Researchers warn of bad TikTok dieting advice

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Illustration. Photographed by blackCAT
Illustration. Photographed by blackCAT

Mediterranean-style diets- incorporating but not exclusively featuring plant-based foods, whole grains and beans alongside olive oil and limited fish, diary and poultry - have long been promoted as beneficial to health.

However, nutritionists have found that advice linked to the hashtag #mediterreandiet on TikTok in August 2021 was offering full definitions of the diet - or in some cases, any health advice at all.

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"Our findings suggest that while users will find some high-quality content created by health professionals, they will also encounter conflicting, vague or even misleading information when exploring #mediterranediet on TikTok," says Margaret Raber, assistant professor in the Children's Nutrition Research Center at the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Baylor College of Medicine.

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Researchers anaylsed the first 200 videos appearing on TikTok under the hashtag and found that most posts (78%) were related to health in some way but less than 9% offered a definition of what the Mediterranean diet entails. They also found a large portion of posts promoted foods from Mediterranean countries that were not associated with the scientific benefits of the diets.

"Alarmingly, a large portion (69%) of these 'culture' posts promoted foods that are not part of the healthy eating pattern promoted by the Mediterranean diet, such as red meat, refined carbohydrates, sweets and processed foods," she adds.

For example, lamb kebab and pita bread are popular foods in some Mediterranean countries but lack health benefits. Raber added that care needs to be taken to help the public become more vigilant in assessing health advice on social media.

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