Episode 63: Feeding our Future; Social Media’s Impact on Family Nutrition with Nicole Osinga

In this week’s episode, we are delighted to feature Nicole Osinga, a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. Nicole joins us in discussing the influence of social media on family diets and the significant responsibility of online influencers in disseminating health information.



Healthy Habits, Happy Homes Podcast

Season 6, Episode 9

Guest: Nicole Osinga


Maricane Any 00:05

Hello, welcome to the Healthy Habits, Happy Home podcast hosted by the Guelph Family Health Study.


Tamara Petresin 00:14

If you’re interested in the most recent research and helpful tips for healthy, balanced living for you and your family, then this podcast is for you. In each episode, we will bring you topics that are important to your growing family and guests who will share their expertise and experience with you.


Maricane Any 00:31

Our quick tips will help your family build healthy habits for a happy home.


Tamara Petresin 00:40

Welcome back to the Healthy Habits, Happy Homes podcast. I’m Tamara.


Maricane Any 00:45

And I’m Marciane.


Tamara Petresin  00:47

And, today we’re excited to have Nicole Osinga join us. Nicole is a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator with her own private practice where she does one-on-one counselling. You may have seen Nicole on Instagram sharing tips on national television on the Global Morning Show and W Network, or you may have read her articles in the Toronto Star. Nicole’s interests include working with people to discover and often rediscover a healthy relationship with food and create sustainable lifestyle changes. She’s here today to talk to us about nutrition and social media. To get us started, can you tell us a bit about yourself, your current role, and how your education and experiences led you to where you are now?


Nicole Osinga 01:25

Absolutely. And thank you so much for having me on the podcast, ladies. So, I’ve been a registered dietitian now for about 10 years and I did my training at the University of Guelph. So, I did my Bachelor’s of Applied Nutrition and the Master’s program there, the MAN program. So, I completed my Master’s and internship at the same time. And, throughout my, sort of, 10-year career so far, I started working out, sort of, more in a clinical setting. So, did, you know, mostly hospital and long-term care work. And, I still work part-time at a hospital right now, you know, it’s just a small local community hospital that I just honestly really love the community. And, you know, it’s nice to, kind of, have, you know, your toes in a clinical setting, I think. The other part of my role as a dietitian is that I am on social media and I do media work. I do TV appearances, newspaper work, et cetera. And, then, I also do my private practice, which is one-on-one counselling. So, three hats I find I wear in my professional life, which certainly keeps it interesting and keeps me on my toes, as well.


Marciane Any 02:27

That’s awesome. We’re so excited to talk with you. You bring a wealth of knowledge. And, also it’s great to have a fellow U of Guelph alum. That’s awesome.  We definitely have some friends in the MAN program, so that’s really great to hear from a fellow alum.

Nicole Osinga 02:44

Yes, absolutely. I miss Guelph so much, actually, it was a great school.


Marciane Any 02:47

Aww. Well, what are some of the food or nutrition trends you’re seeing on social media and in your private practice?


Nicole Osinga 02: 55

Yeah, so even, you know, the starting of this year, honestly, there’s been such a movement towards people requesting more plant-based eating. And, you know, and I am plant-based myself, you know, and I have been plant-based actually for around the amount of time I’ve been a dietitian, so, about 10 years or so.

But, I’m seeing a lot more people just, and not even people wanting to go 100% vegan, but people wanting to enjoy more meatless meals with their family and potentially, you know, for cost savings. I think just information is out there about the benefits of plant-based eating. So, that’s certainly one on social media and in my private practice, you know. And, I think, I’m seeing, too, a movement away from, sort of, almost, sort of, like, strict eating patterns, you know, gentle nutrition, I want to call it, too. We’re, sort of, wanting to focus on, hey, you know, let’s, kind of, focus on what we can add to our plate. And, we don’t, we want to get away from that guilt and shaming around food choices in general. But, you know, I think it’s great that we’re just focusing on, again, regarding plant-based eating. How do we add more plants to our plate? And, you know, we have to be at peace with food more because, I think, I don’t know about you ladies, but growing up in the ‘90s, myself, you know, some diet culture was so prevalent and it was all, you know, stick within the strict guidelines, et cetera. But, I think, yeah, it’s nice to see that we’re moving away from that.


Tamara Petresin 04:16

Yeah, it definitely is nice to hear that. ‘Cause, yeah, I agree growing up, you know, in that time there was so much of that, like, strict nutrition. And so, it’s so nice to see more of the, like, gentle approach and the nutrition, kind of, by addition, like, what can we add? And, it’s really great to hear about more plant-based eating. ‘Cause obviously there’s a lot of research to support the benefits of that. So, it’s nice to hear that people are, kind of, trying to see how they can incorporate more of the meatless meals. And, of course, in today’s, you know, food environment landscape, groceries are very expensive. So, that definitely helps from that angle, as well. What would you say are some of the biggest misconceptions about certain foods or patterns of eating that people commonly believe and how can we set the record straight with them?


Nicole Osinga 04:54

Yes, I think there’s definitely a number of misconceptions out there. And, I think, you know, even though I did say we are moving, I think, or we’re moving towards, sort of, that gentle nutrition, kind of, outlook, I think there’s still foods that are being villainized. Seed oils are one of them, I just, that’s one that really irks me. I don’t know where that came from and, you know, there’s not really adequate research to support, you know, okay, this has sunflower seed oil, we have to put this back, you know? And that’s, it’s honestly, it’s a hard one. I do, sort of, like, myth-busting Instagram posts at times, and,  I think, it’s just, you know, I think presenting the information, you know, very factually, you know, and we should work to identify, sort of, those red flags around fear-mongering messages and, you know, if something’s very extreme, for example, you know, avoid this, this small ingredient in this food, you know, because the result is going to be, you know, you’re going to, your body’s going to be inflamed. I mean, that’s, you know, that just sounds ridiculous, I think, to begin with, but presenting, you know, the research, okay, this is, maybe these things start with a small grain of truth. And, you know, we can say that, okay, this was found in this study, you know, among mice, and now at this amount, and now we’re applying this to human health, you know, it might not have that strong of a linkage as we’re led to believe, you know, so presenting the facts, and, I think, even going at it with, sort of, without these extreme views, like, okay, well, we found this here, and, you know, that this is probably not likely the case and trying to, kind of, calm those anxieties around messaging that we’re, sort of, getting there, because sometimes then we’re just left with, okay, well, what, what the heck do we eat? Is everything bad is, you know, and I think even just, kind of, getting into that, sort of, black or white view of food, that good and bad is something we absolutely want to encourage people to stay away from, because that’s not even the truth. And, it’s not helpful. There’s not even evidence behind it. So, yeah, that’s, it’s a tough one, for sure. And, I think, again, going back to that seed oil example, that honestly is something that comes up, you know, most weeks when I’m posting, and if I post a snack with seed oils in there, so it’s a tough one. And, I mean, there’s also a subset of people that you’re just not going to change their mind. And, it is what it is. But, I think if we can just go back to the evidence, I mean, how can we argue with evidence, you know? So, yeah.


Tamara Petresin 07:16

Yeah, for sure. And, I have, like, found that as well. I’m also a dietician. And, so I have found, like, social media sometimes, like, to be very frustrating to the point where I’m, like, why did I go into nutrition? Because nobody believes me anyways. [laughter] Like, I find that, like, that’s been a bit tricky for me personally, especially when I was, like, newer in my career, as well. But, it’s very true, you know, that whole “don’t even know where these things came from.” Like, the seed oil example is so perfect. Like, that is just blown up. And, I guess, information just spreads so quickly on social media. I think there’s definitely an opportunity, like, as researchers to maybe do a bit more knowledge translation with the public, as well. Because, like you said, you know, you can’t dispute the evidence, right? So, just, kind of, taking it back to the research.


Nicole Osinga 07:59

Absolutely, yeah.


Marciane Any 08:02

Very true. I’ve definitely seen a lot of those messaging. And, then, it can be like, “Oh, my gosh, well, then what do you eat?” You know? And, so, with the information that a lot of families and individuals can have on social media regarding nutrition, as a dietitian with a social media presence, how have you seen social media influence in individuals or families eating behaviours?


Nicole Osinga  08:25

Yeah, yeah. And, I think, yeah, and it’s good to kind of come out at this with, sort of, like, there is a positive, sort of, influence in terms of, you know, okay, it’s great that we have access to all these ideas and recipes, but then also, kind of, recognizing, yeah, there can be that negative influence, as well. I think, speaking to my last point, you know, are we, sort of, creating this culture where, you know, there’s fear mongering because of these messages that we’re, kind of, picking up on social media? To be honest, in my practice, I actually love answering if a client comes to me and says, “Nicole, like, what do you think about soy? What do you think about seed oils?” You know, I love that they’re giving me a chance to speak about it, you know, which is just I feel blessed to be in that position. So, I think, yeah, negative and positively, you know, and again, I think, we live in a world where information is so easy to access now, which is wonderful. But, we, just, I think we have to teach our clients and audience to look at information with a critical eye and assess, “Okay, is this something that could be true? Should this apply to me? And, to what degree am I taking this into account there?” So, yeah, kind of a mixed bag there.


Tamara Petresin 09:31

For sure. And, that actually segues perfectly to our next question here about how can families navigate the vast amount of nutrition information that’s available on social media? And, what tips do you have for critically evaluating online advice?


Nicole Osinga 09:43

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So, honestly, I think it can be hard, you know, but, I think going back to what I mentioned earlier about trying to spot the red flags and nutrition advice that might be out there, anything extreme, anything sort of black or white, “you must avoid this if this is the case, you know,” and, you know, depending on sort of person’s level of familiarity by navigating research, I mean, maybe we just pull up PubMed and do a quick search. Okay, let’s look for seed oils. Like, what do we what do we see here? You know, like, and then, of course, you know, always looking for that person’s credentials. There is a person on social media, “Bobby” from FlavCity. I don’t know if you ladies are familiar with him, but he’s always sharing information that’s not super accurate. He does not have any credentials in this space. And, for some reason, he has a big following because I think it’s sometimes we’re sort of almost looking for the, sort of black or white. “Okay, should I eat this? Should I put this down?” People need guidelines. I get it. But, I think his messaging is, you know, to the point where it’s so restrictive and fear-mongering. And, I think, an unfortunate thing, too, is that he features his daughter in a lot of his videos and his daughter is picking up these things about food. And, then, you know, how is that going to affect her relationship with food in the future? But, yeah, so trying to recognize some of those red flags, look at the credentials. You know, maybe do a quick evidence search, consult a professional if you’re not sure, and dieticians are great person to consult.


Tamara Petresin 11:11

Yeah, for sure. And you mentioned Bobby and I was like, “Oh, yes, I know exactly who you’re talking about.” And, I love, I think, recently you posted a video reacting to one of his videos. And, I loved that. So, I’m definitely going to put people to your Instagram for that, because it’s just such a great way of like disputing that, because you’re right, like, people look for the black and white and, you know, sometimes I guess are a bit misguided, too, when people have such large following. So, it’s really nice to have dieticians, like yourself, sharing the actual evidence and the research and being able to dispute some of these claims that are just so ridiculous…for lack of a better word.


Nicole Osinga 11:45

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And, maybe, I’ll speak to a second about that video I posted recently. It was about he was going through products that you should or shouldn’t use around workout nutrition. And, in my practice, I do actually work with a lot of athletes. And, I think, it’s interesting. His first point was sports drinks or Gatorade. “Avoid them because they, you know, dehydrate you.” I don’t know. And I don’t understand where he’s coming from with that one. But, you know, I was kind of saying, “OK, sure, this might be a little bit much for the, you know, kind of, average exerciser. But, as a marathon runner myself, I need sports drinks to, kind of, push me through and to actually complete that distance.” You know, so, it’s like, “yeah, this doesn’t — we can’t have this general claim that applies to everyone.” Everyone is such an individual, you know. Anyway, just wanted to speak to that.


Marciane Any 12:29

Those are great points. And, you know, I’m so grateful that you are encouraging to really look for reliable sources at the end of the day. And, it’s awesome that you’re also debunking some of those like myths and things like that on your own social media. That’s awesome. What advice do you have for parents who may feel pressured by social media to follow specific diets or trends?


Nicole Osinga 12:55

Yeah. And, even, too, when I mentioned, sort of, I’m a plant-based eater, and that is something I do encourage folks. But, I think with the, sort of, umbrella of plant-based, it doesn’t have to be an extreme. You know, and I think that that just applies to everything. You know, it doesn’t, you know, specific diets or trends. I mean, sure, I guess you could call, kind of, the movement towards plant-based a bit of a trend. It’s popular. But, again, it doesn’t mean you have to cut out all dairy or meat from your diet. I think, when anything, kind of, encourages us to eat to an extreme, I think we just have to take a critical look at that. And, so, sure, okay, maybe there’s this new information, this new research that has come up, you know, let’s, kind of, take that into account. And, again, consulting a professional, follow dieticians on social media, you know, and ask, you know, is this something for my situation that could be helpful, you know, so I think those are some steps that we can kind of take there. I think also, too, I think recognizing then again, going back to Bobby, what I mentioned there, he’s popular because the messages are sensationalized, and they’re meant to grab your attention, like, “absolutely don’t eat this.” I mean, these trends are grabbing our attention because they are, you know, extreme, and they’re sensationalized, you know, I think for something that is meant to be sustainable in terms of an eating pattern, it’s not going to be, you know, if it’s extreme, it’s probably not going to be sustainable. So, you know, just, kind of, recognizing the role of these messages that we’re seeing online, those headlines are wanting to grab our attention there. So, just remembering that, I think, as we navigate this world.


Tamara Petresin 14:27

Yeah, definitely, especially the thing that you mentioned earlier, too, about how everyone is individual, right? Nutrition is so individualized; it’s so personal. And, so, a lot of these, you know, extremes like, you know, it’s like one size fits all approaches, like, that’s just not true. So, it’s definitely important to be able to, kind of, navigate that. And, it’s hard. It’s hard.  Yeah, especially when we talk about, you know, some of these, like influencers, I don’t know, I don’t love that word. But, I feel like Bobby, kind of, might fit into that category. So, and as a dietitian, too, in the social media nutrition space, from your perspective, we’re just, kind of, curious of like, what responsibilities you believe influencers have in promoting accurate health information online?


Nicole Osinga 15:09

Mm hmm. Yeah, and I think with influencers, yeah, technically, anyone can be an influencer. But, you know, I think, as a dietitian-influencer, it gets so challenging, because we, yes, we want to spread these, you know, these accurate messages. And, you know, we also want to, I think, to some degree, grab people’s attention. We want something interesting to be, kind of, put out here. But, we also we have a responsibility to our college to be able to communicate in a way that we’re not spreading misinformation. And, it’s tough to —  going back to our conversation about nutrition is so individualized. It’s hard online, because we can’t actually give individualized nutrition information to our audience. I mean, one-on-one, that’s a different story. But, we don’t know, you know, every person’s medical history, etc, that we interact with online. So, I think it’s just, sort of, again, going back to the evidence, I think it’s great that, you know, there’s dieticians out there that are debunking some of these notions out there, because that does grab people’s attention. But, yes, we do have a responsibility to spread this accurate information. But, yeah, we also want to grab people’s attention, as well. So, it can be it can be a bit of a tough world to navigate, versus other influencers who don’t necessarily have that, sort of, responsibility of this, you know, governing body to sort of ensure that they’re displaying accurate information. But, anyways, I’m glad there’s dieticians on social media that are, sort of, doing the good work here.


Tamara Petresin 16:31

Yeah, for sure. Definitely. It’s really useful. And, you know, some people might not even be aware to that dieticians do have, like, you know, the College of the Dieticians of Ontario here, because we’re in Ontario, right? And, it is a governing body where, yeah, like, we are, you know, ethically bound to follow those regulations and to share accurate health information, whereas someone you know, that doesn’t have those credentials can just say whatever. So, it’s definitely important to be aware of those things and to look into the credentials, as you’ve mentioned earlier as well.


Marciane Any 16:59

Mm hmm. So, we’ve talked about some of the, like, cautions as it relates to the social media space and nutrition.How has social media positively impacted nutrition education? And, in what ways can it be a helpful resource for families seeking reliable information?


Nicole Osinga 17:16

Yeah, social media has made it so much more accessible, you know, for families, for individuals to access information, you know. Again, that dietitian are sharing or other trusted health professionals, you know, versus I mean, even if we’re going back like 10, 15 years ago, social media wasn’t really a space that people would get that information, you know, like I’m trying to think how people got information beforehand. I mean, I guess we could still do like a Google search, but, like, you would have to you might have to book an appointment with a dietitian and wait however many weeks to get in to see one. So, I mean, it is, again, the information we’re sharing online isn’t always individualized for everyone in our audience. But, it’s great that there is information at our fingertips now. And, again, going back, I share a lot of recipes and meal planning tips and stuff. Again, social media just makes those things a lot more accessible because, you know, I always say to people, I’m not here to convince you that vegetables are healthy, you know, vegetables are healthy, but I’m here to help you ask me what are barriers to getting vegetables into our diet, you know, on a daily basis, you know, let’s kind of work on, you know, those cooking skills, let’s work on those meal planning skills, etc. So, I think social media has really helped, like, definitely in that realm, you know, and it’s just it’s at everyone’s fingertips now, which is great.


Tamara Petresin 18:32

Yeah, definitely. And, it’s so nice to be able to, you know, as you’re just kind of taking some time to scroll on Instagram, or whatever social media platform as we all do in a day, and to just be able to kind of get those little tidbits of information that are so useful, right? Like, and it doesn’t have to be full on, like, “Okay, I need to, you know, go see my doctor and get a referral or like find my own,” or, like, you know, which, you know, was, I’m sure, a huge barrier in the past. Now, it’s so easy to access information, which is great. And, even some of your videos; I love your like shopping videos as well, like, at Costco, like, you know, the high protein snacks and stuff. And like, that’s so helpful. And, it’s, like, short. And, it’s, like, I can get so much out of that in, like, a, you know, 30-second clip or however long it is. So, it’s really awesome to see that as well.


Nicole Osinga 19:12

Thank you.


Tamara Petresin 19:16

So, to close out the podcast, we like to give families three take-home tips. So, what are three take-home tips you can give families on promoting a healthier relationship with food through a more tactful way of navigating the vast amount of nutrition information on social media?


Nicole Osinga 19:27

Okay. So, I think, first tip is that, you know, having that critical eye and maybe this is, sort of, broken up into, you know, a few tips, but, like, again, sort of, like I mentioned, looking at that person’s credentials that you’re getting information from, looking for any kind of fear mongering tactics or techniques that person has put into their message. And, also, to, you know, take everything with a grain of salt, and then, maybe, we take to the literature and, kind of, do a quick search and, then, always going back to consulting a trusted health professional, as well, is super helpful. And, looking for a consensus, too. I mean, it’s everyone saying this, is this coming from one person? And, then, if you’re getting the information, you know, presented in an opposite way from somewhere else. So, that’s probably another red flag as well. And, I know that wasn’t super concise, but those are just, sort of ,a few tips I would kind of give people and families to navigate social media there.


Tamara Petresin 20:20

Those are so helpful. That’s amazing. Thank you so much, Nicole, for taking the time to chat with us. This conversation about social media and nutrition has been so insightful. Where can our listeners find you on social media?


Nicole Osinga 20:31

So, primarily on Instagram @nicoleosinga_rd.  You can just search my name there. I’m also on TikTok. I’m, kind of, just reposting my Instagram videos to TikTok. Yeah, mainly find me on Instagram. And, I give away sample, sort of, meal plans. I do a lot about meal prepping and, kind of, showing, you know, high-protein, plant-based recipes there, as well.


Marciane Any 20:51

We’re so grateful to have this time with you to get to talk and just so excited that there are dieticians like you on the social media space sharing this reliable and engaging content and information with individuals and families. So, thank you so much for the time that you’ve taken to speak with us. And, we hope our listeners can take away some of these useful tips that you’ve shared and that they enjoyed this episode. We’ll see you next time.