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Healthy Or Hype Turmeric

Healthy or Hype? Turmeric

Turmeric seems to be everywhere these days. This signature spice that lends curries and mustards their distinct colour is now popping up in unlikely foods and beverages like golden spice lattes, hot chocolate, and even sodas.

And you can count on more foods adopting turmeric’s characteristic yellow-orange hue, as the turmeric food trend is a strong one. A recent Google food trend analysis ranks turmeric as the number 1 rising star, as interest in turmeric has grown significantly in a short period.

Source: Google internal data, August 2015-February 2016, United States
Source: Google internal data, August 2015-February 2016, United States

The Internet is a go-to source for information about food and health. But teasing out the evidence-based information from the hype is becoming increasingly more difficult.  Is the turmeric trend supported by the body of scientific evidence?

What Is Turmeric?

Turmeric and Turmeric powder on white background

Turmeric comes from the thick root of the turmeric plant: it looks a bit like a small ginger root, and cooks prepare it in a similar way to add a subtle earthy flavour and bright colour to dishes.  If you are new to cooking with turmeric, be aware that turmeric can stain hands, clothes, and even cooking utensils bright yellow orange (historically turmeric was a popular dye, and some use it as a dye today).   Most people are more familiar with turmeric ground to a golden powder, which is available in the spice isle of most grocery stores.

Health Claims

Recognized as an ancient home remedy in Asia, and commonplace in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, many believe that turmeric has medicinal properties.  A quick search reveals turmeric as a “cure-all.” The claims for turmeric’s healing properties are wide ranging — from improving cognitive function, cardiovascular function, and weight loss to fighting cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, arthritis, headaches, depression, digestive diseases, the common cold, and many more health conditions.  No wonder people are sprinkling turmeric on everything. . . (whether it tastes good or not).  Does this sound too good to be true?

Evidence

A large body of research has looked into turmeric and health, focusing on curcumin, a polyphenol compound thought to be responsible for turmeric’s potential therapeutic effects. Curcumin makes up only about 3-5% of turmeric.

Curcumin, the potential health-promoting compound, makes up only about 3-5% of turmeric
Curcumin is the potential health-promoting compound in turmeric

Preclinical studies suggested that curcumin’s anti-inflammatory action might help prevent or treat various chronic diseases.  Though promising, it is important to categorize this research as preliminary or hypothesis generating, as much of it is “in vitro” (conducted in test tubes) or in animals. Researchers have studied curcumin in humans, but results have been inconclusive. Also, best to interpret this research with caution as most studies had a small number of participants, short durations, and many did not compare curcumin to a placebo. Though we shouldn’t generalize conclusions from these small-scale studies, their findings can inform larger scale trials.

Another issue with research in humans is that the body doesn’t absorb regular curcumin very well:  you can consume a lot of it, but very little reaches the blood or tissues where it can have a clinical effect.  Research shows that rodents absorb little (<1%) of the curcumin they consume. However, one line of research is investigating ways to improve absorption: for example, some studies suggest that black pepper boosts the bioavailability of curcumin.

So, turmeric contains <5% of curcumin, and most of this tiny amount isn’t bioavailable . . . why are so many stretching the culinary uses of this standard curry spice to desserts and convincing themselves that turmeric flavoured smoothies “taste good,” or are even “good for you?”Turmeric Smoothie Healthy

It’s too easy to be persuaded of turmeric’s potential healing powers. Those championing turmeric’s benefits are citing individual studies without proper scientific context.  Critically evaluating the available research is a challenge and requires substantial expertise. Luckily, a new comprehensive review published in January 2017 has done just that. Investigators at the University of Minnesota reviewed the evidence for curcumin, which included thousands of studies and over 120 clinical trials.  The authors raise important questions about the research and comment that curcumin’s health benefits are “much ado about nothing.”

There is no rigorous human study (double-blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial) showing benefit to turmeric.  Another serious problem overlooked by many is that curcumin’s chemical structure is unstable and can produce “false hits” in studies – i.e., showing that it is acting on a disease-causing protein, when it really isn’t.

What about Curcumin Supplements?

Are concentrated supplements of turmeric’s potential beneficial compound (curcumin) a good choice?  It seems many North Americans think so, as the market for curcumin is large (US$20 million in 2014) and growing.  And marketing by the likes of Dr Oz, Dr Hyman, Dr Mercola, or the Food Babe always persuades many. Curcumin supplements are likely a waste of money, as the recent comprehensive research review shows that they lack sufficient evidence of efficacy.Curumin Supplements Scientific Evidence

In general, you should be wary of all dietary supplements and their claims. The supplement industry is unregulated (which means questionable dosage, efficacy, and safety), but clever marketing manages to persuade many.

Bottom Line

Although many studies have investigated turmeric/curcumin, and some have shown promise, at this point these findings aren’t good enough evidence to suggest that consuming turmeric improves any health condition.  It’s important to consider the preliminary nature of the research and recent review questioning of curcumin’s biological activity. Turmeric is certainly not a cure-all panacea as some have touted.  More research may help uncover specific benefits to curcumin or other compounds in turmeric.

Typical North Indian spicy dish or cuisine called Chana Masala
Using turmeric in healthful dishes is a great idea!

But cooking with spices like turmeric is a great idea.  These plant-based seasonings can flavour food deliciously without the need for excess salt or fat.  And looking for recipes featuring turmeric may help you cook more and inspire you to prepare healthful dishes.  But even if effective, turmeric is a small-player for promoting health and preventing disease: better to focus efforts on eating a good diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting enough physical activity, measures that have proven benefits for health and well-being.

Healthy or Hype Series

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Are Natural Sweeteners Healthier Than Sugar Title

Are “Natural” Sweeteners Healthier than Sugar?

The health impact of consuming too much sugar is big news, and many people are looking for alternatives. What about so-called “natural” sweeteners? Food marketers want you to think they are healthier, and labels boasting terms like “naturally sweetened” or “honey-sweetened” are a common fixture.

This line of thinking has made its way into cookbooks, recipe blogs, and many home kitchens. One of my cake recipes wasn’t “healthy,” a reader commented, because it used sugar instead of a more “natural” sweetener like honey.

Are these “naturally” sweetened options really better for you than foods sweetened with sugar?

Honey Sweetener2What Are “Natural” Sweeteners?

When it comes to foods, the term “natural” is ill defined.  When people use the term “natural” sweeteners, they typically mean sweeteners that aren’t refined granulated sugar (pure sucrose from sugar cane) or high fructose corn syrup.

Popular “natural” sweeteners include agave nectar, brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, date sugar, honey, maple syrup; molasses, organic cane sugar, sucanat, turbanido sugar (raw sugar).

The Claims

Some of the claims attributed to natural sweeteners include that
“natural” sweeteners are . . .

  • less processed
  • full of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants
  • lower on the glycemic index scale (may not raise blood sugar as much as other sweeteners)
  • lower in fructose/glucose
  • much healthier for you than sugar

The Evidence

Less processed

A popular argument for “natural” sweeteners is that they are less processed than sugar.

sugarsFor example, some people consider Turbinado (raw) sugar and Organic Cane Sugar healthier and less processed than sugar.  Similar to refined sugar, turbinado sugar is refined cane juice, but a little darker with hints of molasses since it contains more impurities. Organic cane sugar is from organically grown sugar cane.  Both of these sugars are highly refined and very similar to table sugar in terms of nutrition and how your body metabolizes them, so you’re out of luck if you’re choosing these sugars for superior nutrition.  However, choose turbinado sugar if you like its depth of flavor, or organic cane sugar if you value that it is free of pesticide residues and potentially better for the environment (soil, health of workers exposed to pesticides).

Agave syrup is another popular “natural” sweetener that some consider less processed. Initially, natural health enthusiasts recommended agave nectar because it was “natural,” and low on the glycemic index scale.  Also, because agave is sweeter than sugar, the thinking was that people would use less of it. The high fructose content responsible for the lower glycemic index of agave might be a concern. Most fad health gurus who recommended agave enthusiastically (e.g., Dr Oz or Dr. Weil) changed their tune when they found out that agave has a very high fructose content compared to other sweeteners (much higher than high fructose corn syrup,  the much vilified sweetener in soft drinks).

Although agave syrup is from the agave plant, it is actually highly processed to deliver a refined and clear syrup, so it’s hard to argue that it is less processed.  Sugar is processed out of “natural” sugar cane, but no one calls sugar natural.  In both cases, the processing removes fiber and concentrates sugars.  Use agave nectar in small quantities if you like the taste of it, or if it truly benefits your recipe, but don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s healthier than other sweeteners.

READ  Is agave nectar a healthy sweetener?

What About the Minerals in Many Natural Sweeteners?

Some “natural” sweeteners are less processed than sugar and do retain some minerals and other substances. Does this make them a better choice than refined sugar?  Here are a some sweeteners touted for their mineral content that you may be wondering about . . .

Honey

Honey IsolatedHoney is another sweetener many choose over sugar for health reasons, and claimed benefits range from preventing cancer and heart disease to regulating blood sugar. Honey does contain trace amounts of minerals and antioxidants. Darker honey has a stronger flavour and contains more antioxidants, but the amount is negligible compared to other foods like fruits and vegetables that offer many health benefits.  As one of the oldest sweeteners on earth, and the product of honeybees foraging nectar from flowers, honey is truly amazing and offers wonderful flavors.  But despite terrific tastes that vary with the seasons and flowers, and diverse culinary uses, your body treats honey pretty much like refined sugar, and you shouldn’t consume honey for health reasons.

Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar is promoted as a good source of magnesium . . . but has only 1 mg of magnesium per teaspoon. Compare that to ½ cup of cooked spinach (80 mg magnesium); ½ cup black beans (60 mg magnesium), or one medium banana (30 mg magnesium).  So, you shouldn’t be eating coconut sugar for the magnesium. . . If coconut sugar makes your recipe taste great, go for it. But keep in mind that coconut sugar has the same calorie and carbohydrate content as regular sugar and is mostly sucrose.

Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup In Snow CroppedMaple syrup, a product of the boiled sap of maple trees, is my all-time favourite sweetener (owing to being Canadian, or maybe the fact that my grandmother used to drink it out of a shot glass during maple syrup season . . . ). Maple syrup contains small amounts antioxidants and minerals (calcium, potassium, and iron), and a moderate amount of potassium and zinc. It is a good source of manganese, but, you would be better off getting your manganese from nuts and seeds, leafy greens, unrefined whole grains, or legumes.

Researchers at the University of Rhode Island have isolated potentially beneficial compounds in maple syrup, and the media picked up with “superfood” type headlines. And a recent laboratory study found that a concentrated extract of maple syrup positively influenced a protein common in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s: though intriguing, these preliminary findings involve isolated compounds that don’t necessarily translate to human consumption and health, and shouldn’t be interpreted as health advice to consume more maple syrup! You can read more about Sweet Hype for Maple Syrup by McGill’s Joe Schwartz here.

Brown Rice Syrup

Brown rice syrup sounds healthy and is a popular ingredient on “health guru” food blogs that lack scientific evidence. You’ll see it in many commercial granola, cereal, and fruit-and-nut type bars. Many well-intentioned vegan food bloggers use brown rice syrup as a “glue” to bind ingredients in unbaked cookies and bars: I liked the dried fruit and nut combinations, but rice syrup makes the bars too sticky and crumbly to be practical. Using eggs to bind ingredients and baking bars/cookies offers much better nutrition than adding more brown rice syrup to help ingredients bind! And similar to all sweeteners, your body breaks down brown rice syrup and treats it like other sweeteners, whether it is organic or not, part of a “healthy” cookie, or poured on pancakes.

Molasses

molassesMolasses is the dark liquid that remains after sugar is extracted from sugar cane. It comes in several varieties depending on the level of processing. Blackstrap molasses is the least refined and a notable exception for getting nutrition beyond calories from sweeteners, because it has a high enough iron content (7 mg in 2 tbsp.) to be considered beneficial. But because of its bitter flavor people don’t typically substitute it for sugar. Light molasses is more palatable, but it does not contain as much iron as blackstrap molasses or other minerals (1.8 mg of iron in 2 tbsp.).

Even though many “natural” sweeteners provide more minerals than white sugar, it does not make them “healthy.” And even if these sweeteners contained significant amounts of minerals, you’re better off getting these minerals from foods that don’t provide empty calories and influence your hormones or metabolism.

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is a way of measuring the effect of a food on blood sugar. Although some “natural” sweeteners may have a lower glycemic index than others, many question the influence of this measure on health.  This study suggests that a low glycemic index diet didn’t improve insulin sensitivity, cholesterol, or other heart disease risk factors for people who are already following a healthful diet. Another recent study calls into question the reliability of this measure. In general, judging whether a food is nutritious or not based on one measure, like the glycemic index, is not a good idea!

Is Fructose poison?

Beyond taste and texture, sweeteners do vary in the number of calories, sweetness, chemical composition, and how your body breaks them down. Much of the confusion and championing of certain sweeteners comes from exaggerating the influence of how your body breaks down sugars on health. For example, some call fructose poison and blame it for the obesity epidemic, but the evidence doesn’t support this sweeping statement.  Your body metabolizes fructose differently than other sugars, and studies suggest that high intakes could raise triglycerides, predisposing individuals to fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, and heart disease.  But researchers conducted these studies mostly in animals, and looked at very high doses of 100% fructose: this is not how fructose is consumed in a typical diet. Most sweeteners are a combination of glucose and fructose. More recent studies in humans show no evidence that fructose influences metabolic syndrome or cardiovascular disease risk factors compared to glucose.   Blaming fructose for health problems overshadows more important factors like body weight, overall calorie intake, and inactivity. Choosing a sweetener based on fructose content isn’t the best strategy for health.

Health Halo Donut SmallBeware the health halo . . . sugar is sugar!

Considering “natural sugars” as healthy can have a health halo effect, meaning that if you think something is good for you, you feel better about eating it, and may end up consuming more of it. Researchers have documented the health halo effect in several studies, like this one.

In fact, simply adding the word “fruit” to the word sugar makes people think it is healthier. In this recent study published in the journal Appetite, consumers looking at cereal ingredients perceived the cereal with “fruit sugar” as healthier than the cereal with “sugar,” although the nutrient profiles of both cereals were the same.  Fruit juice concentrate is a common sweetener in many foods, but it is no healthier than sugar, and organic fruit juice gummy bears with no artificial flavours are not better for you than jujubes.

Bottom Line

Despite marketing claims and labels that suggest otherwise, “natural” sweeteners are not better for you than refined sugar. Most people would be better off consuming less sugar from all sources, “natural” and refined.

Use “natural” sweeteners because you like their flavour or they work well in your cooking/baking.  But they are not better for you  nor will they improve your health.  Treat them as you would sugar and consume judiciously.

Sugar has made its way into many foods, and even commonly consumed foods and beverages contain surprisingly high amounts of sugar. For example, 1 cup of flavoured yogurt contains about 11 teaspoons (42 g) of sugar. It’s not just “added” sugars that is an issue:  most fruit juice contains almost as much sugar as the same amount of soft drink (1.5 cups = 8-10 teaspoons of sugar; and 15 teaspoons for grape juice). Yes, the sugar is from fruit, but your body will metabolize it in a similar way.

Mediterranean Diet FoodsSugar is not toxic

This post is not intended to vilify sugar, but to clarify the confusion around the term “natural” sweeteners. Plenty of misinformation demonizes sugar. Excess sugar intake is not healthy, but sugars are not toxic, sugars do not feed cancer,  and sugars are not the cause of the obesity epidemic or other chronic diseases.

Some of the world’s healthiest individuals (high performance endurance athletes) actually use sugar to fuel their racing and training. In fact, research shows that the timing of your physical activity in relation to ingesting sugar has a large influence on how your blood glucose responds.  Also, being physically active in general can influence how your body deals with sugar.

You do not need to “quit sugar.” Trying to eat “sugar free” or obsessing too much about specific foods or food components isn’t necessary for health. In fact, it is a strategy that could backfire.  You are better off focusing on a dietary pattern that helps you maintain a healthy weight and includes plenty of whole, minimally processed foods.

You’ll find more “Healthy or Hype?” articles and resources here.

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Healthy Or Hype General

Healthy or Hype?

Interpreting nutrition and health news can be confusing, especially with internet “experts,” biased journalists, company marketing efforts, and headlines of single studies.   These outlets recognize that people are drawn to exceptional or miraculous stories that elicit an emotional response.

Good science is the best tool that we have to figure out how something is influencing our health. But finding out “what works” is rarely the result of a single study, but often years of research from various disciplines. Here are some of my resources to help you find information based on the best available scientific evidence.

Healthy or Hype Resources

Healthy or Hype Series

In this series, I take an in depth look at the scientific evidence behind some popular health claims or foods to see if they stand up to the hype or health claims behind them. Find out the truth about agave syrup, coconut oil, protein powders,  bulletproof coffee, and more here.

READ  Healthy or Hype? Protein Powder

fad_diet_shutterstock_81459505 (640x427)News and Reviews of Popular Diets

Are you curious about a certain diet? Do you want to give advice to a friend who’s following an eating plan that doesn’t make a lot of sense to you? Read more here.

Nutrition “Experts” You Shouldn’t Trust

Misinformation on nutrition and health seems more prevalent than evidence-based information.  And it’s becoming more challenging to figure out just who the experts are. Misinterpreted science, cherry-picked studies, conspiracies, and alluring anecdotes are the tools that many pseudoscience peddlers use to sell their stories. This page lists some of the more popular people or websites that do not provide evidence-based advice, along with links to articles that explain their lack of credibility and debunk many of their myths.

Carbs Not EqualMyths and Misconceptions About Healthy Eating

Will carbohydrates make you fat? Is almond milk nutritious? Does dairy promote inflammation? Is wheat/gluten/grains bad for you? This page looks at the scientific evidence behind some of the more popular myths and misconceptions.

READ  Fats vs Carbs: Clarifying Conspiracies, Controversies, and Confusion

Healthy Eating Resources (with experts in Health and Nutrition Debunking)

To evaluate a diet, health claims, exercise regime, practices, or products, you should consult sources who use the best scientific evidence available while considering cumulative scientific knowledge in that area. This page lists experts who debunk popular health and nutrition misinformation, and includes resources who use an evidence-based approach to health advice.

General Information

Nutrition research is difficult to conduct and interpret.  How much weight should you give to individual studies? Just because a study was conducted in mice, or because a human study was “observational” doesn’t mean it should be discounted. And even the results of long-term well-designed clinical trials need to be carefully interpreted. (If you’re curious about how to weight various evidence, here’s a good primer).

Nutrition researchers do recognize the limitations of dietary data and implications for making evidence-based recommendations.  Importantly, experts often have strict methodologies for examining the scientific literature for diet recommendations (see how the WHO’s World Cancer Research Fund evaluates the science for their Expert Reports on diet and cancer in Ch. 3 – Judging the Evidence).  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for many popular books and news articles (here is an example of “fact checking” in Nina Teicholz popular book The Big Fat Surprise).

To evaluate diet and  health claims you should consult sources who interpret the best scientific evidence available while considering cumulative scientific knowledge in that area.

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Page updated February 8, 2017

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Nutrition “Experts” You Shouldn’t Trust

Misinformation on nutrition and health seems more prevalent than evidence-based information.  And it’s becoming more challenging to figure out just who the experts are.

Misinterpreted science, cherry-picked studies, conspiracies, and alluring anecdotes are the tools that many pseudoscience peddlers use to sell their stories.

Here are some of the more popular people or websites that do not provide evidence-based advice, along with links to articles that explain their lack of credibility and debunk many of their myths. This is just a start, and a full list of sources with misinformation is beyond the scope of what I can do, but check back because I will be expanding this list.

For a comprehensive and excellent list of purveyors of misinformation, see Michael Hull’s Nutrition Sources You Should Avoid.

For evidence-based resources you CAN trust, please see Healthy Eating Resources.

David “Avocado” Wolfe

This pseudoscience peddler has a thing for names – beyond using “avocado” as his middle name (which places him above David Perlmutter on my list), he calls himself “the rock star and Indiana Jones of the superfoods and longevity universe.” If that is not enough to get your pseudoscience spidey senses tingling,  there is plenty more.  His stories and scams  prey on science illiteracy and he makes plenty of money from his followers. For example, he claims that high frequency radio waves are “unnatural” and dangerous (but you can buy expensive pillow cases and sheets at his online store to protect you); and invents food scare tactics so that you can buy his “superfood” supplements; and discourages vaccines and effective cancer treatments in favor of his woo.  He is very good at marketing and draws people in with cute memes – he has a popular facebook page (723K fans)  and at least seven different websites.

Dr David Perlmutter (Grain Brain)

Overview: Wheat Belly and Grain Brain are two popular diets based on the premise that Pwheat and other grains are responsible for a myriad of health problems.  The books urge readers to eliminate wheat to lose weight and prevent disease.

Problems with Wheat Belly/Grain Brain: There is no good evidence that wheat causes disease or weight gain, but actually very good evidence that WHOLE grains are health promoting.  Some of the claims in these books are borderline ridiculous (Grain Brain links grains to various conditions including depression, autism, tourette’s, and ADHD, while Wheat Belly links wheat to just about any ailment you can imagine). The diets are very low in carbohydrates, so if you’re an athlete you will have a hard time on these diets.

Gary Taubes

Gary Taubes argues that the main cause of obesity is eating too many carbohydrates. Many talk about the insulin-carbohydrate hypothesis of obesity as if it is fact. In reality, numerous studies don’t support this hypothesis. Obesity researcher Stephan Guyenet does a nice job explaining the insulin-carbohydrate hypothesis and outlines why you should question this reasoning.

The insulin-carbohydrate hypothesis is an important theme in Taube’s anti-carb campaign and his books “Good Calories/Bad Calories” (you’ll find an excellent critical review here) and “Why We Get Fat.”  Obesity expert Yoni Freedhoff provides an excellent and detailed review of Why We Get Fat.

Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow’s pseudoscience reaches far and wide.  Tim Caulfield,  professor of law and health policy at the University of Alberta, has critically debunked many of her practices in his book  “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything?”

Dr Joseph Mercola

Some call Joseph Mercola the “Internet Supplement Salesman.” He tells his audience that his supplements can heal almost any condition.  This dangerous practice exaggerates any harms of evidence-based medical treatments while promoting unproven supplements and therapies. Some of his claims include HIV not being the cause of AIDS, microwave ovens emitting dangerous radiation, and sunscreen causing cancer.  His website is one of the most popular health websites on the Internet, suggesting that he has a great influence.

Dr Mark Hyman

Mark Hyman’s pseudoscience includes popular detox diets (which includes buying his questionable – and expensive –  detox supplements), promoting a bogus autism cure,  and is listed on Quackwatch as a author whose books promote misinformation, espouses unscientific theories, and/or contain unsubstantiated advice.

Dr  Mehmet Oz

Mike Adams (Natural News)

Mike Adams (AKA the Health Ranger) is creator of the disturbingly popular website Natural News, a blatantly anti-science website widely criticized by many for health misinformation, anti-vaccine advice, conspiracy theories, and pseudoscientific claims.  The FBI has investigated Mike Adams for supporting the assassination of scientists.  According to Joe Schwarz, one of this latest “ludicrous” claims is a “Nutrition Rescue” program for cancer patients.  This includes his expensive “non-GMO” vitamin C  that can counter “poisoning” by chemotherapy (high dose vitamin C may in fact interfere with chemotherapy).

Nina Teicholz

Nina Teicholz, author of “The Big Fat Surprise,” is a journalist who believes that nutrition scientists are all ignoring research showing that saturated fat is good for us and she erroneously states that it plays no role in disease.  She cherry picks studies that support her stories and informs us that the US Dietary Guidelines are the cause of the obesity epidemic.  Most evidence-based reviews show that Teicholz lacks the appropriate nutrition expertise to critique studies and put decades of research in context.  Many experts question her credibility and you should too.

Here is a detailed scientific critique that fact checks Teicholz’s Big Fat Surprise text and outlines the many errors and biases (see The Big Fat Surprise: A Critical Review (Part 1; Part 2).

Pete Evans

This celebrity chef is a proponent of the unfounded health benefits of a paleo diet, it excludes many health-promoting foods for reasons that aren’t well-supported by science. His websites and books will tell you not to trust the advice from health professionals, dieticians and public health institutions.  His cookbook for toddlers was widely criticized as being potentially harmful to the health of infants.

Rocco DiSpirito

You’ll find plenty of misleading health and nutrition advice in ‘Cook Your Butt Off!’ with Chef Rocco DiSpirito, that has been featured of all places on the New York Times health pages. The book boasts the following:

  • lose up to a pound a day (dangerous and doesn’t lead to sustainable changes)
  • fat-burning foods (don’t exist)
  • gluten-free recipes (because they help you lose weight?) They don’t
  • recipes designed to burn more calories than they contain! Sorry.

cook your butt offIn the New York Times video chef DiSpirito explains that we shouldn’t use kitchen appliances and do cooking tasks by hand as a form of exercise to burn more calories (he claims this can burn up to 400 calories an hour – doubtful – unless you’re somehow running around or doing exercises at the same time). I’m all for saving energy, noise, and doing some things by hand, but this doesn’t make sense in terms of diet or nutrition advice. In fact, the reason most people don’t cook is because they don’t have enough time – so it would make more sense to encourage time-saving devices. Also, although health experts are unanimous in encouraging exercise for better health, when it comes to using exercise to burn calories that leads to weight loss there is some debate. It’s disappointing that the New York Times Health Section is promoting such a book.

Dr William Davis (Wheat Belly)

Overview: Wheat Belly and Grain Brain are two popular diets based on the premise that wheat and other grains are responsible for a myriad of health problems.  The books urge readers to eliminate wheat to lose weight and prevent disease.

Problems with Wheat Belly/Grain Brain: There is no good evidence that wheat causes disease or weight gain, but actually very good evidence that WHOLE grains are health promoting.  Some of the claims in these books are borderline ridiculous (Grain Brain links grains to various conditions including depression, autism, tourette’s, and ADHD, while Wheat Belly links wheat to just about any ailment you can imagine). The diets are very low in carbohydrates, so if you’re an athlete you will have a hard time on these diets.

Dr Tim Noakes

Many hold sports physiologist Tim Noakes in high esteem after reading his popular books (e.g. Lore of Running). But he is losing respect among scientists: recently he seems to be in the anti-establishment/conspiracy theorist camp, disregarding science (that doesn’t support his opinions), promoting his high-fat low-carb diet as evidence-based, and stating that a proven link between vaccines and autism have been covered up.

Vani Hari (The Food Babe)

Vani Hari (The Food Babe) exaggerates potential harms of “toxic” chemicals in our food.  She loves to use the word “toxin” for any chemicals, and asserts that anyone who disagrees with her must be paid by the food industry.

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Updated May 4, 2016

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