Nutrition red flags

We’ve all seen them.

Those crazy claims on social media. All you have to do is drink apple cider vinegar. Buy this supplement. Read that book.

And everybody sounds so sure of themselves. So credentialed. They’ve done research that “others” don’t want you to know about.

So you try it, and nothing happens, except your bank account is now a bit lighter. Or you feel better for a week or so, then feel worse than before you started.

How do you decipher the noise from the good advice?

The thing is, there are several Nutrition Red Flags to look out for. If you see these red flags, dig deeper and with a critical eye.

Nutrition Red Flag #1 – The Quick Fix

Do they promise weight loss in 1 month? 6 weeks?

Cure your diabetes in 2 weeks?

Making changes to your diet that lead to good health takes time. Rapid weight loss tends to come back just as quickly. And you’ll be lucky if you don’t gain more than you lost.

And your weight is NOT a great indicator of your health, anyway.

Reducing your cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood glucose through diet is not something that happens overnight, no matter how much you may want it to. And then you have to maintain your progress.

If someone tells you something different, there’s a good chance they are more interested in your money than your health.

Nutrition Red Flag #2 – One Size Fits All

Any good health professional will tell you that you must treat the patient, not only the disease.

Many factors go into your current state of health, so there has to be many factors that go into changing it.

A one size fits all approach tends to sound authoritative and impressive when you hear it. But when you break it down, the arguments tend to fall apart.

Nutrition Red Flag #3 – Too Good to be True

Lemon water and apple cider vinegar are big topics these days.  They will give you energy, cure your heartburn, make you drop major weight overnight, prevent cancer, fix all of your digestive woes, and improve your immune system function.

Sounds great. But when you pull back and think about it logically, it doesn’t really make sense, right?  If one little thing could make all of these changes, wouldn’t everyone be doing it?

And does it honestly sound logical that a shot of vinegar every day can overcome all other aspects of a healthy lifestyle? 

Like everything else, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Nutrition Red Flag #4 – Advice that conflicts with most scientific bodies

We see this one from time to time.  Remember coconut oil?

Proponents swore that this super saturated fat was good for your heart, despite piles of evidence that saturated is bad for your heart.  “But it’s different!” they claimed. I don’t think there was a single RDN that was surprised when studies did not back up these claims.

The carnism movement is particularly bad at this. Mounds upon mounds of evidence show us that high intakes of red meat lead to numerous health problems.

Choosing leaner meats and including lots of plant-based options improves our health. Yet the followers of the so-called carnism diet claim that our bad health comes from eating vegetables!

Balance is best, but doesn’t sound exciting on social media.

Nutrition Red Flag #5 – Your doctor doesn’t want you to know about this

They probably don’t, but not because they would rather prescribe you pills. 

It’s because it doesn’t work and will cost you money. It’s because delaying legitimate medical treatment can lead to worse outcomes or even death. It’s not because they don’t want you to get better.

Another variation is that they know something that your doctor doesn’t.  Like they have more access to peer-reviewed documentation and a network of specialists than a doctor does. 

I’m not saying that any doctor knows absolutely everything. However, I am 100% confident they all know more than your high school buddy that once watched a YouTube video or Netflix documentary.

Nutrition Red Flag #6 – Recommendations made to sell a product.

This one should be obvious. If the entire pitch is made to sell XYZ product, you can guarantee that their end goal is your wallet, not your health.

Suggestions for various options, alongside a well-balanced diet, is one thing.  Stating that you need their product to be healthy or counteract your symptoms is another.

Honorable Mentions

  • Using inadequate or non-peer-reviewed sources to make a claim.  A study of 10 people? Not adequate.  Was the study not published in a credible journal? Why not? Because they didn’t submit it for publishing or journals refused to publish it.  Either way, you need to know why
  • A list of “good” and “bad” foods.  There are foods we should eat more frequently and foods we should eat less of. Absolutely. However, when you are given a list that restricts many foods or a particular macronutrient, you should try to figure out why. Generally, it’s bad science, along with a cookbook to sell.
  • Quoting studies that didn’t research people! You would be surprised how often this happens. Rodent models are a start, not a definitive answer. Just because some rat was forced to fast 2 days a week and got a bit skinnier does not mean that you should subscribe to the 5:2 pattern of Intermittent Fasting.


There’s a lot of noise out there.  Be sure to consider the source of your information. 

Is the person credentialed? What studies are they pointing to as evidence? In most cases, a person that is literate in the scientific literature will include the quality of the study in their discussion, as well as a link. 

PubMed offers a huge library of articles for you to read yourself. If something sounds fishy, or you just want to verify, go find the article and read it yourself!

I hope this article makes you consider where you get your information. Although we focused on nutrition red flags here, many of these tactics are common in all areas, including other health factors, money management, parenting, and more.

What red flags have you seen?

What does a dietitian do?

Dietitians are healthcare professionals that undergo extensive coursework and 1200 hours of supervised practice (internship) before we can even take a test to get our credentials.

We are “nutritionists” in the sense that we utilize nutrition science and research to make recommendations to treat a variety of conditions, including eating disorders, kidney and liver failure, all types of diabetes, heart disease, and more.

We can also help you with preventative measures such as decreasing blood pressure and regulating cholesterol levels.

What’s the difference between dietitians and nutritionists?

So, you know how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares? It’s kind of the same thing with us.

All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.

What I mean by this is that dietitians are nutritionists; it’s right there in our credential. The RDN after my name stands for Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Years of school and supervised internships allowed me to take a super long test to prove that I can provide scientific, accurate information.

However, a nutritionist that is not a dietitian has no such burden. In some states, someone can literally just declare that they are a nutritionist. Others require some type of credential, which can be as easy as paying for a 6-week course.

What’s the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist in practice?

A dietitian is trained and licensed to educate and coach clients and patients in a number of different ways. I can tailor diet patterns to each individual client based on their health conditions, personal tastes, lifestyle, cultural background and preferences, and many more considerations.

On top of a credential, many RDNs must also obtain a state license that ensures they adhere to not only the AND/CDR requirements and regulations but the state licensing board as well. This is what the LD behind my name means (licensed dietitian).

A nutritionist, no matter where they are, cannot work outside of wellness and weight loss. Furthermore, when they work on weight loss, they cannot specify many things that I can. They also can’t bill your insurance company. So all services performed by a non-dietitian nutritionist have to be paid out of pocket!

Where do dietitians work?

Dietitians can work in various settings. Currently, I split my time between this private practice and an in-patient psychiatric facility.

There are many other settings that dietitians are an important part of the team.

Hospitals, renal dialysis centers, long-term care, food service (managing the kitchen in a hospital, school system, daycare centers, or correctional facilities), behavioral health, recipe development, sports nutrition, corporate wellness, communications, consumer affairs, public health (such as WIC), research, and more!

So are all non-dietitian nutritionists bad?

No way!

There are many programs out there for nutrition science and human nutrition courses that do not lead to the RDN credential. This coursework can range from a Bachelor’s degree all the way up to a Doctorate!

These people may choose to work in academia or research and have no plans or desire to work with patients or clients.

Others may want to work in the space of wellness and stay out of clinical work, such as in hospitals or with patients that need disease management. They may also decide to work in gyms, in conjunction with dietitians, food blogs, food promotion, and more. And they have the education to do this!

Bottom line

Consider what type of support you’re looking for. If you are looking for a meal plan and a few short ideas, a well-educated nutritionist may work for you. Just beware of red flags.

However, if you need to address a health condition or need long-term behavioral changes, you should work with a dietitian. And also, because every profession has outliers, beware of red flags!

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