How Do I Read the Research or Literature?

There will always be contradicting studies when it comes to diet. No matter how convincing the science or study seems, there always be other research countering their claims. Another common thing happening now is for pop culture to simply take specific results from studies and publicize only a small portion of it. This is often referred to as “Pop Science” and provides no background, just large bold statements.


I am sure you hear them on the news or in the headlines all the time “Red Wine Reduces Heart Disease”… cool… how much wine? How many people were studied? Who did you compare these people to? Is there research on people who don’t drink any red wine at all?  I’m not saying there aren’t some applications here and some of the basic biochemistry checks out with the high levels of resveratrol, specifically compared to white wine because of how much longer the skin is on the red wine grapes. So… what does this mean and how do I apply it?


Let’s step back and apply some basic lenses to the research or information we are taking in. Here are some basic questions to go through:


How do we figure out if the research is good?


  • Where did it come from?


Is this from a trusted journal or textbook? This is where it is important to make sure the journal is peer-reviewed, well respected, and written by people who have higher levels of education in the field being studied. This can easily be disseminated down and written about in blogs, posts, websites etc, just like the one you are reading now. These can be great sources, but again it is important to do your research- see who they cite and what their end goal is.


  • How old is it?


There is a sweet spot for research. The newest research is great and can be extremely ground- breaking, but it has to be proven multiple times before it can be trusted. There must be studies validating that study. Older proven studies are great too, but as food, nutrition, and technology improves and continues to grow it is important to stay up with the changes. Therefore, there is a sweet spot for studies that are old enough to have been validated but updated enough to use better technology and statistical analysis. Which brings us to the next point…


  • Do other people cite it?


Proven studies that have been validated and cited by other good researchers over the years are invaluable. If other leaders in their field use it consistently while conducting their own research that is a good sign it has been proven and is valued in the field of study. This means that long term these are the ones you will want to lean on when learning.


  • What kind of research is it?

There is a hierarchy to research that this infographic from Precision Nutrition® sums up perfectly. This is important to go through and make sure that the research you are using to make informed decisions is well done and from credible sources. The most trustworthy sources are at the top and then the lower categories on the pyramid should only be used as secondary information to support the meta-analysis or randomized controlled studies.



Is there bias?


  • Is this an author with real education and expertise in this field?


The internet can be a great place with amazing minds and people coming together for improving people’s lives… it can also be a place of deceitful “experts” who are trying to make money. Unfortunately, the person you follow on social media may have an amazing stature, physique, strength, but may not have the education in order to help you with your goals. Often people emulate those who are doing what they want to eventually do, but don’t realize those people are not qualified for them to provide help to others. There needs to be a good mix of both real life experience and also the education to back up their claims and ideologies. This is where the real masters and amazing coaches come in.


  • Who is providing the money for the research? Is this only benefitting the researcher?


If the research is being done by a major organization, company, etc. that’s not a problem… sometimes. It can become an issue if only positive results and skewed data sets are presented in order to back their claims about their product and this does happen sometimes. This is where having a coach or someone to help you decipher where this research is coming from can provide great value. This can sometimes be hard to notice due to the flashy presentation, marketing, and other tricks they will use. This needs a deeper look to make sure it is not the issue. Again, some organizations offer money for research regardless of the outcome, but others have deals made with the researchers in order to own the data and run the analysis themselves after it is collected. This can present a real problem as it now takes out the 3rd party knowledge and makes it very easy for them to make things appear better than they were. That is why it is so important to use peer reviewed articles where these discrepancies will be disputed and pointed out during the process of having it published and will be denied publication.


Why so much confusion and countering information in research?


As we talked about earlier in this article, it can be confusing reading so many different things about the same question. The differing opinions can sometimes be due to the methods and measurements used. Other times, the people conducting the study are unable to follow procedures for data collection and subject adherence. And still other times it is because of who is paying for the research to be done, once complete they own the data and can draw their own self-interest results. This has been shown and proven hundreds if not thousands of times. That is why it is so important to vet and confirm the research being used and follow the steps outlined above. 


Take home message –


Do your due diligence and learn how to use awesome resources like Google Scholar and PubMed that search through thousands of articles from high level researchers to answer questions. There are other online resources that are highly regarded and provide highly touted information, just make sure again you vet the places you are getting your information from.

We have some great coaches at PP also who have higher level degrees and are also able to answer a lot of these questions because they have spent the time answering them for other clients, athletes, or themselves. This is when picking a coaching staff, dietitian, or mentor is important for you to be able to understand who to choose and why they are the better option. We pride ourselves on being informed on the literature and certifications to give you the best information and answers possible.


Want to grow your knowledge about food, habits, stress, hormones and how it all works together to affect you as a human? Learn about this and more from our staff of dietitians, coaches and counselors by Clicking Here and getting the help you need on your journey!




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