Another issue has come up lately that is concerning to me and I'd like to get some feedback from the community on whether this is something we need to nip in the bud or if I'm just overreacting.
General health and diet issues are off-topic. We all know that (I hope). Of course, specific health and diet issues are certainly valid to talk about if they relate somehow to cooking or food preparation. People should absolutely feel welcome to ask about low-fat or gluten-free or vegetarian substitutions. The community seemed to feel that the question asking about cheap sources of protein was appropriate. Certainly our question about whether or not microwaving destroys nutrients in food is of some relevance to culinary experts.
But I think there's a side of this that isn't properly addressed by the FAQ, and that's the presence of dubious or at least contentious information being presented in answers and comments. Sometimes a controversial assumption can also be implicit or buried in an otherwise-legitimate question.
Several examples follow:
Going all the way back to our first days we had people posting that you should avoid saturated fats (and getting upvoted for it).
A question about Fat contents from different types of ground beef when drained suggests that lean meat is better "from a health perspective."
This very well-meaning answer to a question about MSG makes note of the popular belief about allergic reactions and other health hazards associated with MSG, which is heavily disputed.
Recently I've seen a spate of people recommending to lay off the salt. Then we had this question asking if kosher salt is "worse for your health" than table salt, which carries an implied (many would say incorrect) assumption that any salt is bad for your health.
My point is not to call out specific people for posting these types of things, or even to attempt to definitively categorize any of these claims as right or wrong. The point is, we don't know - we're not medical experts. And when it comes to nutrition, oftentimes we find that even the medical experts are wrong (very, very wrong - does anyone remember when trans fats were being promoted as a healthier alternative to saturated fats?).
I don't believe that any of us are qualified to be making health or nutrition claims without having a truckload of citations to back them up. Nutritional claims are often more politically-motivated than people realize. Even the most innocuous claim, some idea that we've lived with for so long that we think of it as common sense, can turn out to be a gris-gris in the world of health. Most of the time, we just don't know. And by claiming to know, we are doing others a disservice.
I really believe that we should - must stay out of this territory if we want our site to be a source of good information. Dubious health claims are merely dilutive, adding virtually no value to a culinary discussion if they are correct, but potentially costing much if they're wrong.
Wikipedia has a Neutral Point Of View policy. I don't think we need to, or should, be like Wikipedia in every respect; many questions here simply cannot be answered without a certain amount of opinion or original research, and that's OK because we are supposed to be a community of culinary experts/enthusiasts who will correct or at least call out errors. So in the culinary domain, we don't need to be NPOV. But, I think, in the health domain, maybe we do.
What do other people think? Should we strive to avoid making health claims beyond those relating to food safety, or are our built-in mechanisms for dealing with bad/questionable information already sufficient? If it's the latter, why aren't they working in every case?
If we do need a policy, then what should it be, and how should we handle it?
I want to clarify this because a lot of people think "neutral" means "tell everybody's side of the story", and this is simply not true. Please refer to Wikipedia's entries on due weight; the term means including all significant viewpoints - either majority (expert) viewpoints or minority viewpoints attributable to prominent experts (not quacks). It also means not taking sides, instead just explaining the viewpoints and sources: "most experts (citation) agree on X, although experts A and B disagree, claiming Y instead."
Example of NPOV vs. Non-NPOV wording
Question: I am making (name of some baked good) and want to make a healthier version. Can anyone suggest how I can reduce the amount of oil to make this recipe healthier?
Non-NPOV Answer: Oil is fat. You should cut out all that fat completely and substitute it with something like applesauce. That will be much healthier.
Still not NPOV: You can substitute applesauce for the oil, but as long as you are using an oil that's mostly mono/polyunsaturated (such as sunflower oil) and avoiding saturated or trans fats, then it's perfectly healthy already.
NPOV Answer: You can reduce the oil by substituting some of it with applesauce, but reducing overall fat intake does not have proven health benefits. A certain amount of fat is actually necessary in one's diet. Furthermore, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are both known to lower LDL cholesterol (colloquially called "bad" cholesterol), and although it is widely believed that saturated fats increase the risk of heart disease, more recent research has put that into question as well. Very little is actually known for sure about the long-term effects of dietary fat intake and you should be cognizant of this when making decisions about your diet.
Also NPOV: You can reduce the oil by substituting some of it with applesauce. (Period. No health/diet-related information presented.)