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10 ways to be an expert at spotting nutrition quackery

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Sep 2, 2015

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From the days of well-dressed salesmen selling snake oil to the sleek professional websites on the internet of today, you need to know how to protect yourself from nutrition quackery. If you don’t, you may be wasting money on fraudulent nutrition services that are ineffective or risky to your health. Nutrition quackery is defined as the promotion for financial gain, of devices, treatments, services, plans, or products claimed to improve health, well-being, or appearance without proof of safety or effectiveness. The expansion of this industry has been a problem often hard for government regulation or enforcement. Would you know how to spot nutrition quackery if you saw it? Here are the top ten ways to identify it and to prevent you from being duped into something you don’t need:

Healthy apple - don't fall prey to nutrition quackery

1. Sounds too good to be true or promises a quick fix

Anytime something promises quick, simple answers to complex problems, it’s playing on people want to hear. Sure, we all want to lose 15 pounds in a week, but it forgets to tell you that the likelihood of keeping it off is not very good. Or maybe it’s a nutritional supplement telling you it can “cure diabetes, gout, ulcers and cancer.” No one product can possibly treat such a diverse array of conditions.

2. Wants to make you suspicious about the food supply

This plays on people’s fears and wants to create distrust of the food supply. Usually supplements are being sold that will supposedly make up the difference in what our food has to offer. Eating real food is still our best source of nutrients and is how our bodies best assimilate and absorb nutrients. The farmers and ranchers of this country do an excellent job of growing, harvesting and supplying us with nutritious food to enjoy and nourish our bodies.

3. Testimonials

We’ve all seen the “before” and “after” pictures of weight-loss products. The problem though is the success of that individual is not a guarantee that the products will produce the same results for you. The individuals’ results are not compared to a control group or subjected to scientific evaluation. To assume similar results will occur in other people cannot be expected.

4. Fake credentials

If someone is selling you a nutritional supplement, always ask for their credentials. What kind of background do they have in nutrition? Do they have a degree in any type of human nutrition or what is their knowledge in nutrition based upon?

5. Whole food groups are eliminated

If you are being told you need to eliminate a food group, as an example, dairy foods, this raises a red flag. A healthy diet will allow and contain foods from all the food groups. To obtain the various vitamins and minerals we need daily, we need to eat food from each food group in its natural form as possible – doing so insures we are getting the right combination of important vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, fat, carbohydrate, antioxidants and phytochemicals to stay healthy.

6. Meaningless medical jargon

Here’s an example you might see on a nutrition supplement label – “Beats the hunger stimulation point or HSP.” Huh? I’ve never heard of HSP. If there is unknown medical jargon on a food or supplement label, this is usually a phony term to hide lack of scientific proof.

7. Use of the word “natural”

The word “natural” is often used on many different foods and nutritional supplements. We all love seeing the word “natural” as we associate it with pure or not contaminated, but it has no legal definition when used on a label and can pretty much mean anything. Natural is not necessarily any better or safer and it’s used more as a means of a selling point.

8. Pushes megadoses of supplements

Often people selling nutritional supplements tell you to take a much higher amount of a nutrient than what is necessary. This is known as megadosing. A megadose of a supplement is defined as 10 times what the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is for a nutrient. The RDA’s are based on clinical studies of what is needed for individuals for a particular nutrient. However, the supplement industry is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and therefore can make various health claims on dietary supplements. Remember, they are in the business of selling nutritional supplements and will want you to doubt that you are obtaining what you need.

9. “Supplements” and “health foods” are recommended to everyone

People in the business of selling supplements and health foods will tell you that regular food is not good enough or has deficiencies, therefore all of us need to take a nutritional supplement. Scientific research tells us that eating regular food contains components that interact in a synergistically complex manner that bests benefits our overall health. “Health food” is a deceptive term. Our dietary intake should be based upon our overall diet and the food choices we make. All grocery stores have healthy foods to choose from but it’s up to us to make the right choices that will keep us healthy. Often the supplements and health foods they are trying to sell you are more expensive than just purchasing regular food.

10. They offer special tests to determine your nutritional status

If you are recommended or offered to have done a hair analysis, amino acid analysis of urine or some other unscientific test to determine your nutritional status, don’t bother. You can be guaranteed the test will show you are nutrient deficient and are in need of buying the supplements they are selling. Tests to determine nutritional status should be done by either a medical doctor or registered dietitian which include a physical exam, and blood or urine tests performed by a medical laboratory.

Who are the nutrition experts?
Qualified nutrition experts are registered dietitians (RD) or licensed dietitians (LD). They have specialized degrees in dietetics, nutrition, public health or a related science from an accredited university. Many hold advanced degrees such as M.S., M.Ed., Sc.D., M.D., or Ph.D. Continuing education must be done on a regular basis to maintain registration status and to keep current on new nutrition research. To find or to be referred to a registered dietitian, check with your physician or local hospital or seek out the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) website to find a dietitian in your area:

This article was originally featured on Dr. Samadi’s website ©. To read more, follow this link.

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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.