Nutrition has become a hot topic of discussion across almost all social media platforms.
In fact, these days it seems almost impossible to open any social media app without watching sponsored content from influencers promoting a new supplement, diet program, or exercise regime that often seems too good to be true.
Although it can be difficult to distinguish between the facts and the “fake news” out there, knowing what to look for can make it a lot easier.
This article will take a closer look at the dangers and risks of some common social media fads and some steps you can take to weed out bad advice.
In recent years, diet and nutrition seem to have taken center stage on many social media platforms.
From new nutritional supplements and diets to cleansers, recipes, exercise routines, and “what I eat a day” videos, there’s more focus on food, health, and nutrition than ever before.
However, much of this content appears to come from individuals who may not be fully qualified to provide nutritional advice, including celebrities and online influencers.
One study analyzed about 1.2 million tweets over a 16-month period and found that talk about diet and nutrition was largely dominated by non-health professionals (
Another study presented at the European Congress on Obesity found that only one of the nine most influential weight-loss influencers in the UK provided reliable and credible nutritional advice (2).
Although this may sound annoying, keep in mind that not all information on the Internet is harmful and a variety of reputable resources can offer accurate, evidence-based advice to help you learn more about your health.
However, identifying trustworthy and reliable sources can be difficult, especially if you are not sure what to look for and what to avoid.
Although some stories, posts, or videos may seem innocent enough, many of the diets and supplements that have appeared on social media can have serious consequences.
For example, officials from the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) recently urged Instagram to crack down on accounts promoting and selling Apetamin, an appetite stimulant often touted by influencers for its ability to enhance curves (3And the
According to the NHS, no action was taken against dozens of social media accounts that were illegally selling the drug, which has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and has been linked to several severe side effects, including liver toxicity (3And the
Online influencers often tout “detox tea,” which they claim can help increase metabolism, promote fat burning, or remove harmful toxins from the body.
In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a complaint with a popular “detox” tea marketer, stating that the company made various health claims that weren’t supported by evidence, such as that a detox pack could help fight cancer or clogged arteries. (5).
Furthermore, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent warning letters to 10 influencers who did not adequately disclose that they were paid to promote the product (6).
Besides making unrealistic health claims, these types of products can have serious and potentially dangerous side effects.
For example, one case report detailed the treatment of a 51-year-old woman who experienced severe hyponatremia – low levels of sodium in the blood – after using an over-the-counter “detox” tea product (
Similarly, a 60-year-old woman experienced acute liver failure – as well as a host of symptoms such as jaundice, weakness, and mental deterioration – after drinking a “detox” tea three times daily for two weeks (
Restrictive diets can promote disordered eating and mental health challenges
In addition to supplements, restrictive diets and cleansers have been heavily promoted on social media.
Not only can these programs increase the risk of undernutrition and other health problems, but they may also negatively affect mental health while fostering an unhealthy relationship with food (
In fact, the content offered by many famous creators tends to gloss over eating disorders, dangerous diets, and other unhealthy habits such as long fasting, questionable supplements, or adopting harsh exercise regimes in order to lose weight quickly at an event.
For example, Kim Kardashian recently made headlines after saying she lost an alarming amount of weight in such a short time to fit into a dress that Marilyn Monroe originally wore at the Met Gala, sending a dangerous message to millions of people (12).
Kardashian’s purported rate of weight loss was much faster than the rate recommended by most professionals: 1/2 pound to 2 pounds per week (
Additionally, losing weight for a specific event is a symbol of diet culture and pressure to prioritize aesthetic thinness over whole-body health.
In the past, celebrities like Kardashian have also been called upon to edit their photos on social media, promoting unrealistic beauty standards.
Moreover, many social media trends – such as the “what I eat per day” videos all over TikTok – can set unrealistic expectations, foster diet culture, and perpetuate an unhealthy obsession with “clean” eating, especially in young adults.
Not all nutrition information on the Internet is trustworthy and reliable. Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you distinguish between good and bad online advice.
Instead of trusting social media influencers who promote nutritional supplements or weight loss products, it is best to get your nutrition advice directly from professionals with education, experience, and training.
For example, registered dietitians must earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, complete diet training or a coordinated program with supervised nutrition practice, and pass a written exam (14).
On the other hand, formal training is not required for dieticians in many states, which means that anyone can use this title, regardless of their experience or education (
Besides registered dietitians, doctors are also a valuable source for reliable health advice, while certified personal trainers can provide more detailed information on fitness and exercise.
Nutrition tips on social media may seem attractive because it’s free. However, working with a qualified professional does not need to be expensive.
Many health professionals, including registered dietitians, accept health insurance and Medicare or can adjust fees based on a graduated scale as needed to help make their services more affordable.
Stay away from sponsored content
According to the FTC, social media influencers are required to disclose any financial or personal relationships with a brand when endorsing products (16).
This requirement can make it easier to identify when someone makes a genuine recommendation about a product, diet, or supplement they are already using, rather than paying to have it endorsed.
In general, it’s best to be careful when sponsored content appears in your feed.
If you are interested in trying out or learning more about a product that someone endorses, check it out Look at reviews from real customers or healthcare professionals to try to see if the product is reliable and safe.
Beware of unrealistic claims
Many diet products and supplements are backed by claims that may sound too good to be true – and they often are.
Diets, pills, or other products that claim to help you lose large amounts of weight quickly should be avoided at all costs.
Look for terms like “cure”, “quick fix” or “instant results” and be wary of health claims that seem unrealistic, unsustainable or unhealthy.
Avoid restrictive diets
Many diet programs are highly restrictive and often eliminate nutritional ingredients or entire food groups.
Some companies promote these hackneyed diets in an effort to turn a profit from consumers who are looking for an easy way to lose weight or improve their health.
Avoiding overly restrictive diets and enjoying your favorite foods in moderation as part of a nutritious and comprehensive eating pattern is a much better approach to promoting weight loss and overall health.
Learn more about why “crack diets” don’t work — and how they can cause harm — in this article.
With the growing number of posts in the areas of health, wellness, and nutrition, it’s important that you begin to be more selective about where you get your information from.
Although it may seem harmless and easy to scroll through, many products and fashions promoted on social media platforms can have serious health effects.
Make sure you get your information from reliable sources, avoid sponsored content, and avoid any restrictive diets or products that sound too good to be true.
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