Tag Archives: Pseudoscience

4 Goop Doctors: A Look at Their Pseudoscience

An excellent account of celebrity culture’s influence on health

Gwyneth Paltrow runs goop, a lifestyle brand, website, and online store that offers unsound and unfounded health and nutrition advice to women, much of it to help goop sell its health products.  This nutrition and health misinformation reaches far and wide, thanks to the growing popularity of goop.

The bogus health advice includes things like vaginal steaming, goat milk cleanses (to cleanse your body of parasites and heavy metals), and colon cleanses. Goop publishes many articles with health claims that are not backed by good science. Here are some of the many dubious (and expensive) products in goop’s store:

Goop Doctors

A number of doctors are associated with goop. Unfortunately for many the title “Dr” gives credibility to their advice that often stokes unfounded fears.

Common themes to goop doctors’ advice includes

  • TOXINS – you are sick and tired because of various toxins and need to “detox” with their product/diet plan;
  • MISINFORMATION  with just enough science to sound plausible and masquerade as truth (usually by citing select research to support their narrative, but that doesn’t consider the body of scientific evidence);
  • SUPPLEMENTS – all goop doctors sell supplements – that typically will “cure” a long list of ailments (which usually includes some form of “fatigue”)
  • STORIES  to create a distrust of science-based medicine.

Goop Critics

Good has many critics who argue that goop doctors spread health misinformation with their marketing and pseudoscience. Two of the most vocal critics are Jen Gunter, a California-based OB-GYN, and Timothy Caulfield, professor of law and health policy at the University of Alberta.  Responsible health journalists regularly write about goop’s bogus articles and products, and even Late Night Show host Stephen Colbert is showcasing goop’s pseudoscience.

Goop critics promote evidence-based information about women’s health issues and correct goop’s bad advice.  Goop and “goop doctors” are making money off women who are concerned about their health by deceiving them with pseudoscience to convince them that they need to buy their products.

Goop doctors argue that their advice empowers women to make informed health choices. How does fearmongering, sowing distrust in science-based medicine, and spreading health misinformation empower women? Is goop really concerned about women’s health?

Last week goop tried to increase its credibility by having two goop doctors verbally attack vocal goop critic Jen Gunter. I decided to have a closer look at some of the goop doctors, and will certainly add them to my list of Nutrition and Health “Experts” You Should Not Trust.

More Reading:

Aviva Romm

Aviva Romm is an integrative physician, midwife, and herbalist. She strongly defends goop doctors and their practices, contributes to the misinformation on the goop website, and like other goop doctors, her advice is not evidence-based.  Her website and Facebook page targets pregnant women, busy (and tired) women, and parents.

She sells her line of herbal supplements, books, and online courses (e.g. Heathiest Kids University – Natural Medicine for Children).  Much of her information uses the appeal to nature logical fallacy, that something “natural” (like herbal remedies) are good for you because they come “from nature.”

Just because a product is “natural” does not mean it is healthful, effective, or safe.

appeal to nature logical fallacy

How much do you need to worry about “Toxins”?

Toxins are prominent in Aviva Romm’s fearmongering.

Romm makes this sweeping statement

many health conditions that are adversely affecting children today can be traced back to environmental toxin exposure.

Environmental exposures are important. The field of environmental health trains many public health scientists in a variety of areas to study how environmental exposures influence health.  These experts and their research play an important role in setting guidelines and standards that consider the body of scientific evidence (and not just isolated studies).  Should we be listening to these scientists – environmental epidemiologists, toxicologists, and others – and trust them to protect public health, or rely on individuals like Romm, who often only present one side of the issue, instill fear, and sell products and supplements to help you get rid of “toxins”?

For example, Romm advises women to refuse glucola (a standard sugar drink to screen for diabetes), calling it a “toxic cocktail.” She credits the chemical-fearing Food Babe for alerting her to these toxins. . .

Should pregnant women be worried about glucola? No. Gynecologists Jen Gunter and Amy Tuteur explain that you would be better off fearing toxic advice of people like the Food Babe or Aviva Romm.

Aviva Romm’s Supplements and Products

Dr.  Romm’s website sells books, online courses (e.g., herbal medicine for women, adrenal thyroid pro training), and her online “dispensary” (via Fullscript) offers hundreds of high-priced supplements by category such as “Natural Detox Support” or “Adrenal and Thyroid Support” that include bogus health claims like “replenish adrenals,” “detox” “rejuvenate liver function” and “boost immunity.”

Her website includes many posts and tips (often herbal medications) for preventing and dealing with “adrenal fatigue” – a made-up medical condition that is not recognized by endocrinologists. She has created her own line of women’s herbal products to help “replenish and restore the adrenals and counteract the effects of an overwhelmed stress response system.” The products are adrenal nourish, adrenal soothe, and adrenal uplift, and cost $27.50 for 2 oz. ). There is no rigorous scientific evidence showing that these products will do anything beyond give you false hope and drain your pocketbook.

One of her top recommended herbal supplements for women is curcumin (found in turmeric) – she recommends it for  “leaky gut” (no quality research supports leaky gut syndrome) and “detoxification from environmental chemicals” – a nonsense statement.  Curcumin supplements are a waste of money: a recent comprehensive research review shows that they lack sufficient evidence of efficacy.

READ  Healthy or Hype? Turmeric

Should children use unregulated dietary supplements? Dr. Romm’s website guides you to a “Natural Children’s remedies” section, which has 20 supplements, including “Calm Child” designed to “support calm, focuses attention in children.” Her online course “Super-Charge Your Children’s Health and Immunity with Natural Remedies” lesson material includes “toxins in vaccinations” and a section on herbal medicines.

Aviva Romm claims to be offering the “evidence-based alternatives” that women are desperately seeking.  She masquerades as a trusted source of health information, yet sells dubious herbal treatments for which there is no good evidence.

WHAT YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT HERBAL AND DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS
Many people believe that herbal supplements are safer than prescription drugs because they are “natural” and they don’t consider them “drugs.” But, as Steven Novella, academic clinical neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine, explains,

herbs and plants that are used for medicinal purposes are drugs – they are as much drugs as any manufactured pharmaceutical. A drug is any chemical or combination of chemicals that has biological activity within the body above and beyond their purely nutritional value. Herbs have little to no nutritional value, but they do contain various chemicals, some with biological activity. Herbs are drugs. The distinction between herbs and pharmaceuticals is therefore a false dichotomy.”

Before a prescription and nonprescription drug is on the market, it undergoes years of research and rigorous testing for safety and efficacy and needs FDA approval to be sold. In contrast, herbal medicines and dietary supplements are not well tested for efficacy or safety (if they are tested at all); also, they are poorly regulated and often make outlandish and unfounded claims. There are many good reasons to be skeptical of the multi billion dollar herbal and dietary supplement industry and individuals selling herbal products.

John Oliver offers an entertaining account of the poor regulation of the dietary supplement industry . . .

Steven Gundry

Steven Gundry is a goop contributor,  author of several books overloaded with misinformation on diet and disease, and runs the website gundrymd.com.  If you sign up for his newsletter, you will immediately be presented with an offer for one of his many supplements – Gundry MD Vital Reds, for a discounted $254.70 (for 6 jars, which is what Gundry recommends): and it’s also recommended you buy Dr. Gundry’s book Diet Evolution (to supercharge the benefits of Vital Reds).

According to the website, MD Vital Reds will

help reduce the fatigue and energy dysfunction which act as warning signs for much more serious health problems. I’ve combined the power of 25 polyphenol-rich superfruits with dozens of natural fat-burning ingredients to help your body maintain higher energy levels and fast metabolism.”

Save your money – there is no good evidence to back up any of these claims.

And Vital Reds is just the beginning!

You can spend a lot more money on unproven supplements at Gundrymd.com.  These include “Lectin Shield” ($75)  – to protect yourself from the “toxic” lectins (proteins in some plant foods), which Lundry states are the #1 biggest danger in the American diet.  Gundry has even written a book about lectins (to convince you that you really do need Lectin Shield).  In The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in Healthy foods that Cause Disease and Weight Gain, he claims that lectins are the cause of almost all diseases.  The fact that Dr Oz has endorsed the book is a good clue to the pseudoscience within.

The book promo has the familiar popular line that introduces much pseudoscience . . .

Is it possible that everything you’ve heard about diet, weight, and nutrition is wrong?

There is no good evidence showing that lectins cause disease

Avoiding lectins means missing out on many nutritious foods, including whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, dairy, eggs, and fruit.  The Atlantic’s James Hamblin has an excellent commentary on the Gundry’s book, including this observation:

“In fact, the book seems to be a sort of culmination of a long-percolating hypothesis about the imminent dangers of lectins. It’s especially common among purveyors of dietary supplements. The story goes: We need nutrients to survive, but many plants makes us sick, so synthetic supplement pills and powders are the prudent approach.  The idea is based in just enough evidence to be seriously convincing in the right hands.”

“…Book publishers are rarely held accountable for publishing invalid health information. Rather, there seems to be an incentive to publish the most outlandish claims that purport to upend everything the reader has ever heard. This is a problem much bigger than any plant protein. Cycles of fad dieting and insidious misinformation undermine both public health and understanding of how science works, giving way to a sense of chaos.”

Other ridiculous health claims by Gundry on the goop website include that eating out-of-season fruit is one of the biggest modern health hazards (because “fruit promotes fat storage”).

READ  Healthy or Hype? Gluten-Free Diets

Gundry also perpetuates myths like the existence of a so-called leaky gut syndrome (and of course recommends his products as a remedy).  According to experts at the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research, no quality research supports the existence of leaky gut syndrome, which they say is “is all speculation, as scientific studies do not validate any of these claims. It is extremely dangerous that a TV doctor personality and some otherwise trusted practitioners are diagnosing and treating this baseless ‘syndrome’.”

These are but a few examples of the vast amount of misinformation that Steven Gundry shares. Your best bet is to ignore everything on his website, books, and writings on the goop website, and definitely don’t buy any of his products.

Emails from Gundrymd.com are pretty good evidence that this “Dr” is little more than a snake-oil salesman . . . too bad so many people fall for this marketing.

More Reading:

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.

Junger also advocates colon cleansing, a practice that has no proven health benefits and is potentially harmful.

As there is no good evidence for any of his treatments, he relies on cherry-picked studies, 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.

More Reading:

Habib Sadeghi

Dr. Sadeghi, who has been called Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Quack in Chief,” is another goop doctor who contributes a fair share of fearmongering pseudoscience to the goop website. His misinformation includes a lengthy article resurrecting a myth that underwire bras cause breast cancer. Trying to sound legitimate, he selectively cites what he deems as “research” to support his case.

A common tactic of goop doctors is to foster a distrust in mainstream medicine or research that doesn’t support their ideas.  In rebuking a rigorous trial showing no link between bra wearing and breast cancer by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center (a world leading institution in Cancer Research), Sadeghi brings up the ridiculous notion that these researchers may have falsified study results because they have a fundraising fun run called the Bra Dash. Unbelievable, but true.

He has many unfounded tips to reduce cancer risk, including such nonsense such as taking an epsom salt and baking soda bath soon after a flight to remove toxins from the body; and reducing intake of grain products (because of the proteins lectin and gluten)  – there are no studies linking intake of either of these proteins to cancer.

Sadeghi is founder of Be Hive of Healing,  which offers a host of bogus treatments, and a Wellness Store with an overabundance of products and supplements with no convincing evidence to support their use.

If is frightening that Sadeghi advises cancer patients about their treatment, and irresponsible of goop to publish his nonsense.

Lifestyle factors can play a role in some cancers, but goop or Habib Sadeghi are not good resources. You can find evidence-based information on lifestyle tips for cancer prevention at AICR.org.

More Reading:

And finally, here is a video by AJ+ that highlights some of  Gwyneth Paltrow’s health nonsense.

More Nutrition & Health Experts You Shouldn’t Trust

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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 . . . “

Aviva Romm

Aviva Romm is an integrative physician, midwife, and herbalist. She strongly defends goop doctors and their practices, contributes to the misinformation on the goop website, and like other goop doctors, her advice is not evidence-based.  Her website and Facebook page targets pregnant women, busy (and tired) women, and parents.

She sells her line of herbal supplements, books, and online courses (e.g. Heathiest Kids University – Natural Medicine for Children).  Much of her information uses the appeal to nature logical fallacy, that something “natural” (like herbal remedies) are good for you because they come “from nature.”

Just because a product is “natural” does not mean it is healthful, effective, or safe.

appeal to nature logical fallacy

How much do you need to worry about “Toxins”?

Toxins are prominent in Aviva Romm’s fearmongering.

Romm makes this sweeping statement

many health conditions that are adversely affecting children today can be traced back to environmental toxin exposure.

Environmental exposures are important. The field of environmental health trains many public health scientists in a variety of areas to study how environmental exposures influence health.  These experts and their research play an important role in setting guidelines and standards that consider the body of scientific evidence (and not just isolated studies).  Should we be listening to these scientists – environmental epidemiologists, toxicologists, and others – and trust them to protect public health, or rely on individuals like Romm, who often only present one side of the issue, instill fear, and sell products and supplements to help you get rid of “toxins”?

For example, Romm advises women to refuse glucola (a standard sugar drink to screen for diabetes), calling it a “toxic cocktail.” She credits the chemical-fearing Food Babe for alerting her to these toxins. . .

Should pregnant women be worried about glucola? No. Gynecologists Jen Gunter and Amy Tuteur explain that you would be better off fearing toxic advice of people like the Food Babe or Aviva Romm.

Aviva Romm’s Supplements and Products

Dr.  Romm’s website sells books, online courses (e.g., herbal medicine for women, adrenal thyroid pro training), and her online “dispensary” (via Fullscript) offers hundreds of high-priced supplements by category such as “Natural Detox Support” or “Adrenal and Thyroid Support” that include bogus health claims like “replenish adrenals,” “detox” “rejuvenate liver function” and “boost immunity.”

Her website includes many posts and tips (often herbal medications) for preventing and dealing with “adrenal fatigue” – a made-up medical condition that is not recognized by endocrinologists. She has created her own line of women’s herbal products to help “replenish and restore the adrenals and counteract the effects of an overwhelmed stress response system.” The products are adrenal nourish, adrenal soothe, and adrenal uplift, and cost $27.50 for 2 oz. ). There is no rigorous scientific evidence showing that these products will do anything beyond give you false hope and drain your pocketbook.

One of her top recommended herbal supplements for women is curcumin (found in turmeric) – she recommends it for  “leaky gut” (no quality research supports leaky gut syndrome) and “detoxification from environmental chemicals” – a nonsense statement.  Curcumin supplements are a waste of money: a recent comprehensive research review shows that they lack sufficient evidence of efficacy.

READ  Healthy or Hype? Turmeric

Should children use unregulated dietary supplements? Dr. Romm’s website guides you to a “Natural Children’s remedies” section, which has 20 supplements, including “Calm Child” designed to “support calm, focuses attention in children.” Her online course “Super-Charge Your Children’s Health and Immunity with Natural Remedies” lesson material includes “toxins in vaccinations” and a section on herbal medicines.

Aviva Romm claims to be offering the “evidence-based alternatives” that women are desperately seeking.  She masquerades as a trusted source of health information, yet sells dubious herbal treatments for which there is no good evidence.

WHAT YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT HERBAL AND DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS
Many people believe that herbal supplements are safer than prescription drugs because they are “natural” and they don’t consider them “drugs.” But, as Steven Novella, academic clinical neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine, explains,

herbs and plants that are used for medicinal purposes are drugs – they are as much drugs as any manufactured pharmaceutical. A drug is any chemical or combination of chemicals that has biological activity within the body above and beyond their purely nutritional value. Herbs have little to no nutritional value, but they do contain various chemicals, some with biological activity. Herbs are drugs. The distinction between herbs and pharmaceuticals is therefore a false dichotomy.”

Before a prescription and nonprescription drug is on the market, it undergoes years of research and rigorous testing for safety and efficacy and needs FDA approval to be sold. In contrast, herbal medicines and dietary supplements are not well tested for efficacy or safety (if they are tested at all); also, they are poorly regulated and often make outlandish and unfounded claims. There are many good reasons to be skeptical of the multi billion dollar herbal and dietary supplement industry and individuals selling herbal products.

John Oliver offers an entertaining account of the poor regulation of the dietary supplement industry . . .

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 Asprey – Bulletproof Executive

BulletproofDave Asprey, 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 Asprey 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 Asprey’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?”

Habib Sadeghi

Dr. Sadeghi, who has been called Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Quack in Chief,” is another goop doctor who contributes a fair share of fearmongering pseudoscience to the goop website. His misinformation includes a lengthy article resurrecting a myth that underwire bras cause breast cancer. Trying to sound legitimate, he selectively cites what he deems as “research” to support his case.

A common tactic of goop doctors is to foster a distrust in mainstream medicine or research that doesn’t support their ideas.  In rebuking a rigorous trial showing no link between bra wearing and breast cancer by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center (a world leading institution in Cancer Research), Sadeghi brings up the ridiculous notion that these researchers may have falsified study results because they have a fundraising fun run called the Bra Dash. Unbelievable, but true.

He has many unfounded tips to reduce cancer risk, including such nonsense such as taking an epsom salt and baking soda bath soon after a flight to remove toxins from the body; and reducing intake of grain products (because of the proteins lectin and gluten)  – there are no studies linking intake of either of these proteins to cancer.

Sadeghi is founder of Be Hive of Healing,  which offers a host of bogus treatments, and a Wellness Store with an overabundance of products and supplements with no convincing evidence to support their use.

If is frightening that Sadeghi advises cancer patients about their treatment, and irresponsible of goop to publish his nonsense.

Lifestyle factors can play a role in some cancers, but goop or Habib Sadeghi are not good resources. You can find evidence-based information on lifestyle tips for cancer prevention at AICR.org.

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.

Steven Gundry

Steven Gundry is a goop contributor,  author of several books overloaded with misinformation on diet and disease, and runs the website gundrymd.com.  If you sign up for his newsletter, you will immediately be presented with an offer for one of his many supplements – Gundry MD Vital Reds, for a discounted $254.70 (for 6 jars, which is what Gundry recommends): and it’s also recommended you buy Dr. Gundry’s book Diet Evolution (to supercharge the benefits of Vital Reds).

According to the website, MD Vital Reds will

help reduce the fatigue and energy dysfunction which act as warning signs for much more serious health problems. I’ve combined the power of 25 polyphenol-rich superfruits with dozens of natural fat-burning ingredients to help your body maintain higher energy levels and fast metabolism.”

Save your money – there is no good evidence to back up any of these claims.

And Vital Reds is just the beginning!

You can spend a lot more money on unproven supplements at Gundrymd.com.  These include “Lectin Shield” ($75)  – to protect yourself from the “toxic” lectins (proteins in some plant foods), which Lundry states are the #1 biggest danger in the American diet.  Gundry has even written a book about lectins (to convince you that you really do need Lectin Shield).  In The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in Healthy foods that Cause Disease and Weight Gain, he claims that lectins are the cause of almost all diseases.  The fact that Dr Oz has endorsed the book is a good clue to the pseudoscience within.

The book promo has the familiar popular line that introduces much pseudoscience . . .

Is it possible that everything you’ve heard about diet, weight, and nutrition is wrong?

There is no good evidence showing that lectins cause disease

Avoiding lectins means missing out on many nutritious foods, including whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, dairy, eggs, and fruit.  The Atlantic’s James Hamblin has an excellent commentary on the Gundry’s book, including this observation:

“In fact, the book seems to be a sort of culmination of a long-percolating hypothesis about the imminent dangers of lectins. It’s especially common among purveyors of dietary supplements. The story goes: We need nutrients to survive, but many plants makes us sick, so synthetic supplement pills and powders are the prudent approach.  The idea is based in just enough evidence to be seriously convincing in the right hands.”

“…Book publishers are rarely held accountable for publishing invalid health information. Rather, there seems to be an incentive to publish the most outlandish claims that purport to upend everything the reader has ever heard. This is a problem much bigger than any plant protein. Cycles of fad dieting and insidious misinformation undermine both public health and understanding of how science works, giving way to a sense of chaos.”

Other ridiculous health claims by Gundry on the goop website include that eating out-of-season fruit is one of the biggest modern health hazards (because “fruit promotes fat storage”).

READ  Healthy or Hype? Gluten-Free Diets

Gundry also perpetuates myths like the existence of a so-called leaky gut syndrome (and of course recommends his products as a remedy).  According to experts at the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research, no quality research supports the existence of leaky gut syndrome, which they say is “is all speculation, as scientific studies do not validate any of these claims. It is extremely dangerous that a TV doctor personality and some otherwise trusted practitioners are diagnosing and treating this baseless ‘syndrome’.”

These are but a few examples of the vast amount of misinformation that Steven Gundry shares. Your best bet is to ignore everything on his website, books, and writings on the goop website, and definitely don’t buy any of his products.

Emails from Gundrymd.com are pretty good evidence that this “Dr” is little more than a snake-oil salesman . . . too bad so many people fall for this marketing.

More Reading:

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.

__________

Updated August 16, 2017

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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? The authors of many diet books spin a fine tale with plenty of anecdotes that sound very convincing.

But keep in mind. . . the plural of anecdotes is not data. Many of these books lack solid scientific evidence to support their claims.

Or, even more confusing, they seem to be scientifically based, but authors are citing only the research that supports their ideas to create a stronger case for their eating plan, while ignoring the research that doesn’t.   This makes it challenging to find evidence-based and unbiased reviews. 

But people lose weight on these diets!

  • People initially lose weight on all kinds of diets (healthy and unhealthy, scientifically sound and unsound). This is often because they have decided to change their behavior, and are paying more attention to what they are eating, two important steps for behavior change that often lead to eating fewer calories.
  • Most people regain the weight they have lost after the initial motivation wears off, because they couldn’t maintain the changes.

A critical aspect of successful behavior change is learning to develop habits you can maintain for life.

Be wary of books that . . . 

  1. Claim “everything you’ve been told about nutrition is wrong’
  2. Blame a certain food group or food component (for example, carbohydrates, grains, gluten) as responsible for a long list of ailments
  3. Make outrageous claims of success
  4. Use many personal stories and testimonials; although these are compelling, they are not evidence

More Reading>> How to Create a Fad Diet

Beyond weight loss

Weight loss isn’t everything – the foods we eat are critical to good health so you’ll want to adopt an eating plan that promotes good health and prevents disease.

For general guidelines on eating for health and weight loss, check out this page.

GUIDE 

In this space, I will be providing a brief overview of popular diets and link to reputable articles, thorough reviews, and research updates that do a good job looking at the benefits and evidence behind these eating plans. As time allows, I’ll provide my own reviews.

What’s the Best Diet?

Recommended Approaches

Advice You Should Question (Evidence Varies)

Diets in this category have some or many health-promoting features (i.e., they might recommend more vegetables, restrict highly processed foods, limit sugar) and promote initial weight loss through calorie restriction. But generally, I would not recommend most of them, especially the ones that restrict certain foods without good enough scientific evidence, boast “miracle” results, rapid weight loss, cherry pick the research, demonize a food group (evil and magic foods), or have a conspiracy focus (and some of the books below do all of this!).

Not Recommended

Stay away from the diets or approaches in this section. All of them use pseudoscience to sell their ideas, and some of them verge on the more “extreme” side of energy restriction. Herbalife, Shakeology and Isagenix plans are multi-level marketing schemes that deceive consumers by making them believe that they need to buy their products for good health/weight loss.

What’s the “Best” Diet?

Trick question! There  is no best diet for weight loss.  Your previous diet, activity level, motivation, environment and many other variables factor into what will work for you.

in alphabetical order. . . 

DASH Diet

Overview:  The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) was developed originally as a research diet to study the influence of this eating plan on hypertension and other cardiovascular risk factors.  Rigorous studies have shown the DASH diet can lower blood pressure, reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke, increase “good” HDL cholesterol and decrease “bad” LDL cholesterol.

The DASH eating plan

  • encourages plenty of vegetables, fruits,  lean protein, and low-fat dairy
  • focuses on whole grains and beans
  • limits saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat
  • limits sodium, sweets, added sugars and sugary beverages, and red meats

Reviews & More Information:

DietFixThe Diet Fix

Overview: Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, medical director at  Ottawa’s Bariatric Medical Institute lets you know that there are no quick fixes for losing weight, and focuses his book on helping you develop the skills you need to help support permanent behavior change.  The book is practical, showcases Freedhoff’s vast-experience as a weight-loss specialist, and is routed in evidence-based behavior change and weight loss strategies.  His experience echoes research findings showing that the most successful diets are ones you can stick to, so he helps you lay out a plan that you can live with.

Reviews & More Information:

FU Diet

Overview:  This is not an eating style or diet book, but the excellent web resource of clinical psychologist and weight loss expert Sherry Pagoto.  Sherry believes that achieving health is about living a healthy life, not about dieting or magic pills, and her website embodies that spirit.  Her many articles are evidence-based, and will help you stay healthy and control your weight using the latest science on appetite, exercise, and health.

FUDiet

More Information:

FU DIet Table of Contents

Mediterranean

Mediterranean Diet FoodsOverview: A Mediterranean diet typically focuses on plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and olive oil; moderate intake of fish and poultry, and low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets. This eating plan can include many delicious foods, is not restrictive,  and there is an extensive and growing body of research linking eating “Mediterranean-style” to numerous health benefits.

Reviews & More Information:

Mindful Eating

Woman Eating Strawberry MSOverview. Mindful eating is not a diet, but a practice that changes the way you think about food. Eating mindfully means giving full attention to the food that you’re eating and recognizing your feelings of hunger and fullness.  This practice should help you identify triggers to mindless eating and  help you the value quality over quantity of what you’re eating. A growing body of research is showing that this approach to eating can improve obesity-related eating behaviours such as binge eating and emotional eating.  Proponents of mindful eating for weight loss highlight research supporting the idea that structured dieting often doesn’t work for weight loss and long-term weight maintenance.

Reviews & More Information:

Research

New Nordic Diet

Overview:  Researchers from the University of Copenhagen developed this eating plan, which is similar to the Mediterranean diet. The diet focuses on vegetables and fruits, protein from lean meats and seafood, and locally-grown, organic, and in-season eating.  The diet isn’t about deprivation or drastic changes, but focusing on healthful foods.

Reviews & More Information:

OmniHeart Diets

The OmniHeart Diet is based on a clinical trial looking at variations of the DASH diet. Like DASH, the diets were rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, seeds and legumes. Diets were also low in sweets, added sugars and red meats. Researchers found that replacing some carbohydrate-containing foods with lean proteins or unsaturated fats had greater cholesterol-reducing and blood-pressure reducing benefits. (OMNI stands for Optimal Macro Nutrient Intake – hence the protein/carb/fat differences).

More Information:

Slim by Design

This book is by Brian Wansink  is a researcher who is passionate about figuring out how cues that aren’t related to hunger influence our eating habits. Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life  shows you how to rearrange your environment so it’s conducive to good habits and healthy eating.  This book follows the principles of Wansink’s Mindless Eating.  I’ve written more about Brian Wansink’s research here.

Spark Solution Diet

Overview:  Brought to you by the popular healthy living website sparkpeople.com,  the general guidelines in this book are well-founded in successful weight loss and behavior change: balanced meals, calorie reduction and exercise. For those whole like a lot of detail for food choices, the book outlines 2 weeks of structured meal plans.

Reviews & More Information:

Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Diet (TLC)

Overview:  This diet is a heart-healthy plan aiming to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease with a focus on lowering cholesterol. It was created by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program.

Reviews & More Information:

Volumetrics

Overview: Despite the faddish name, this eating plan is routed in sound science. The diet plan focuses on choosing healthful foods that fill you up with fewer calories, based on the research of Barbara Rolls.

Advice You Should Question
(Evidence Varies)

You can eat well on some of the diets below, and you may lose weight. Many feature some good nutritional wisdom, such as eating more fruits and vegetables, and fewer refined grains, sugar, and processed foods.  Others heavily restrict some foods (e.g. carb-containing foods).  The reason they are on my “Questionable” list is because the evidence behind some of the recommendations is not rigorous.

Alkaline Diet

Overview: The alkaline diet is based on the idea that some foods (meat, wheat, refined sugar, and processed foods) cause your body to produce acid, which isn’t good for your health. The diet encourages foods that make your body more alkaline to protect from disease and help you lose weight.

Problems with the alkaline diet:  Although many “alkaline” foods like vegetables and fruits are health promoting,  how what you eat influences your body’s acidity level (PH) is not fully understood.  The environment in which foods are digested is complex, and many scientists question the accuracy of methods used to calculate the acidity of foods.  Foods avoided may limit your intake of essential nutrients such as calcium, iron and zinc. Some nutritious on the acidic list include oats, blueberries, cranberries, most legumes (lentils and beans), many nuts, corn, olives, mushrooms, and many grains.

This infographic from the Association of UK Dietitians sums up the lack of logic with the alkaline diet . . .

Reviews & More Information:

Always Hungry

This diet book by researcher Dr. David Ludwig boasts that it will help you “conquer cravings, retrain your fat cells and lose weight permanently.” This is book is based on the questionable claim that carbohydrates make you fat because of their influence on insulin (see low-carb diets below). Ludwig says our belief that calories in, calories out has actually contributed to weight gain.  This is simply not true and a misrepresentation of the data.

Blood Type Diets

Overview:  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).

Problems with the Blood Type Diet. The blood type diet did undergo scientific investigation, but researchers found any health improvements were not linked to blood type.   

Gluten-Free

Slice of bread with Gluten text - Gluten Free diet concept
Slice of bread with Gluten text – Gluten Free diet concept

Overview:  Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.  The 1 percent of North Americans have celiac disease need to strictly avoid gluten, and the 6-7% of individuals who are sensitive to gluten may feel better on a gluten-free diet.  Others will benefit if it means they start paying attention to what they’re eating, eat more vegetables and fruits, and avoid processed foods; but the health benefits for these people aren’t likely because they are avoiding gluten.

Problems with Gluten-Free Diets: Gluten-free diet proponents claim that gluten makes you sick, causes inflammation, gives you headaches, is a toxin, creates digestive problems, increases insulin resistance, and leads to weight gain. These claims aren’t supported by science, and the idea that gluten sensitivity is  widespread goes far beyond the current scientific evidence.

READ  Healthy or Hype? Gluten-Free Diets

Reviews & More Information:

Gluten Can be Good for You

Although the anti-gluten books claim the gluten is the cause of almost all health problems, gluten (for non-celiacs) can actually be health promoting (the information and links below are from Dr Mirkin.com – an excellent evidence-based nutrition and health resource)

  • Gluten helps to lower high triglycerides, a blood fat that can increase risk for diabetes and heart attacks (J Am Coll Nutr 1999; 18:159–165).
  • Gluten increases growth of good bacteria in your intestines (Brit J Nutr, 2008;99:110–120) that reduce inflammation and increase absorption of healthful nutrients (Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care, 2010;13:722–728).
  • Gluten makes your cells more sensitive to insulin, helping to prevent or treat diabetes (Curr Diab Rep, 2011;11:154–159).
  • Gluten may reduce heart attack risk (Curr Atheroscler Rep, 2010;12:368–376), and lower high blood pressure (Food Chem, 2011;127:1653–1658).

Intermittent Fasting/Time Restricted Eating

Overview: Many variations of intermittent fasting diets exist, but they generally involve consuming no calories or severely restricting calorie intake for defined periods. Proponents claim intermittent fasting can improve overall health, help with weight loss, improve body composition, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce systemic inflammation, and increase your lifespan. 

Problems with intermittent fasting.  Intermittent fasting regimes have been studied in animals, and do show health benefits. Human studies are fewer and only short term, but fasting  regimes have shown health improvements (e.g., lowered blood pressure, improved insulin sensitivity, lower markers of inflammation).  No long-term studies in humans have been conducted. Adhering to such a plan would be difficult for most individuals (you might not be the best dinner party guest), and could create unhealthy relationships with food. 

However, recent research suggests that simply prolonging the nightly fast might be a feasible and easy way for individuals to restrict their feeding window and benefit  metabolic health. The study below investigates how circadian rhythms and timing of food influences metabolic health.

Novel research method to study eating habits and time restricted eating. An emerging field of research is looking into how the timing of meals in relation to our circadian rhythms (which influence biological processes and metabolism) affects health.  Researchers from the Salk Institute are investigating what they call “metabolic jet lag,” a name they use to describe when circadian rhythms become distorted due to irregular eating times.

Early findings in animals and preliminary small studies in humans suggest it might be better for health to restrict our feeding period.  The Salk investigators developed an app to get a snapshot of timing of eating patterns, and used the app to help study participants limit their feeding to a 10-11 hour period. After 16 weeks, participants with a restricted feeding window lost weight and reported better sleep and energy levels. You can download the smartphone app (and contribute your data to their research) here. (Cell Metabolism, September, 2015).

Reviews & More Information:

Low Carb/High Fat (LCHF) Diets

Some people successfully lose weight by restricting their carbohydrates. One problem with the “low carb” craze is lumping all carbohydrates into one category, equating legumes to candy. These diets often claim that guidelines to increase carbohydrates made people fat, because people decreased their fat intake and increased carbohydrate intake, although there is no good evidence to support this claim.

Carbs Not EqualData show that an increase in calories better explains the obesity epidemic than recommendations to reduce fat intake (and contrary to popular belief, Americans did not reduce their fat intake, but they did increase their calorie intake).  Proponents of low carb diets claim that nutrition scientists are deceptive, and have been ignoring any research supporting high fat diets.  Although this makes for a good story, this is simply not true.

These diets often recommend consuming high amounts of fats and saturated fats.  Although research on fats is evolving, no evidence shows that diets high in saturated fats are healthy, and quite a bit of evidence suggests they promote disease.

If you want to reduce your carbohydrate intake, limit refined carbohydrates (sugars, processed foods), but keep the healthy beans/legumes, vegetables, and fruits, and unprocessed whole grains that are important for good health.

Low Carb Diets for Athletes

Athletes need more carbohydrates that most people to fuel their physical activity. Low-carbohydrate diets can leave endurance athletes short on fuel for their workouts, compromise recovery, and suppress their immune system. Most wheat-free/grain free/gluten-free diets are low carb diets.

Kenyan Runners-Berlin_marathon_2012
Kenyan runners have a very high carbohydrate diet

Some athletes are confused by some interesting research looking at carbohydrate restriction in athletes. Although proponents of the research claim improved performance benefits, to date but no study has shown performance benefits and there are risks. Low-carb training **might** be effective periodically, but not as an everyday diet for athletes.  For example, low carb/fasted “low glycogen” workouts can be used as a training strategy (the Canadian marathoners did this  – a kind of nutrition periodization). The research on the benefits isn’t solid, and experts recommend being careful about when/how you implement these workouts (best during baseline training/not high intensity). Here’s an excellent interview about low-carbohydrate training with the leading sports nutrition expert in the field of carbohydrate metabolism.

Reviews & More Information:

Paleo Diet

Overview: The basic principal  of the Paleo diet is to adopt the eating habits of our ancestors in the paleolithic period (between 2.5 million and 10,000 year ago)  who were picking berries, hunting and scavenging meat and fish, or digging for tubers. Paleo is based on the idea that no species should eat something it hasn’t eaten before, because it can’t adapt.  The diet focuses on meat, vegetables, and fruits, and excludes dairy, grains, legumes (peanuts, lentils, beans, peas), alcohol, and sugars.

Problems with Paleo: The paleo diet has been widely criticized by evolutionary biologists and nutrition experts.  Although the paleo diet can be a healthy one, it excludes many health-promoting foods for reasons that aren’t well-supported by science. Also, many paleo dieters eat large quantities of red meat, which is at odds with evidence-based disease prevention recommendations.

Reviews & More Information:

Pioppi Diet

This is another low-carb high fat diet, that explains how we’ve been lied to about saturated fats, the 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.

But the book is persuasively written by cardiologist Asseem Malhotra, who cites research to back up his story.  Shouldn’t you trust him? But as  journalist Christopher Snowdown explains in his review of this book, it’s easy to cite what you want to help 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.”

Raw Food Diet

Overview: A raw foods diet involves eating uncooked foods, or foods that are not cooked or heated past about 110 degrees or heat processed.  The diet is typically rich in vegetables and fruits,  whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds.

Problems with Raw Food Diets. Although this diet encourages many healthy foods, the science behind the reasons for eating raw is shaky. Raw foodists claim that cooking destroys nutrients and “enzymes” in foods, but there is good evidence that heat can increase the bioavailability of certain nutrients.  There’s no good evidence to show that we need the enzymes in foods to help digest them.

One study found a  raw diet was associated with low cholesterol and triglycerides but also with nutrient deficiencies (low vitamin B-12 and low “good” HDL cholesterol). Also, consider than some vegetables are actually more nutritious when cooked, since cooking frees up more nutrients, making it easier for your body to absorb them.

Reviews & More Information:

Stash Plan

The Stash Plans website states that this is “a 21-day plan that combines the latest in food science with ancient dietary wisdom.”  It features celebrity “wisdom” (Laura Prepon, star of Orange is the New Black) and pseudoscientific ideas or what the site calls “cutting edge food science” from  integrative nutritionist Elizabeth Troy.  The Nutrition Wonk provided excellent in depth reviews of the book below.  She writes that the authors promote unrealistic body expectations and is not science-based, with errors in basic biology concepts. The book uses Chinese meridian theory to explain how the body reacts to various food choices. The book promotes the opinions of popular quacks including Dr Joseph Mercola.

Reviews & More Information:

Wheat Belly/Grain Brain

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.

Reviews & More Information:

Not Recommended

Cook Your Butt Off (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.

Detox or Cleansing Diets
Herbalife

Dietitian Diana Chard provides a nice review of Herbalife, summing it up with ” Herbalife is a company with a dubious sales model, selling questionable products (I’m being generous here) that’s run by a doctor with a clear lack of integrity. If you want soy nuts, go to the Bulk Barn. Don’t waste your money supporting a despicable company like Herbalife.” (Diana Chard, Bite My Words)

Isagenix

Isagenix is an expensive meal replacement program involving shakes, bars, and herbal supplements that relies on multilevel marketing often via social media or email to promote its product.  The product boasts “nutritional cleansing,” “detox” and is essentially a low-calorie diet that might promote short-term weight loss. Research has repeatedly shown that weight loss that relies on meal replacements and low calories is difficult to sustain, since it doesn’t change habits. Also, why spend a whole lot of money on low-calorie shakes and supplements when you can choose real foods that are inexpensive, fit into regular daily habits, and have proven nutritional benefits?

Reviews & More Information:

Shakeology

Nutrition Scam & Waste of Money.  A look at the the nutrition in shakeology, a  multi-level marketing scheme. (Fooducate)

Whole30

Whole30The Whole 30 diet is an “extreme” paleo diet that eliminates a wide variety of healthful foods, including all grains, legumes, dairy, and soy. Micheal Hull’s critical review linked to below details the lack of credibility of the authors and highlights the pseudoscience in the book.

RD Abby Langer sums it up nicely in her review:

“Whole 30 isn’t a whole foods diet, it’s a half-wit cleanse that cuts out a ton of healthy food for no good reason. It uses poorly done research to ‘prove’ points and is written in an insulting, punitive way. The Whole 30 is a lesson in extremes: good vs bad. Toxic vs clean. Strong vs weak. Not many things in life are that black and white, and food is certainly not one of them.” – Abby Langer, RD.

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Updated Augst 7, 2017

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