Watch Those “Alternative Facts”!

We’ve been hearing a lot about “alternative facts” lately. But, “fake news” isn’t something new. Did you happen to hear that the Earth is flat?

As long as mothers have been around, there have been heated discussions—first in person, then in online parenting forums and now on social media—about how to best take care of our children. The “Mommy Wars” have probably been going on since ancient times.

More recently, social media has enabled a great deal of information to be shared freely and quickly, but that doesn’t mean the information is accurate.

Some sources say to co-sleep with your baby to promote bonding, while others say that it just isn’t safe. Some researchers will tell you how to sleep-train your baby by allowing the child to “cry it out” while other sources say that will leave the child feeling abandoned. It’s sometimes hard to know which information is correct. What is the “truth” and what is the “alternative fact”?

One of the most hotly debated parenting topics is what to feed your baby, specifically the use of carrageenan in shelf-stable products, including infant formula. Almost every shelf-stable product requires some type of stabilizer to keep it fresh for the duration of its journey from factory to market to your child’s belly. Over the past few years, carrageenan has come under fire from some groups that have shared that carrageenan isn’t actually safe. But, could it actually be safe?

Do your own research

Sure, the old TV show was called Father Knows Best, but we all know that Mommy knows what’s best for her family, too. Every mom wants her child to be healthy and happy, but each family has a different idea about how to achieve that goal. The most important tools to use when gathering information about caring for your family is to have a discerning eye for details, learn who is behind the information and to check your facts with multiple sources. Don’t simply read a Facebook post shared by your aunt’s best friend and decide that it must be true.

Ask these 5 questions

When you read about a parenting or health topic, often times it will quote a scientific study or make a claim. The National Institutes of Health, under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, outlines a few key facts when determining if an online source is credible:

  • Who? Who runs the website? Can you trust them?
  • What? What does the site say? Do its claims seem too good to be true?
  • When? When was the information posted or reviewed? Is it up to date?
  • Where? Where did the information come from? Is it based on scientific research?
  • Why? Why does the site exist? Is it selling something?

Know where your information comes from

If we refer back to the debate on carrageenan, it is helpful to understand just where the “alternative facts” come from. Much of the information linking carrageenan to illness and disease was propagated by Dr. Joanne Tobacman and spread via the Cornucopia Institute, a special-interest group backed by Organic Valley, the largest organic farmer-owned cooperative in the world. It is in Cornucopia Institute’s best interest to make corporate-owned organic brands outside of their cooperative remove carrageenan from their products.

If the corporate brands can make the same product for less money and with a longer shelf life, then Organic Valley’s profits could diminish. In fact, carrageenan has been proven safe by JECFA, an international scientific expert committee that is administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). A great endorsement: The European Food Safety Authority has determined that carrageenan in follow-on formula (formula for infants under 12 months of age) is acceptable to use as a thickener.

Don’t be influenced by unreputable sources

Scientific studies that are backed by highly regarded organizations that are confirmed by multiple sources usually present the most accurate information. Always do your due diligence when evaluating claims, whether it is where baby sleeps or which ingredients are safe to feed your family.

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