8 tips to spot fad diets and health scams

It’s hard to believe just how many fads come and go. But some get so much hype that it’s really tough to sort through the fact from fiction. Here are some tips to help guide you.

• If it promotes common every day foods as being toxic to everyone, steer clear of the recommendation. Case in point, lectins. These substances, found in plant foods in varying amounts, have suddenly become the trendy dietary culprit. Lectin-free diets are being touted for Tom Brady’s on-field successes and Gisele Bündchen great body. So if avoiding lectins allows you to play football like Tom Brady or to look like Gisele Bündchen, stands to reason we should all follow this dietary advice.

If only.

Avoiding lectins is not a new thing but not all are created equal. I remember hearing way back when first studying nutrition that you should not eat raw kidney beans as the lectins contained are toxic. But when out of nowhere, all lectins are painted with the same brush, it’s time to point out there is no science behind this.

But how this is suddenly has become accepted as dietary dogma is baffling to me. It is everywhere! I was looking at an article rating dairy free ice creams which led me to a recipe for avocado toast. Here’s what I saw when Drew Barrymore’s recipe was described:

Just forget about going lectin free.

• If you read the words how to detox or cleanse, it’s time to move on. Our bodies have a liver, kidneys and our skin to take care of this. Any dietary regime or supplement that’s supposed to do this is likely best avoided.

• Skip the dietary supplements or special foods that rely only on testimonials. If you do see any scientific studies supporting the product listed on the website, check to see if the research has been published in a peer-reviewed journal. If you’re not sure, Google the journal to check out its validity. Many websites post research that look as though it’s valid but in fact, it’s never been published anywhere that’s a recognized reputable source.

Unfortunately, that’s not to say that lately some questionable research has been published in previously reliable journals. But it’s still a good general rule of thumb.

• If Gwyneth Paltrow is promoting it, you know it’s not based on science. Vaginal steaming. Bee stings for healthier looking skin. Forget about them all.

• If the supplement promises your fruit and vegetable servings can be had in a few pills or in a small amount of powder, save your money. They don’t even come close to supplementing what you should be consuming in a day, never mind even just one meal. While the list of fruits and vegetables contained can be mighty impressive, when you look at the amounts of each, it’s nothing short of stunning.

For example, one product lists 20 mg of orange which translates into 0.004 teaspoons and peach with 10 mg is half that. Consider that a dried apricot half weighs 3.5 grams or 3500 mg. So when you compare that 10 or 20 mg of various fruits or vegetables contained, it would be similar to 1/350th of a dried fruit! Even when you add water and fibre to the portion sizes, the amounts add up to next to nothing.

Give me a break!

• If it promotes a long-standing medical procedure as something to do on a daily basis, be skeptical. Case in point, activated charcoal. You can find it in everything today from ice cream and pizza crust to supplements. While it has long been used in emergency rooms as an antidote for ingested poisons, it is not recommended to deal with consuming excessive amounts of anything. It’s not a hangover cure no matter what you’re told. And keep in mind, that activated charcoal can interfere with the absorption of every day medications such as oral contraceptives.

• If the TV commercial, website or promotional material promises quick weight loss, run fast in the other direction. Yes, you can lose weight fast but you will put it back even more quickly-even if Marie Osmond has been able to keep it off. I’ve seen clients who were able to lose huge amounts of weight on various regimes and then the weight started coming back on. The most heartbreaking case I remember was the woman who came to me for help as she had lost over 100 pounds somewhat quickly- she was walking 3 miles a day and eating only 1500 calories daily and yet was putting on at least 1 pound per week. And she put it all back.

If you want your weight loss to be non-refundable – in other words not gain it back- been in for a weight loss of 1/2 to 1 pound per week maximum.

And by the way, even though Marie Osmond, who promotes Nutrisystem,  says her family is proud of her for losing weight, how much a person weighs should not be a source of pride.

• If it sounds too good to be true, then, unfortunately, you know – maybe deep down but you know –  it is. There are no quick fixes- as much as we would love to believe in them!

Healthy eating is key for promoting good health for your tomorrows but is also critical for providing fuel for feeling vital today. But at the same time, don’t forsake the pleasure of eating in a quest for good nutrition. Life just seems longer.


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Categories: Food Trends, Rosie's Rants

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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