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.

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

We’ve been lied to . . .

Decades of nutrition research are wrong . . .

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.

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.

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.

Dr 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.

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.”

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.

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.

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

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.

Dr Mark HymanHyman Detox

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).

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, 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)

Wheat Belly William DavisOverview: Wheat 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.

Problems with Wheat Belly: 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.

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 May 2, 2017

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