5 Signs of Bad Nutrition Advice

Whose word can you trust?

Bad apple in group

If you want advice on heart health, you ask a cardiologist. If you want to know why your Labrador is limping, you turn to your veterinarian. If you have questions about your diet — well, that’s another story.

There’s no shortage of people willing to give diet advice. But if you get bad advice, you could fail to lose weight or, worse, you could develop nutrient deficiencies that seriously affect your health. Use these five warning signs to weigh advice on the one thing none of us can live without: food.

1. There’s no science involved

If an expert states that three sticks of butter a day will help you get back into your skinny jeans, there had better be some research behind it.

“If an expert states that three sticks of butter a day will help you get back into your skinny jeans, there had better be some research behind it.”

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Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD

Wellness Institute

Check for signs of sound science. The strongest studies are in peer-reviewed journals and are usually conducted over several months or even years. They have a large sample size to show results are not just a one-time fluke. The numbers will change based on the type of research, but the bigger the better — 100 people is a nice starting point. Studies should not be funded by an organization that can profit from the results. If a claim sounds too good to be true, it might just be.

2. A food is promised as a “cure”

Nothing screams scam more than advice claiming one particular food will cure cancer, diabetes or another illness. Your risk for developing a chronic disease involves a complex mix of behavioral and environmental factors. The same is true for managing and treating diseases. No one food will be the be-all, end-all of a disease. If it were, you’d hear about it — and a huge study would back it up.

3. Your expert lacks credentials

It’s easy to get an online certificate and call yourself a “nutritionist,” but people study for years to earn true expertise in nutrition. When you ask someone for advice, look for the letters RD (registered dietitian), PhD (in nutritional sciences, biochemistry, or molecular biology, for example), MPH (master’s in public health) or MD (many doctors specialize in diet and nutrition) after his or her name. And keep in mind that some registered dietitians do refer to themselves as nutritionists because it is such a recognizable term, but their credentials set them apart.

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4. Someone tells you to eliminate an entire food group

Friends and family often forward me emails with the subject line, “Is this true?” What follows is an email or article (with no link to research) on why you should cut all carbs, all fat or all protein from your diet for miraculous results. If you see something similar, question it — big time. We need these things in our diet in some form or another. Anyone who suggests eliminating an entire food group does not understand human metabolism.

5. A diet plan involves selling food and supplements — but no education

Good health comes from a combination of a healthy diet, exercise and stress management. You can learn these things.

If someone sells you a plan based on foods that you never have to cook — and never even have to check the nutrition label — it’s not likely to last. Eventually, you’ll have to venture into the grocery store and make your own choices. Without the educational tools to do so, how will you know what to buy? Bottom line: Take the time and effort to learn how to read labels, shop for groceries, control portions and plan for a healthy diet. And ask yourself: Who is really benefiting from a diet where you have no control over what you eat?

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Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD

Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.
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  • Nadya Swedan MD

    Excellent advice!

  • lmyers

    I trust my Grandmothers’ nutrition, they both lived full lives to 96. When you have a Scientific Educated Expert better than that, let me know. Free range, mostly organic grown everything on their farms. Butter,lard,eggs,pork,beef,chicken,lamb, raw milk, fresh veggies/canned&frozen and their own fresh fruits/canned&Frozen. Water – no soda. Sweets as treats only and usually sweetened with their own honey or molasses.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andriiya Andrea Hogan

      Because doctors and nutritionists are always telling you to eat less fresh food… This is such a stupid comment on an article that’s trying to explain why not to listen to fad diets. This is no way says not to eat a variety of fresh foods, yet you have to insult science anyway.

      • Rex

        An MD once told me to eat more junk food to gain weight. It was lifting weights and eating well that helped me gain weight. I wanted to rip up his diploma.

      • Nancy Sherwood Coney

        I never notice them saying eat less fresh. What are you reading?

        • Iris Harris

          Nancy, read between the lines. I decided, after reading Andrea’s comment 3 or 4 times, she was being sarcastic. That’s the only way her comment makes sense.

          • Neecy

            Andrea’s comment makes complete sense and she isn’t being sarcastic. She points out that no where in the article does it say to NOT eat fresh foods as a response to those who immediately jumped to bashing science and critical thinking by saying that eating healthy is the only way to go instead of understanding the theme of the article. Which is to use scientific deductions when choosing a heathy lifestyle, not to follow fads or junk science.

      • http://twitter.com/kellytruths kelly

        Actually she did not insult the science, she insulted the scientist since scientists sometimes needed time to catch up. XD :)

        There is enough science to say gluten is bad for both Celiac sufferers and normal people with normal health. So this article’s #4 is not current.

        #2. A food is promised as a “cure” –> I can’t see how this is a fad or a myth, when it’s been known for yonks that food is thy medicine. From where do they extract to make your current prescription drugs or over-the-counter drugs?

        I am sure this article strives to be as accurate as possible. :)

    • Tyler Smith

      There’s science behind that too! I agree with you and kudos to your grandmothers! May you inherit the same longevity genes

    • veger7

      Don’t forget the great cardio workouts in the form of hard manual labor.

    • SCB

      Picking your parents well remains the best way to live to extreme old age. Congratulations on good genes on both sides of your family tree.

    • Janice M Giaco

      My Grandmother lived to be 98 years young, she ate just like your Grandmother did. She was a farmer’s wife.

    • Kelly

      the majority of foods you just quote are just disgusting. wow, what bad advice. way too much meat and animal products. my grandparents ate like that too. my granny suffered from multiple strokes and my grandpa died in his 70s of heart attack.

      • http://twitter.com/kellytruths kelly

        Were your grandparents’ meat processed and jabbed with lots of antibiotics? Though I am a vegan, I believe older folks in earlier generations could have had healthier meat.

    • LawGeekNYC

      Drinking raw milk is like playing health roulette. Your grandmothers were lucky not to get ill from it.

      • http://twitter.com/kellytruths kelly

        I guess it had a lot of do with hygiene and how healthy the cows were?

    • LawGeekNYC

      I suggest you submit your study with a sample size of 2 to peer reviewed journals and see how far you get. There is a good reason that this article emphasized that we look for scientific studies with a large sample size. Had you taken a beginners course in statistics you might understand why these kinds of stories can fool us into linking unrelated causes and effects.

      The plural of anecdote is not data.

  • Lm60

    Good sound advice…quality vs quantity. Our world is so filled with junk food and very large amounts of it are being served up everywhere…causing obesity and lots of medical problems!

  • Jack Findlay

    Would you please comment on The Great Cholesterol Myth (book)?

    • Janice M Giaco

      Read an Gary Taubes’ book “good calories, bad calories” The problem with fat storage has to do with insulin resistance. Draw down insulin and adipose tissue releases fat to be used as energy. Eat sugar, insulin goes up, fat is stored, or “locked into ” the adipose tissue as a result. Fructose metabolism in the liver causes hypertension indirectly..see video by Dr Lustig, “sugar the bitter truth” Sugar consumption by humans only skyrocketed in the last 200 years, and with high fructose corn syrup since 1977, eating honey by the ancients was a rare sweet delight. Today kids drink it down several times a day in juice, and soda pop.

    • GeorgeBMac

      So far, most of the so called “science” the discredits the cholesterol theory simply trash talks the science behind it but does not disprove it.

      Instead, they come up with some alternate theory (such as “the Great Sugar Myth” and then say: “Only my theory is correct!”

      The truth is somewhere in the middle…

  • wright

    Certain foods might not cure diseases but if you eat healthy food it will help prevent disease.:

    • LawGeekNYC

      Hippocrates — ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’

  • vintagegreengirl

    Of course an RD would say only get advice from an RD or another western medical person. This is what is wrong with the world and our health.

    • Janice M Giaco


      • Jenna

        I have never heard of an RD recommending a high Carbohydrate diet unless someone is underweight with a very high metabolism. And if you know much about natural medicine its about prevention. Which is the main focus of nutrition/dietetics. Most RDs technically work against western medicine’s ways of using medications and trying to prevent surgical interventions that are preventable.

    • GeorgeBMac

      Yes, unfortunately, far too many RD’s simply spout the standard company/medical lines that were drilled into to them… But at least they do have some education and experience…

      Choose your plumber, RD, and MD carefully! Some will help you and some are just playing the role …

  • http://www.facebook.com/jerrywlawson Jerry Lawson

    Dr.Mercola’s Website is Superior. I have been a follower for 10 years. He has the number 1 health website in the World. http://www.mercola

  • Jojo

    Independent gold standard research….that matters!!!! Baby steps in diet and life style… It’s what you’re open and willing to do……asking yourself what your goals are….Ink Them….even if you start by just drinking more water…….less caffeine and soda….. The benefits ( clarity of thought…headaches gone…..whatever….) your will feel empowered to take another and another step….happy Friday!

    • LawGeekNYC

      What is wrong with caffeine (or sentences)?

  • Nancy

    It is true that some MDs are fairly knowledgeable about diet and nutrition. I have been an RN for 30 years and in that time none of my MDs were very knowledgeable about using nutrition to help with any disease type process. What I have learned is that probably 80% of the disease I saw coming through the ICUs I have worked in are related directly to how people care for themselves. I am thrilled that nutrition is finally coming to the forefront, but there is a long way to go. Most people do not have the luxury of seeing a RD or an MD for their nutrition advice. There are a lot of reputable website, like yours, that can be found online. Thank you for including nutrition into wellness. Fresh is best, frozen is next. Stick with a lot of fruits and veggies, locally grown if possible. Free range meats, eggs, milk, etc. Water, lots and lots of water. Stay away from packaged convenience foods and fast foods. You will live a lot longer and with health and grace.

    • lea

      good advice but you should really watch Forks over Knives before you advise meats,eggs dairy. The documentary as one of their own from the Clev Clinic Dr.Esselstyn. I stick to their advise and have never had more energy or felt better.

      • Janice M Giaco

        I watched “Forks over Knives” and then had the privilege to see Denise Minger’s blog, where she uncovers some inconvenient truths not mentioned in “Forks over Knives” . There were some things left out of that documentary that may just change your mind. Also, check out Joel Salatin, from Polyface Farm, a farmer after my own heart, a great man with common sense to share!!

        • http://PMToolsThatWork.com/ Bruce Benson

          Read the (many) comments and responses (including from Dr Campbell and Denise’s replies, etc.). Read/view the original sources (Minger’s blog, Forks and China study, etc.). Inconvenient truths go both ways in this discussion. For me the evidence is clearly more compelling and science based on the side of excluding meats and dairy. It is also compelling when for health reasons I went on a no meat/dairy diet and unrelated pain issues I’ve had for over 15 years disappeared (Gee, I thought it was from getting old — all my friends complained about similar things!). I’ve since run a half marathon and I am training for a full marathon (ie, energy is rock solid, BMI is 21, recover fast from hard workouts). Its been over a year now and I still feel like I’m back in my 30s instead of in my late 50s.

  • chrisel

    In the late 90s I had a routine colonoscopy and they found 3 polyps. I did nothing.One day waiting at the check out in the market I as reading a small booklet they had there, with a topic “cancer fighting foods”. There was a chapter in Brussels sprouts that got my attention, (because I had NO idea what Brussels sprouts were) .It was saying that consumption of Brussels sprouts, is been known to help with polyps. I asked a clerk to show me the sprouts, and ask how one can cook them, ( he thought I was working him in the beginning). I been eating them since then ( acquired taste ),so many colonoscopies since, NO polyps.I don’t know what this mean scientifically, what I know is that I do not have them

  • F.Netter

    My advice is not to trust RDs. They follow guidelines established by the
    government, which are based on a decision made by a single Senator to
    encourage eating less fat and more carboydrate, even though this Senator was
    discouraged by scientists and later proclaimed he “could not wait” for
    all of the scientific evidence to come in. Since then, we have seen the
    folly of this move as Americans have been getting fatter and sicker ever since.


    • Terri

      To say don’t trust the RD in general is bad advice. RD’s have years of education. Look for those with experience in meeting peoples’s individual needs, which are not cookie cutter We have the expertise to sift through the science and you may be surprised. Many of us don’t even belong to the Academy for nutrition and dietetics. They are not all bad either, but unfortunately have too much support from big food… A credibility issue indeed. Also an RD is much more likely to be covered by insurance and able to communicate with your physician. Better nutrition, less medication!

      • http://twitter.com/kellytruths kelly

        Sorry, to what I’ve observed, RDs are always recommending things that go hand in hand with medications. Some of them serve Big Pharmas, just like how some doctors do. Money world!

    • Janice M Giaco

      I couldn’t agree more! Have seen rise in Diabetes and obesity over my greater than 30 years as a nurse. Diabetes Type II used to be only for old people, now we have an explosion of this disease in the young, all related to the “fad” of “low fat, high carb” and the rise in the use of high fructose corn syrup put into everything “low fat” out there. Dr Lustig warns against “low fat” anything because it’s laced with poison……SUGAR.

    • GeorgeBMac

      I agree that the guidelines were not perfect. But to believe that replacing toxic food (saturated fats) with other toxic foods (concentrated sweeteners) like our food processors have done, does not make those guidelines any less correct.

      And, I would say that THAT is the number one thing to be cautious about with dietary advice: When a person proves one minor point and then generalizes it to say: “Only MY way is correct and everybody else is wrong…”

    • http://twitter.com/kellytruths kelly

      Yep, don’t trust RDs. They give crappy advise in my country and I have snapshots to prove it! :)

  • Gregooch

    I think you are giving bad advice to your readers by telling them to ignore advice that may be just what the doctor ordered. Dr Caldwell Esselstyn and T Colin Campbell and many others have found that plant foods are beneficial to your health and many other foods are detrimental and to my cardiologists great surprise, I for one have lowered both my total cholesterol and blood pressure as well as lost weight down to my high school weight in just 90 days by following Dr Esselstyn’s plant based diet. It’s a shame that the medical community refuses to catch up with the Stone Age but would rather attack others who can think outside the box and continue to prescribe toxic pills and promote the meat and dairy industries. Remember that Lipitor and all the other drugs you prescribe can have deadly side effects while broccoli and spinach have none. My degree is in the school of hard knocks, after suffering for over twenty five years from a fib and cholesterol related symptoms and taking medicines that effectively did very little to help, I now have hope simply cy changing my diet,

    • GeorgeBMac

      If you have a plumbing problem, see a plumber
      If you have a cardiac problem, see a cardiologist
      If you have a nutrition problem, see a nutritionist

      But, just as some plumbers are better than others, the same is true of cardiologists and nutritionists…

      And, too, you have to find one who you can work with and form a partnership with…

      Yes, there are still many in the medical community who remain in the plumbing analogy of outhouses. But there are some who take a broader view and are more open. My cardiologist sticks to cardiology — but he also refers me to nutritionists and exercise physiologists and works together with them to find the best solution(s) for ME.

    • Fernando Domeniconi

      Well, I follow a plant base diet, go 5 days a week to the gym and still need medication as diet alone didn’t do a lot to my cholesterol, so as several people say here, each person is a case and I never keep telling other people: do as I did because it works and it’s the only truth out there.

    • LawGeekNYC

      My bad cholesterol went from 210 to 96 after giving up animal foods, so it does work for some of us. Do you know of any studies indicating how widespread these kinds of results are?

  • LinnieMae

    I see that a number of posters here are buying into the popular current myth that giving up food from animals is better for you. While it’s true that most Americans would benefit from eating more vegetables, giving up meat is not the answer. Y’all might want to check out the problems with vegetarians’ B12 deficiencies and iron absorption (to name just 2).

    I’m glad the author addressed this issue of a balanced diet that includes all food groups. There’s a huge lack of understanding among vegetarians and vegans about how nutrients from different sources work together to keep you healthy.

    • GeorgeBMac

      There is also a lot of one-sided pseudo-science coming from the Atkins (and related diets) crowd…

    • LawGeekNYC

      As B-12 is easily obtained through supplements (and for vegetarians, through eggs and dairy) I’m not sure what the problem is. As for the iron, the absorption issue simply means that vegans need more dietary iron. Since vegetarian and vegan diets contain more iron, it usually doesn’t end up being a problem. http://www.journals.elsevierhealth.com/periodicals/yjada/article/S0002-8223(03)00294-3/fulltext#section8 For those who aren’t getting enough iron, why can’t the solution be to obtain the threshhold amount to compensate for the absorbtion issue, rather than begin eating meat?

      Also, something isn’t a myth if it is backed up by studies. There is plenty of research out there indicating that increased consumption of red meat correlates with various cancers and heart disease.

  • CayoRider

    Can you please forward this to Dr. Oz? He needs to read it really badly …

    • http://twitter.com/kellytruths kelly

      Dr. Oz is doing fine.

  • elizabeth peterson

    Tell me about wellness coaches…should they be accredited?

    • http://twitter.com/kellytruths kelly

      GREAT point!

  • William Haburne

    Eat real unadulterated food…you live longer…ie…common sense.

  • Tom

    There are studies out there on foods, food groups, and intake of certain foods to help cancer and other illnesses. “The China Study” by. Dr. Campbell, Dr. Weil book “Spontaneous Healing”, just to name a few. The FDA does not and will not study natural cures because if they are found to work, it will devastate the medical billion dollar industry. Also, watch a documentary called “Cancer. The Forbidden Cures” Eye opening how the FDA is run and regulated by Big Pharma and the American Medical Association. BTW…Most Doctors have very little training in med school on nutrition.

  • Diane

    Um, carbs, protein and fats are not food groups.

  • RIL

    #4 – telling someone to eliminate an entire food group; I disagree with. I’m an NP and eliminating grains or dairy has helped millions of people overcome many, many health problems including allergies, digestive disorders (celiac), auto-immune disorders, and more. You should really clarify that statement. Eating ‘real food’ and not processed, chemical laden junk is the real problem with many health problems and obesity. Many auto-immune disorders, cancer, allergies, and more that are plaguing those in the US could potentially be reversed with simple, healthy, ‘real’ non-GMO, antibiotic and hormone free food like we used to have. Avoid chemical sweeteners as well (really? chlorine in Splenda?). The FDA and the USDA seriously needs to reevaluate the way they look at what is ‘healthy’ or ‘safe’ and what isn’t.

    • GeorgeBMac

      ” The FDA and the USDA seriously needs to reevaluate the way they look at what is ‘healthy’ or ‘safe’ and what isn’t.”

      Ummm? “RE-evaluate?

      Neither agency is doing much to promote healthy food because both of them are simply tools of the industries they are supposed to regulate: The food industry simply uses those agencies as a front to get people to believe that their food is ‘healthy’ or ‘safe’.

      • Janice M Giaco

        A good read is Joel Salatins book, “everything I want to do is illegal”, he calls the USDA, the US “duh” He is a farmer, lecturer, teacher after my own heart…..

    • e_violin

      When she said ‘food groups,’ it seems to me she was referring to basic macronutrients – carbohydrates, fat, and protein.

    • LawGeekNYC

      I’m not sure what an “NP” is, but I certainly hope you’re not counseling your clients to give up grains entirely. Gluten is a protein found only in certain types of grains, and celiacs should be getting the benefit of grains that do not have gluten.

      In addition, since gluten-free diets are so trendy, we are in a strange position in our society where celiac disease is being terribly under-diagnosed, and, at the same time, many following a gluten-free diet may be doing so unnecessarily. A study published recently in the American Journal of Gastroenterology by Daniel A. Leffler, MD. found an alarming lack of overlap between celiacs and gluten free diets.

      Whole grains reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers, and since they are high fiber and low fat they can be very helpful in maintaining a healthy body weight. Eliminating them from one’s diet shouldn’t be done so casually, to lose weight, or because it’s a fad. Nor should people be self-diagnosing an “allergy” (or doing so without a physician), since it’s easier than we think to perceive an improvement in fatigue or other self-diagnosed symptoms, when the placebo effect or other factors are in play.

      As for dairy, though, this research makes me wonder why it’s considered a food group: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18065599?dopt=Citation

    • http://twitter.com/kellytruths kelly

      Agree with you, RIL. She certainly did not think of GMO foods!

  • Mike

    Different people respond in different ways to foods. If it was really science, they would be testing you, not some statistically significant cohort. In the absence of anything other than one size fits all, you have to find out what works for you. And then be loathe to assume it will work for others.