Food & fluids

Seeking authenticity in food and nutrition information

‘Authenticity’ is currently a ‘buzz word’ that means the quality of being genuine or real – when a person’s actions align with their values and ideals despite external pressure to social conformity 1

So, when it comes to food how authentic is the nutrition information we receive? Where do you get your food and nutrition information from? And is it meeting your needs right now?

There’s so much ‘Nutrition Noise’ these days telling us about what we should and shouldn’t eat. Where’s it all coming from?

Our environment:

The Media

Newspapers, magazines, TV, social networks, and the Internet keep up a steady stream of news, ads and nutritional advice from people we maybe follow, influencers and celebrities.

While it can be good to keep up with news feeds, to be aware of the views of others, changes in food products, services and research going on around us etc. it is important not to become so distracted by what we are hearing that we lose sight of our own special attributes and our body’s needs for better physical and mental health.

The influence of ‘Big Business’

Much of our food and beverage information comes from ‘Big Business’ marketing and is often directed to sporting endeavors and young people such as:

  • Alcohol advertising in NZ accounted for a $61m spend in 2018 and in 2015 $21m was spent on alcohol sports sponsorship alone. 2
  • McDonalds® award 150,000 Player of the Day Awards/year and is an official Olympic Sponsor
  • Powerade® Coke Cola® Gatorade®give sponsorships to individual athletes and teams
  • KFC® has deals with Super rugby
  • Elite All Blacks promote Gold A-Z Multivitamin®

The Power of Advertising

Let’s take alcohol. Research has found a causal relationship between alcohol marketing and youth drinking. Being exposed to alcohol sponsorship of sports is associated with young people starting to drink earlier and, like adults, having a higher alcohol consumption too.3

Advertising in sport increases positive attitudes to alcohol in general, further normalising alcohol in society and this works subliminally, the more the brand advertising is repeated the more effect it has.

Digital means is now being used to integrate multiple media channels and is one of the most important marketing approaches today e.g. blogs, U tube4 The promotion of food and beverages in the E-gamer market is expanding 5 as well as the use of mobile apps offering discounts for online food ordering and delivery.

Exposure to advertising of unhealthy food and beverages (that typically containing high fat, sodium and/or sugar content6) negatively influences our dietary choices, intake, purchasing behaviour and diet-related health 7

Children are particularly vulnerable.

Research using Kids’ Cam data from wearable cameras worn by 11-13 year-old children in NZ (2022) found that children were exposed to 554 brands over a 10 hour day, or nearly a brand per minute. The majority of these exposures occurred in school (43%) at home (30%) and in-store (12%) with food and beverages making up the dominant product category.
“There were 68 food ads a day. No wonder we have an obesity epidemic” commented researcher Professor Signal to Newshub.8

The influence of friends, family and caregivers on children’s nutrient intake

Irrespective of their socio-economic status, cultural backgrounds and the nutrition knowledge of parents, children do pick up a lot of nutrition ideas from their families and friends.

This is illustrated in a 2014 NZ Survey of 142 rugby players (17-18yrs) in 7 schools which found:

71% athletes reported using 4.4 supplements on a daily, weekly or monthly basis

90% were concerned about the safety of these products, but took supplements, protein powders, energy drinks etc  believing it would improve their muscle size/strength, performance and recovery.

Athletes identified  trainers and professionals as being the most reliable source of nutrition information on the safety of these dietary supplements and did listen to their cautions

 But…. the athletes claim they are still more likely to be influenced to take these by their family/whanau, friends & team-mates 9

Just last month a UK study concluded that the nutritional knowledge of 360 parents and caregivers of male soccer players, from English Premier League under 9-11yrs and under 12-16 yrs age -group academies, was generally poor. Researchers found that gaps in caregiver knowledge were not only related to the sport-specific needs of players during play but also pertained to the extra nutritional needs that developing athletes have for general health and growth.10

Nutrition education programmes for parents, caregivers, coaches and youth workers would help globally. This is why I have written How to Grow an athlete: From Playground to Podium in the hope of raising awareness of this need and for those who want to learn more.11

The Dietary Supplement Industry

This industry globally was valued at USD $152.3 bn in 2022

A major concern facing sporting organisations is the use of dietary supplements by adolescent athletes. These can now be cheaply purchased over the internet but there is no guarantee that any supplement product is free from banned substances. 

The rules of World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) stipulate that it is the athletes responsibility if they receive a positive test for a prohibited substance and recommend only purchasing batch-tested supplements to mitigate the risk of unintentionally ingesting contaminated products. Athletes should talk to their GP and Sports Dietitian if considering any dietary supplementation

Dietary supplements such as vitamins and minerals may be helpful in correcting deficiencies detected by blood tests by your doctor but care must be taken. Any intake beyond normal needs can potentially blunt the body’s natural cellular response that releases antioxidant enzymes into the body and offers natural cellular protection on all levels of exertion.12

So, next time you receive a pharmaceutical booklet in the mail adverting dietary supplements think twice, even if they are at discounted prices. Be guided by your doctor.

Fad dieting

The weight loss industry was estimated USD224.27bn 2021 and to reach USD 405bn by 2030.

A fad diet is a plan that promotes results such as fast weight loss without robust scientific evidence to supports its claims. After 48 years as a Dietitian I’ve seen a few!

These are often endorsed by highly paid celebrities and influencers and supported by extensive marketing.

Irrespective of weight issues, failing mobility, fatigue, depression, sleep disturbance, lack of concentration, food cravings, elevated cholesterol levels and just “feeling blah” are some of the key indicators that dietary changes really are needed.

When evaluating the effectiveness of any dietary advice it is important to understand that:

  • What works for one person might not for another.
  • Nutritional needs vary depending on age, gender, health issues and the level and type of activity that you engage in.
  • Ask yourself is this diet evidence- based?
  • What are the pros and cons
  • Who is making the most money here?
  • Who paid for the research behind this miraculous product or service?
  • Is this advice sustainable or yet another train I get on or off at will?

Although it is an important starting point and means of measuring change there is much more to weight gain and loss than just weight. Changing habits, rituals and behaviours that have led to failing health takes time. Thankfully our bodies are practised at constantly adapting and remodelling so provided they have all the right ingredients in sufficient quantities it is possible to alter weight while building strength.

Be wary of the risks of self- diagnosing as it can mean real health issues might be missed so do seek professional help to get started and to keep monitoring your progress..

Keeping Safe

Although commercial interests do influence food consumption and promotion it is very important we also recognize the huge number of food producers around NZ working hard to feed us all.  There are very strict standards and regulations around food claims, production, distribution and safety within NZ. Learn more:

Mention should also be made of agencies such as the Public Health and charities and Non-Government Agencies (NGO’s) such as the Heart Foundation, Cancer Society, Diabetes NZ etc that provide nutrition guidelines and support for people with these diseases.

You can ‘Trust’ a Dietitian…

There are many people offering nutrition advice these days, but Dietitians are the only health professionals recognized and regulated by the NZ government to legally provide clinical dietary advice to treat health concerns

To become a Dietitian today you need to have a:

  • Bachelor of Science majoring in human nutrition, or food science and nutrition. (At this point it is possible to become a registered nutritionist and give general nutritional advice. If consulting a nutritionist, check first that they are appropriately qualified ie. registered with the Nutrition Society of NZ)
  • But to go on to become a Dietitian today requires a Masters’ degree in dietetics or nutrition and dietetics involves clinical training in hospitals and nutrition research
  • Annual Registration with the Dietitians Board of NZ
  • Annual accreditation is awarded on the basis of the accrual of points in a continuing competency program. This ensures that Dietitians keep up with continuing education; undertake peer review and commit to cultural competency endeavors.
  • Along with keeping cognizant of changes in Dietetic practices/theory, medical advances, and nutritional knowledge, many Dietitians also specialize in key areas of interest such as Paediatrics, Sports Nutrition, Renal, Gastro, Cardiovascular, Diabetes etc. This involves continual learning in these fields, attending conferences, reading journals and listening into webinars and giving back to the profession by contributing to the professional development program run by Dietitians NZ
  • While it is wonderful to have all this knowledge Dietitians still need to be relatable so find one that works for you.13

Authenticity around food and nutrition information really matters to me but ….

nothing gives me more pleasure than to witness the changes that people report when they find new energy for life, through better nutrition.



  1. Wikipedia Authenticity (philosophy) meaning of the word.
  2. Alcohol Healthwatch. Alcohol Marketing
  3. Brown K. Association between alcohol sports sponsorship and consumption. A Systematic Review. Alcohol Oxfs 2016; 51: 747-55
  4. Vandevijvere S, Molloy J, Hassen de Medeiros N, Swinburn B. Unhealthy food marketing around NZ schools: a national study. Int J Public Health 2018, 63:1099-107
  5. Supermarket News: Leading food and beverage companies targeting Asia’s E-gamer market. Beverage, Global, International News 25 September 2023.
  6. Ministry of Health 2020. Making healthier food choices, Wellington NZ
  7. Brien A, Wu S, Maharaj S et al. Junk food, sugary drinks, and XL portion sizes: advertising on convenience stores near primary schools in Tamaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa NZ Kotuitui: NZ Journal of Social Sciences Online Vol 18, 2023-Issue 1
  8. Watkins L, Gage R, Smith M, Mckerchar C, Aitken R, Signal L. An objective assessment of children’s exposure to brand marketing in NZ (Kid’s Cam): A cross-sectional study. Lancet Plant Health. 2022 Jan 11: S2542-5196(21)00290-4.
  9. Curtis A Sports participation, motivation, and performance enhancement survey. Drug free sport NZ 2014.
  10. Callis L, Russell M, Hurst H, Hardwicke J, Roberts CJ. Room for improvement in sports nutrition knowledge amongst parents and caregivers of male academy soccer players in the UK: A cross-sectional study. Nutrients Oct 2023,15 (20), 4331
  11. Stening LB. How to Grow an Athlete: From Playground to Podium. Nov 2022 Quentin Wilson Publishing ISBN 978-1-99-110304-8 (print)
  12. Paulsen G, Cumming KT, Holden G, Hallen J et al. Vitamin C and E supplementation hampers cellular adaptin to endurance training in humans: a double- blind randomized, controlled trial. The Journal of Physiology 2014, 592 (8):1887-1901
  13. Find a Dietitian

For more articles by Lea on similar topics

Hidden hunger-could this be affecting you too?

Food, beverages and fitness trends for 2023

6 reasons to control, not cut, carbohydrate

How to make the most of a plant-based diet

Use nutrition knowledge to empower you to a healthier life

Break free from fad diets

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About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

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