How to Spot Poor Nutrition Advice: Who Can You Trust? By: Paul Isaacs Human Nutrition (BSc) (Hons)

If your car’s leaking oil, you turn to your mechanic. If you need advice on your child’s persistent fever, you ask your doctor. How about if you have questions about your diet? Well, it seems everybody is an expert…..

Yes, there is no shortage of people willing to offer their dietary wisdom. However, this so called wisdom may at best, hinder your fat loss efforts, or at worst result in nutrient deficiencies that seriously affect your health. Here are five warning signs that will help you detect potentially harmful nutrition advice.

1. Claims are Not Supported by Science

If somebody claims that a glass of apple cider vinegar and three pats of butter in your coffee will rid you of your chronic inflammation or give you that beach body you’ve always dreamed of, there better be some scientific evidence behind it (pro tip: there isn’t!).

Never be afraid to ask questions. Through what mechanisms can those foodstuffs result in these outcomes? Does advice like this seem plausible or logical? Remember, links to YouTube channels and personal blogs do not count as evidence. Plus, the term “scientifically proven” is only ever stated by two kinds of people; 1) those you should not be taking nutrition advice from, and 2) paid voiceover artists in toothpaste advertisements. You know the old adage, if a claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

2. Food is Proposed as Medicine or a Cure

Claims around single foods curing complex diseases like cancer or diabetes should have your charlatan detector on high alert. Our risk of developing chronic disease involves several behavioural and environmental factors. This is also true for the management and treatment of disease. No single food will ever be the sole dictator of disease and food in itself is not medicine!

3. Your Expert Lacks Credentials

Unfortunately, anybody can call themselves a “nutritionist” as the title is currently unprotected in the United Kingdom, but how can you gauge the strength of someone’s qualifications? Anybody who is selling their services as a nutritionist should hold a minimum of a 3-year bachelor’s degree (BSc) in the field of nutrition. There are exceptions to this rule, but these are few and far between. Also, nutritionists may refer to themselves as “experts”. They might claim to specialise in certain areas, hormones for example. In general, believing you are an expert on anything in nutrition is a sign of classic Dunning-Kruger (believing that you are smarter and more capable than you really are). If the scientists do not know everything there is to know, then your Keto or Vegan gurus are certainly not going to.

4. You are Told to Eliminate an Entire Macronutrient

I can guarantee that many, if not all of you reading this have heard that the key to longevity is cutting all carbohydrates from your diet. On the other side of the coin, it is the fat that is making us fat! Both arguments are usually touted by those who wear their preferred dietary approach like a badge of honour. In truth, this argument is missing the wood from the trees. In terms of fat loss, when protein and calories are equated, a high fat/low carbohydrate approach has no advantage over a high carbohydrate/low fat approach and vice-versa. Total energy absorbed verses total energy expended will determine whether we reduce, maintain, or increase our fat stores. For health, calories are still important, but the type and quality of our foods will matter more. In general, eliminating macronutrients of any kind is unnecessary and should be avoided (along with those suggesting such measures!).

5. You are Sold a Diet Plan of Food and Supplements with No Education

There are far too many victims of lifestyle hacks, whether it be meal plans or supplement stacks, when what people really require are the educational tools to help them implement better lifestyle habits. Calorie controlled meal plans are all well and good, but what happens when life comes knocking at your door? Meals out with family or friends? Holidays? Parties? That reminds me, I was once invited to a party and asked to bring my own food. However, it was not chicken and broccoli with zero-calorie barbecue sauce! What about supplements? The vast majority are unnecessary and overpriced. Always ask yourself, who is likely to benefit from this approach long-term? It will very likely not be you. Demand better and emphasise behaviour change.

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