Misinformed: What to Make of False Nutrition Claims

It seems like anyone will claim they're qualified to give out health advice these days. But what they're actually teaching could be damaging.

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While recently skimming Facebook from my tablet, I noticed a cartoon illustration of a patient sitting on an examination table in a doctor’s office where gracing the wall is a sign that reads: “Thank you for not mentioning Dr. Oz.” Published in the New Yorker, this simple sketch reinforces the tendency of many healthcare providers and health professionals to cringe at the mere mention of the name “Dr. Oz.” With good reason too, as he’s come under fire in the United States Congress for preaching inaccurate, unsupported health advice throughout his career.

The physician-turned-television-personality who’s undoubtedly become among the most trusted sources of nutrition and disease-related information among Americans is most certainly not the only “expert” accused of touting false claims. From book authors to health and fitness coaches to chefs and personal trainers, everyone seems to possess their own healthy nutrition secrets or the latest miracle weight loss formula that usually turns out to be a simple recycling and repackaging of the same information over and over again.

Unfortunately, this lingering movement of expert misinformation has fueled continuous development of confusing and oftentimes misleading nutrition labeling tactics courtesy of the food and beverage industry. Take a closer look and you’ll notice just how many manufacturers have actually altered their packaging labels in an effort to remain in tune with the misinformation getting passed around. This is why nutrition labels on many of your all-time favorite food packages have been completely made over to highlight specific attributes like: “Gluten-Free”, “Low-Carb, and “Fat-Free”, all of which mean absolutely nothing in terms of the overall nutritional quality of foods.

The persuasive effects of nutrition misinformation is most pronounced in the weight loss market, with estimations of over $40 billion spent annually on specialty foods, supplements and services in the United States alone. Within this arena, mainstream experts are known to advocate excessive consumption of food bars, shakes, pills, and other supplements, which is unnecessarily expensive and just plain ol’ impractical for successful and sustained weight loss.

Among the most widespread products for weight loss are those comprised of green tea compounds and a certain chemical called hydroxycitric acid (HCA). You may not be familiar with HCA but I’m sure you’ve heard of Garcinia Cambogia pills and extracts, which experts have endorsed in mass as “miracle” weight loss supplements due to their proposed fat burning potential and appetite suppressing effects. Interestingly enough, such products are largely comprised of HCA, which used to be an ingredient in Hydroxycut until numerous reported cases of liver damage, seizures, and other health problems were reported.  

Another all-too common form of nutrition misinformation by experts involves aggressive over-promotion and utter overhyping of “low-carb,” “high-protein,” and “low-fat” diets for weight loss which is often done an effort to sale branded foods and supplements. Although such tactics can be highly effective for short-term weight loss, their long-term effectiveness and safety is uncertain, as a well-balanced diet of carbohydrates, fat, and protein is essential for optimal health.

And then there are those weight loss diets that rely heavily on consumption of prepackaged or frozen meals which are commonly endorsed by celebrities as if this somehow makes them authentic. Although prepackaged and frozen weight loss meals are proportioned to ensure a set calorie intake, most are packed full of sodium and other preservatives. Not the best approach for disease prevention especially considering that excess sodium consumption is linked to high blood pressure, kidney disease, and other health problems.

So what are you to make of such false claims by the experts?

When it comes to healthy eating and good nutrition, it’s important to always vet your information carefully and choose your “experts” wisely. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around in the mainstream media, much of which I believe is designed to keep you in a vicious cycle of confusion so you’ll continue to seek out more information and ultimately buy more products.

Consider your experts’ certifications and/or licensures but understand that even those with formal education or training sometimes have difficulty separating their own personal preferences and opinions from actual truth. All things considered, I encourage you to accept expert advice that encourages a balanced approach to weight loss and overall good health. Such an approach includes regular exercise, a sensible diet based on sound nutrition, and strategies that reflect realistic expectations within your comfort zone so you can implement them for a lifetime.

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