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Freedom Foods’ nutritional consultant Dr Jo McMillan recently gave advice on how to achieve cut-through on healthy eating in the current media climate.

Social media, the changing face of the media, and the rise of instant experts bearing sensational messages are all muddying the waters when it comes to dispensing sensible nutritional advice to consumers.

That’s the view of PhD-qualified nutrition scientist and dietitian, author and nutrition advisor to Freedom Foods Dr Jo McMillan, who spoke at the launch of the latest consumption study by the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) late last year.

According to Dr McMillan, consumers are struggling with information overload, and are also increasingly skimming articles on their phones, often reading only the exaggerated angle found in the first few lines.

The media’s demand for an interesting new angle was adding to the complexity, she said, as it led to an innate bias in favour of narratives that upend conventional dietary wisdom and against the consistent, research-backed messages around nutrition that consumers actually need.

One example of this, she said, was the recent Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study, the findings of which were distorted and oversimplified in headlines worldwide.

“Everything has become very instant and it’s especially hard to get complex nutritional information across.

“Without selling our soul and to stay true to the science, how do we cut through and reach people and compete to get our message across?”

The evolving findings around fibre were another example, according to Dr McMillan.

“We are going to have to start talking about different types of fibre, we are going to have to talk about fermentable fibres in particular – or what some researchers are calling microbiota-accessible carbohydrates (MACs).

“We will start to see that fibre is a very generic term, and so simply having on pack that a product is high fibre won’t be enough. So how do we get that type of complicated message across”

Dr McMillan told attendees it was important to persevere in the face of these challenges, and she shared some practical ways to achieve cut through in the current environment.

“Stick to your scientific guns. I cannot stress this enough,” McMillan said. “We have to stick with the research – we are lost if we stop talking evidence-based. As soon as we lose the science, then we are the same as all be the gurus selling whatever supplement we like.”

“We also need to stop being seen as us and them. Recognise there will always be people who disagree with you, and just move forward with a really positive message.

“If we can tap into a new angle that confirms our message, it suddenly becomes more exciting. With wholegrains we can talk about the individual research in cereal fibres, or tie it into the sustainability angle.”

“Be confident in the knowledge you’ve got and speak up and be supportive of each other. The more we can get consistent messages across from lots of different sources, the more believable that message becomes, and the more people are going to trust it, so be confident in delivering it,” she said.

Also, because journalists have extremely short deadlines these days, commentators need to be available to them whenever possible, according to McMillan.

She also suggested developing strong resources such as infographics, images or recipes to help social media content creators share the story.

“As experts we have to prove ourselves, so build trust, as well as a communication channel through which people can come to you for trusted information.”

For the diary
The inaugural PKN + Food & Drink Business Women in Industry breakfast event will take place during the AIP National Conference on Thursday 3 May, Marriot, Surfers Paradise. You’ll hear from influential and inspiring women from the food, beverage and packaging industry via a keynote presentation and a panel session. The breakfast will open day two of the AIP conference, and all conference delegates are welcome.