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Here’s just a sampling of the absurd health misinformation spread on social media that astounds veteran nutritionist Joan Salge Blake: Claims made by actress Gwyneth Paltrow that vaginal steaming is good for you and that underwire bras may cause cancer. Drink enough water and you don’t need sunscreen, says Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Relentless social media posts from Instagram queen Kylie Jenner pushing hair vitamins and detox fads, like FitTea, to millions of followers.
It’s a registered nutritionist’s nightmare.
“Do you really want to get your health and wellness information from ‘Dr. Kardashian’?’” Salge Blake asks, rolling her eyes. “You really have to make sure you get your information from someone who knows what they’re talking about.”
That is why Salge Blake (Sargent’84, Wheelock’16), a Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences clinical associate professor of nutrition for 24 years, created her new health and wellness podcast Spot On! In fact, she says, her students inspired the podcast. For years, more than 200 students have enrolled in her general nutrition course (which has a wait-list). She says they have more questions than ever about topics not covered in the course textbook. (Salge Blake is the author of the popular college textbook Nutrition & You, used across the United States and abroad.)
Riffing on health and wellness stories in headlines and students’ social media feeds, Salge Blake’s podcast offers solid, scientifically backed health information that helps listeners separate fact from the fiction that bombards them online daily.
Spot On! explores a new subject every week: How do you resolve a roommate dispute? Is meditation worth the time? Are carbohydrates really the villain on your plate? Salge Blake not only knows what she’s talking about, but also doles out advice in a way that’s both nurturing and no-nonsense.
“I am 100 percent, if not 110 percent, Italian,” she says in her unmistakable New Jersey accent. “You want pasta, you eat pasta. Just not a whole pound of it.”
Salge Blake, who has a master’s in nutrition from Sargent, records episodes in a College of Communication podcast studio. Each 30-minute installment begins with an audio montage featuring students discussing an issue or problem before she introduces an expert guest.
For a recent episode exploring the low-to-no-carbohydrate trend known as the keto diet, Salge Blake interviewed cookbook author and Food Network nutritionist Toby Amidor.
Students learn that although it’s been touted by celebrities, the keto diet was created as a medical treatment for epileptic children. Amidor is not a fan. The diet suggests consumption of just 100 to 200 calories a day from carbohydrates as a way to reach ketosis, the metabolic state where the body burns its own fat reserves.
The problem with that? For anyone who needs to be mentally alert, as students certainly do, the diet can induce something called the “Keto flu”—an unpleasant combination of headaches, nausea, and brain fog that can last up to a week.
“You have to be careful to get the glucose you need,” Amidor says. Keto “isn’t something sustainable. It’s not fun. It’s not tasty. I’m telling you this as a dietitian.”
“This is not the diet of choice for the brain,” Salge Blake adds.
In another episode, Salge Blake interviews Tim Caulfield, author of the book Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything? How the Famous Sell Us Elixirs of Health, Beauty & Happiness.
Caulfield, a University of Alberta law and public health professor, discusses “beauty bias,” a proven phenomenon that attractive people experience greater success in most areas of life, and something celebrities are increasingly cashing in on. He talks about how his personal sports hero, Tom Brady, is now selling bogus sports recovery pajamas and muscle pliability lotion, said to improve muscle power. It’s vaguely scientific-sounding, Caulfield says—and it’s entirely unproven.
“I call it science-sploitation,” Caulfield says. “He’s a great example of a celebrity who’s pushing nonsense.”
Salge Blake says she plans to produce 10 podcast episodes this spring, and 10 more in the fall. To spread the word, she has promoted the podcast on Facebook, where she also gives students background information and suggests further reading and viewing on topics of interest.
Students seem to be gobbling it up. In the first four weeks, the podcast already had more than 1,000 followers on iTunes.
Public relations major Danielle Lirette (CGS’18, COM’20), who produces Spot On! says it’s not that young people don’t know or understand that many posts are paid celebrity endorsements, but an endless stream of them can have a wearying effect. A fan of the Caulfield podcast, she says she especially likes to know how misinformation spreads. “I feel a lot more aware,” she says.
Eliza Shaw (COM’20) says the podcast is “a great resource.” She follows the Kardashians on Instagram, she says, though not their health and wellness advice. The Spot On! podcast, however, made her reconsider the net effect all the promotions—and all the photoshopped images of perfection—is having on her brain.
“It’s more and more difficult to distinguish what’s real and what’s about making money” on Instagram, she says. Salge Blake “knows what she’s talking about.”
And part of the attraction is Salge Blake herself, says vegan Natalie Kulick (COM’21). Kulick says she’s grateful for the way Salge Blake uses her considerable knowledge and experience to help students, adding that it was helpful to learn in one of the podcasts that she could meet with a nutritionist on campus at no cost.
“You can trust her opinion,” Kulick says. “It’s not a sound bite—she’s going to explore an issue and demystify it.”
Salge Blake wants to encourage students to think critically. And she reminds them that joyless eating, or meals without friends or foods that remind them of home or family, all deprive them of the joy a keto diet cookie can’t replace.
Her best advice to students?
“Eat!” Salge Blake exclaims. “Eat before you get ravenous and eat anything that moves.”
Megan Woolhouse can be reached at email@example.com.