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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