Nutrition & Health “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.  Below you will find 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.

You will often see some of the following in their narratives:

We’ve been lied to . . .

Decades of nutrition research are wrong . . .

I am focusing on the more popular trends/fads, and some of the more persuasive “experts” (often celebrity doctors or journalists) who cite scientific evidence to back up their stories. 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.

Also, here is good information on how anti-science forces spread on social media. The article also mentions popular anti-science websites and individuals who provide pseudoscientific health information that is widely shared.

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

Alejandro Junger

Doctor to celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and author of Clean: A Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body’s Natural Ability to Heal Itself, Alejandro Junger is a big fan of detox diets and a good snake oil salesman. His “Clean” 21-day program will cost you $475 in useless supplements and shakes. He preys on fear and convinces many that they are consuming and surrounded by harmful toxins.

As there is no evidence for any of his treatments, he relies on colorful stories and convincing anecdotes. Junger created Gwyneth Paltrow/goop’s Why Am I So Effing Tired pack: expensive supplements ($90 for a 1-month supply) designed to treat “adrenal fatigue” a condition not recognized by any endocrinology society and a syndrome that experts have confirmed does not exist.

Aseem Malhotra (Pioppi Diet)

Aseem Malhotra is author of the Pioppi Diet, another low-carb high fat diet, that tells the reader they’ve been lied to about saturated fats, that dietary guidelines made us fat and sick, and that carbohydrates are evil.  Angry Chef Anthony Warner has a good interpretation about the absurdity of this narrative:

It’s a bizarre and ahistorical conspiracy theory which, as Anthony Warner says in The Angry Chef would require ‘paying off the medical establishment, the World Health Organisation, numerous charities, public health bodies and nutrition researchers around the world, and keep producing systematic reviews that show links between consumption of saturated fats and increased risk of heart disease.’ The idea that millions of people have been killed by guidelines which (a) were never followed, and (b) clearly discouraged sugar consumption, is one of the strangest memes in the world of nutritional woo.

Malhotra enjoys butter and coconut oil in his coffee (bulletproof coffee) and promotes high intakes of saturated fat.  While it’s one thing to say we need more research on saturated fat, it’s another to promote their intake: there is no evidence showing saturated fat is good for health, and considerable evidence showing saturated fat is associated with heart disease and some cancers.

Malhotra does cite specific studies to back up his story.  But as  journalist Christopher Snowdon explains in his review of the Pioppi diet, it’s easy to cite what you want to suit your story and sell your book . . .

“The reader should not have to look up the references in a book to find out what is being concealed. The nutritional epidemiology literature is enormous. Thousands of studies have been conducted and they do not all agree with one another. If one ignores the totality of the evidence and cherry-picks a handful of studies, it is possible to argue almost anything. If the reader cannot trust the author to play with a straight bat, he might as well save his money and go on a Google binge.”

A recent opinion piece by Malhotra exonerating saturated fat in the British Medical Journal (a journal renowned for it’s pro low carb/high fat stand and opinion pieces masquerading as research) was widely and falsely reported as a new study saying that saturated fat has no role in heart disease.  Many cardiovascular disease experts weighed in, criticizing the BMJ and Malhotra for the cherry picked data and lack of scientific rigor. Among other critics, Professor Naveed Sattar, Professor of Metabolic Medicine at the University of Glasgow, commented:

“Malhotra and colleagues question saturated fat and suggest the LDL-cholesterol hypothesis is over emphasised.  They could not be more wrong.

“To make their arguments they cite observational data – which is bizarre, since not only are such findings prone to many biases such that the results can often be incorrect, but more importantly plentiful randomised trial data (gold standard evidence) show lowered saturated fats lower cholesterol and risk of heart attacks.  So the evidence to lower saturated fat is robust . . . “

David “Avocado” Wolfe

David Avocado Wolfe VaccineThis 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.

David Perlmutter (Grain Brain)

Perlmutter Grain BrainOverview: Grain Brain, along with Wheat Belly, is a popular diet 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 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.

Dave Aspey – Bulletproof Executive

BulletproofDave Aspey, the bulletproof executive, is an entrepreneur, blogger, and paleo proponent who is good at selling things but doesn’t know much about health or nutrition (but tries to sound sciency by citing cherry picked studies to back up his dubious claims).  His main claim to fame is Bulletproof® coffee, which I wrote about here.  Claims for bulletproof coffee include that it helps burn fat, provides lasting energy, improves focus, helps gain muscle, increases mental acuity, helps digestion, and improves heart health.

But  . . . you need to buy his special  Upgraded™ coffee  that is low in mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are a form of mold found on coffee beans and in greater amounts on many other foods (e.g., raisins, peanuts, beer, wine, pork, corn, sweet potatoes): most mycotoxins on coffee beans are destroyed by roasting, and there is no evidence that low levels are harmful to health.

Bulletproof coffee is not a healthy breakfast: it provides about 460 calories and about 47 g fat (mostly saturated), taking the place of protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, fiber, and vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health. There is no good evidence that a breakfast of coffee with large quantities of saturated fat (butter and oil) delivers any of the laundry list of benefits beyond potential short-term cognitive or long-term health benefits of coffee.

READ  Healthy or Hype? Buttered/Bulletproof Coffee

Why stop at coffee when you can make so much money? Beyond his bulletproof coffee Aspey sells books and a variety of products (supplements, foods, technologies, coaching) claiming to improve health.  And of course, there is the bulletproof diet (a “revolutionary” weight loss plan. . . but works best with his products), described so well by health and science writer Julia Beluz as follows:

“The Bulletproof Diet is like a caricature of a bad fad-diet book. If you took everything that’s wrong with eating in America, put it in a Vitamix, and shaped the result into a book, you’d get the Bulletproof Diet.

The book is filled with dubious claims based on little evidence or cherry picked studies that are taken out of context. The author, Dave Asprey, vilifies healthy foods and suggests part of the way to achieve a “pound a day” weight loss is to buy his expensive, “science-based” Bulletproof products.”

“Biohacking” is another favorite marketing term of Aspey’s, and includes advice as ridiculous (and potentially harmful) as injecting your own urine into yourself to relieve allergy symptoms.

Dwight Lundel

Dwight LundellYou may have seen a viral post “World Renowned Heart Surgeon Speaks Out On What Really Causes Heart Disease.”  In the post Lundell proclaims that decades of research and guidelines for heart disease prevention are wrong (the “we’ve been lied to” narrative that is so popular . . .) , and the he has the answer in his books “The Cure for Heart Disease” or “The Great Cholesterol Lie.”

Heart disease is complex, as is the science of how different kinds of foods affect our bodies and the role that different kinds of fats play in disease.  The evidence-based to date does not support Lundel’s oversimplified ideas.

Eric Berg

Eric Berg is a popular health and wellness “expert” (actually a chiropractor who has ventured beyond his realm of expertise). He has a website and many videos promoting unscientific health advice, and books including  The 7 Principles of Fat Burning: Get Healthy, Lose Weight, and Keep it Off! and Dr. Berg’s Body Shapes Diets.  Some of  his bogus health and wellness treatments have included Body Response Technique, Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique, Contact Reflex Analysis, and testing with an Acoustic Cardiograph. His unsubstantiated claims for his therapeutic treatments have been the subject of disciplinary action by the Virginia Board of Medicine.   Some of his treatments relate to “adrenal fatigue” – a term not recognized by any endocrinology society and a syndrome that experts have confirmed does not exist.

Some of his diet advice is extremely and unnecessarily restrictive (anti-wheat; anti-carbohydrate); he advocates weight loss based on a bogus hormone body type (adrenal, ovary, liver, thyroid); talks about “fat burning” hormones (they don’t exist); and includes a “detox phase” in his diet plan (a term that should raise your quack alarm).

As typical with many of these so-called health experts, his website includes a shop with unproven supplements (e.g. adrenal body type package, estrogen balance kit) that beyond being a complete waste of money, could quite possibly do you more harm than good.

Patient Complaints:

Erin Elizabeth (Health Nut News)

Erin describes herself as Dr. Mercola‘s better half, so this should make you doubt before you trust her advice. Erin’s information and Health Nut News website is well described by Stephanie M. Lee in  this article (excerpt below).

“Erin Elizabeth is a self-described journalist and the creator of Health Nut News, which, at three years old, has over 447,000 followers on Facebook and regularly racks up likes on stories such as “Infant Twins Die Simultaneously After Vaccines, Medical Board Rules ‘Just a Coincidence’” and “Renowned Holistic Doctor Found Stabbed to Death in Her Palo Alto Home.”

She and Adams have found fans in people not unlike them: anti-establishment, self-styled crusaders who value “health freedom” above all and deeply distrust the mainstream.”

Gary Taubes

Taubes Case Against SugarGary Taubes argues that the main cause of obesity is eating too many carbohydrates. He talks 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.

In his book “The Case Against Sugar” Taubes asserts that removing sugar from our diet will eliminate obesity, diabetes, cancer, and most chronic diseases (if it were only that simple!). Harriet Hall reviews the book here, and Seth Yoder shows how  the book is a rehash of Good Calories/Bad Calories with the theme that dietary guidelines encouraged refined carbohydrates (untrue) and made people fat and sick.  Seth shows Gary Taubes’ cherry picking and misinterpretation of the research here.

More reading:

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 about celebrity health misinformation  “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything?”

Joseph Mercola

MercolaSome 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.

Kris Carr

Kris CarrKris Carr is a self-proclaimed cancer-lifestyle guru with a very large following. She is not an oncologist, an expert in nutrition, or a scientist who knows how to interpret research.  All cancers are different and respond to different treatments.  Her advice about diets is not accurate, and she recommends detoxes and cleanses.

For example, she advocates juicing because “alkaline juices help to detoxify your body.  They raise your pH and help pull out old waste from your colon and tissues.”   First of all, detoxing is a myth,  as is the influence of acid or alkaline foods on health.  The environment in which foods are digested is complex, and many scientists question the accuracy of methods used to calculate the acidity of foods (more about alkaline diets here).  She recommends fasting because it “removes stored toxins and excess waste” a statement that makes no sense.

Lifestyle habits and nutrition can certainly play a role in the incidence and survival of some cancers, but Kris Carr is not a good source for this information.  For terrific free science-based information on this topic, visit the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Marika Sboros

This low-carb high-fat evangelist, endorser of a ketogenic diet for health, and vaccine skeptic uses her position as a journalist to promote her erroneous health and nutrition views as science-based to a wide audience. She is also an overly outspoken cheerleader for Tim Noakes. 

Marika Sboros portrays carbohydrates as evil and harmful for health, which is not in line with the body of evidence. I describe much of the controversy and confusion in my article Fats vs Carbs: Clarifying Conspiracies, Controversies, and Confusion, detailed below, which clarifies many of Sboros arguments.

More Reading:

Mark HymanHyman Detox

Mark Hyman’s pseudoscience includes popular detox diets (which also means buying his questionable – and expensive –  detox supplements),  giving health advice that is not backed by the body of scientific evidence, and promoting a bogus autism cure.  He is listed on Quackwatch as an author whose books promote misinformation, espouse unscientific theories, and/or contain unsubstantiated advice.

When scientific experts reviewed evidence on fats and cardiovascular disease and it didn’t align with Hyman’s own ideas, he endorsed an article by “RebootedBody.com” promoting the idea that the American Heart Association is a terrorist organization.

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).

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

Pete Evans

This celebrity chef is a proponent of the unfounded health benefits of a paleo diet, (which he states can prevent autism). Though this diet isn’t in itself harmful, it excludes many health-promoting foods for reasons that aren’t well-supported by science.  His dietary advice is extreme, he labels many foods as “toxic” and regularly comes out with nutrition “statements” that are plain wrong. His websites and books will tell you not to trust the advice from health professionals, dietitians and public health institutions.  His cookbook for toddlers was widely criticized as being potentially harmful to the health of infants.

Peter D’Adamo (Blood Type Diet)

Peter D’Adamo is a naturopath who has written several books promoting the blood type diet (e.g., Eat Right 4 Your Type). The blood type diet recommends eating based on your blood type — O, A, B, or AB — to help you lose weight, have more energy, and prevent disease. The idea is that you will digest foods more efficiently if you eat foods designed for your blood type (the author claims that the foods you eat react chemically with your blood).

The blood type diet did undergo scientific investigation, but researchers found any health improvements were not linked to blood type.  Micheal Klapter has taken the time to debunk many of the claims made in Eat Right 4 Your Type here.

D’Adamo also makes ridiculous claims that blood type influences personality.

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.

William Davis (Wheat Belly)

Wheat Belly William DavisWheat Belly, like Grain Brain, is 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.

There is no good evidence that wheat causes disease or weight gain, but actually very good evidence that WHOLE grains are health promoting.   Wheat Belly links wheat to just about any ailment you can imagine. If you follow this diet you will exclude many nutritious foods for no reason. The diet is also very low in carbohydrates, which might be a problem if you are an endurance athlete.

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.

Websites to Avoid

Yvette d’Entremont (AKA SciBabe) has a good list that will help you steer clear of health websites spouting pseudoscience.

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Updated July 7, 2017

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