In order to advocate for yourself and understand why certain products are deemed healthy/not healthy, you must be able to research opinions and
facts from reputable sources- not just blog posts, biased documentaries, and Youtube videos. This is no easy feat, especially if you have never conducted a literature review before, and even if you have, the answers oftentimes aren't present on the first Google search page.
Throughout my undergraduate career, I learned how to sharpen my research-gathering skills. There are many ways to conduct literature reviews, but I am going to walk you through how I research my topics of interest in health, nutrition, and wellness. Once you become more accustomed to the search engines, you may find that another method works best for you-which is perfectly fine! I am sharing this information with hopes to provide you with some tools to assist in your health research sleuthing. But before I get into these steps, I want to give a brief overview of a few key terms that I will be using throughout this post that you may not be familiar with.
Primary literature- articles that involve an expert-reviewed research project (with an abstract, introduction, methods, results, conclusion, and discussion sections)
Secondary literature- articles that synthesize information from primary literature. Examples of this include review articles, meta-analyses, and scientific magazine articles.
Peer-reviewed- articles that have been reviewed by other experts in the field. When a researcher submits his/her article to a journal for publication, the article undergoes evaluation by these experts before actually being printed in the journal.
Sources- literature that is referenced by the author of whatever paper you are reading-- Anything that you read about in a paper that the authors did not invent or think of is always cited from a source, most likely a primary literature source. Researchers and authors build their novel ideas off of things that have already been proven and discovered, and they will use the introduction, oftentimes, to lay the foundation for their novel idea by using these sources. You can find sources located throughout the paper, generally as a small numerical notation or hyperlinked phrase, or at the end of the article.
Step 1: Find an appropriate search engine.
For primary literature, I typically use Google Scholar, ScienceDirect, and PubMed, because most of the articles on these sites are from peer-reviewed journals (I will get into the importance of this later). The USDA also has a site that lists all of their current research, which you can find at http://cris.csrees.usda.gov.
If you are looking for articles that have already broken down the main ideas from primary literature sources, making them more easily understandable, simply type in the key words of your topic of interest into Google or search engine of your preference, keeping in mind that sites like Wikipedia are not the most reliable. Instead of searching on Google, I regularly search for secondary literature on the following websites:
Once on the search engine of your choosing, you can type in whatever keywords you wish to research; some examples are "nutrition", "turmeric",
"SIBO", etc. Most search engines also have a more advanced search where you can search for multiple terms, such as "nutrition" AND "diabetes", "turmeric" AND "Alzheimer's Disease", and "SIBO" OR "Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth."
If you aren't finding the desired results with your keywords, try using synonyms and similar phrases, or even antonyms and opposite phrases. Think broader and more narrow with your keywords, as well, as this may give you more insight into the "whole picture."
I also like to put in a more recent date range so that I can view updated research. If you are looking for the initial studies on a topic, using this tool to date backwards can also be helpful.
Step 3: Find the article that you're looking for.
When deciding which primary literature article to read, I always ensure that the article is from a peer-reviewed journal. By reading peer-reviewed papers, you are ensuring that the information in the article is considered scholarly and valid amongst experts in the same field. You can find and search a list of peer-reviewed journals here: https://www.omicsonline.org/peer-reviewed-journals.php or simply type the "Journal Name Peer-Reviewed" into Google.
Some peer-review processes differ between journals, so be sure to check that out if you are interested in the exact process of a specific journal.
If you are not reading information from a primary literature source (i.e. you are reading an article online or from a magazine), I recommend doing the following:
1. Scroll to the bottom of the article and ensure that there are sources, preferably from a peer-reviewed journal. It is important to ensure that the information within the article is based on fact and not opinion.
2. Briefly skim through the main points of the cited sources to ensure that information from the primary literature is not being portrayed in a way different than the initial researchers had intended.
3. After completing these two steps, I encourage you to search for conflicting articles, read them, and check out their sources too. This will give you a better understanding of the controversy within the topic and things to look out for in future research.
Step 4: Stay updated. Stay informed.
Staying up-to-date with scientific literature is soimportant because things are constantly changing. Nutritional research, especially, has changed so much over the last 100 years, with almost every food group and ingestible substance demonized at one point or another. I use PubCrawler, which has been extremely convenient for me because the site emails me new research updates about my topics of interest. You can set up similar notifications from Google and/or PubMed, as well!
The information in this post is obviously not exhaustive but should be a great starting point for you all! I hope this helps to serve as a starting point for your nutritional and wellness-based research. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please leave them in the comments below. Be on the lookout for the "Beginner's Guide to Reading Scientific Literature"!