These days, everybody is a nutrition expert. A recent survey of osteopathic medical students found that the students had little knowledge of medical nutrition therapy, but the majority said they felt comfortable counseling future patients.
They’re not alone. The internet is rife with bloggers who have no particular training in the sciences, but feel confident about handing out nutrition information. And many of their followers feel confident about using that information.
Not only do these wellness gurus lack science credentials, they often have little sense of appropriate journalistic protocol. It used to be that most nutrition news came through the established media for better or for worse. At the very least, stories were subject to editorial review. Reporters relied on actual health experts in writing their stories. It wasn’t a perfect system by any means, but it was better than the free-for-all that exists now on the internet.
And then there is the issue of competition. It’s all about clicks, which means provocative headlines rule. Recent coverage of the FDA’s proposed rule to revoke a health claim for soy protein and heart disease is a case in point. According to the media, “Trendy soy protein is NOT good for your heart …” and “The FDA wants to stop soy products from being marketed as heart healthy.” Neither headline reflects what the FDA is actually saying about the health claim.
Nowhere has the FDA suggested that soy isn’t good for your heart. It merely suggested that studies on the cholesterol-lowering effects of soy protein are inconsistent, based on new research since the claim was approved in 1999.
The FDA doesn’t even say that soy products shouldn’t be marketed as heart healthy. It has intimated that the claim may be changed from an unqualified to a qualified claim. That means that, despite some level of uncertainty, there is still evidence to suggest that soy protein lowers cholesterol. It’s the same type of claim approved for olive oil, which is promoted as heart healthy on food labels.
Furthermore, any suggested changes are preliminary at this point. The FDA has not made any type of decision yet.
A Canadian news site got much closer to the truth with this headline: “Is soy healthy? While it’s not a magic bullet, it can still be good for you.” That type of drama-free headline captures what we know with certainty about soy. And as the story about the health claim continues to unfold, consumers can rest assured that soy can play a role in healthy diets.