been cited in and let you know if it could be repeated or if it’s results were found in other studies.

Understanding research is just one facet of providing quality functional nutrition care. You can learn more about research and functional nutrition as part of Portland Community College’s Functional Nutrition program. Learn more about how this program and other education for nutritionists can help you offer evidence-based services to your functional nutrition clients.



From entry-level training to continuing education units (CEUs) for working  professionals, CLIMB's Institute for Health Professionals offers a range  of educational opportunities for health care professionals. You can always  count on the Institute for Health Professionals at PCC CLIMB to provide  the health training that you need to succeed in a health care career. 

Topics: Healthcare, Functional Nutrition, Integrative Healthcare

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