It’s time once again for my annual breakdown of the WORST nutrition trends of the past year.
We all love a good end-of year wrap up (best songs of the year, best TV moments, best memes), and I love to share with you the wackiest, most ludacris, and even downright dangerous nutrition trends I’ve encountered this year. Unfortunately for many of trends that made it onto this year’s list you’ve gotta laugh, or you might cry.
This is my second year creating the Dietitian Dirty Dozen list, and the idea for the title for this series comes from a list put out each year by an organization called the Enviromental Working Group (EWG). Dubbed the “dirty dozen”, this is a list of fruits and vegetables they claim to have the highest number of pesticide residues, and as such should be avoided or purchased in their organic forms instead.
Now, the problem with this list is that it:
A. Is complete and total BS. We should not avoid certain fruits or vegetables because of pesticide concerns. Organically grown produce also does not mean it is grown completely chemical-free.
B. Just scares people away from eating fruits and vegetables in general. Especially those who cannot afford organic produce or even find it at their grocery stores. They tend to just buy fewer fruits and vegetables in total, which is really the opposite outcome of what we want!
So, my list is the Dietitian Dirty Dozen. A list of 12 Nutrition trends from the past year that while they may seem like they are trying to make us healthier, they’re really not.
So, let’s go!
The first few on my list all have to do with drinking really weird stuff. For some reason 2018 was definitely the year of strange and disturbing beverage choices…
12. Raw Water
You may be familiar with raw FOOD as a dietary trend, but have you heard of raw water?
The raw foodie movement has come and gone out of the spolight over the years, with the notion that cooking our food destroys all the nutrients. We may as well just eat tree bark for all the nutrition that cooked food is giving us. This time around though, the raw food trend took a very strange and dangerous turn. Raw WATER.
The idea behind raw water is that the processing water typically undergoes (ya know, sanitation to kill harmful bacteria and viruses) leaves us with water that is “dead” and devoid of all the great natural things raw water has to offer. They claim that raw water right from Mother Earth has all sorts of beneficial stuff in it like probiotics and minerals. In reality this natural stuff is more like e. Coli and parasites. Companies who peddle raw water often refer to their products as “live water” (I guess the word raw didn’t perform well in their sales and marketing focus groups), and they’d be happy to sell you this tasty yet risky product for anywhere from $3.70-$6.00 PER LITRE. To put that price into perspective in the city where I live, the tap water from the city (that is clean, safe, and fluoridated) costs 0.182 CENTS per litre. The markup on this stuff in unbelievable.
Now, I have two MAJOR issues with this. The first, obviously is that this water could literally kill you. Raw water could contain any number of contaminants, bacteria, parasites, viruses, or even sewage. None of which we want to be ingesting in our drinking water. This is why water treatment systems were invented in the first place! The regulations for any sort of bottled water products are completely nonexistent and since these companies pride themselves on not cleaning, purifying, or treating their water in any way, you’re really taking a gamble on what’s in that’s bottle.
The second issue I have with the concept of raw water as an expensive luxury item is the global problem of access to clean drinking water. Humans have been finding ways to clean and purify their water sources since ancient times, long before we had any concept of bacteria or the germ theory of disease. People knew that cleaner water was better for them, and as we found out more about the way diseases are spread, water treatment systems became a mainstay of public health. A lack of access to clean water is still a major public health issue in developing countries around the world, and even right here in North America. Some sources estimate that 20% of the world’s population don’t have access to clean drinking water, and that more than 5 million of people die each year as a result. The fact that some are then choosing to spend exorbitant amounts of money on these raw water products just demonstrates how much we take some of these resources we do have for granted. We are so far removed from the daily struggles of so many people worldwide that we trust these for-profit companies before our own public health initiatives. It’s just an absolute slap in the face to those 20%.
So, maybe instead of spending your hard earned money on dangerous water that could spread nasty diseases, consider drinking your local tap water for a fraction of the cost, and donate the rest of the money to safe water drinking inititives!
Yes, you read that right. Turpentine.
Now where I come from turpentine is poison but according to some, it’s a great cure for whatever ails ya. A few celebrities this year made drinking turpentine rather trendy, which drives me absolutely crazy because if someone dies as a result of this BS advice, these celebrities are never going to be held responsible for their quote in a magazine article. We really need to stop asking Celebs what their diet tips and tricks are ’cause this is starting to get outta control.
So, WTF? Turpentine oil (which is what some folks are sipping on, and yes is the same as the paint thinner you might buy at the hardware store) originates from the sap of the pine tree, and was used historically in medicine as a cure for various conditions such as colds, chest congestion, joint and muscle pain, or the legendary candida overgrowth (which is not a real thing anyway!). Now, it’s really important to note here that most of historical medicine was based on absolutely nothing. Before we had the scientific methods we have today (and the knowledge of the human body we have today), people did some really wacky stuff. A lot of it didn’t work, but for some reason people get it into their minds that these old remedies are better than what we have today, and offer the stuff up as a “holistic solution”. Those people are wrong.
Of course these days you don’t have to go to the hardware store to pick up your jug of turpentine oil, which would cost you about $15.00 per litre. Nope, the “alternative medicine” websites are hocking the stuff for upwards of $50.00 for a 100ml bottle. Again, the markup on this stuff is absolutely mind-blowing. Especially when you take into account the fact that you’re buying really expensive POISON. And I’m not exaggerating when I say this- turpentine is an irritant to the skin and eyes, can cause damage to the lungs if inhaled, and harm the kidneys, bladdar, GI tract, and central nervous system if ingested. So please- do NOT drink turpentine, in ANY quantity! I can’t believe I even have to say that.
10. Urine Therapy
Urine… yet another strange beverage choice.
So, there are people out there who think it’s a good idea to drink your own pee. Also referred to as Orin Therapy, Shivambu, uropathy or auto-urine therapy this “treatment” supposedly is good for treating cancer (you would think with all of the amazing alternative cancer treatments out there we would have eradicated it by now, but here we are), amongst other things like skin conditions, toothaches, or insect bites. Urine has also historically been suggested as a therapy for jellyfish stings (like remember that episode of FRIENDS?)
Now I have a feeling this probably won’t really catch on mostly because of the yuck factor, but let’s talk about it anyway just in case you’re thinking it might be worth a shot.
There are absolutely zero health benefits of drinking pee. Zero, zip, zilch. Urine is a substance made by the kidneys to rid the body of waste products. Waste. As in, things the body no longer needs. If we did not have the ability to urinate, we would die very quickly from the buildup of these wastes as they’re toxic to the body in large quantities. There’s no reason to go ahead and put those waste products BACK into your body.
From a nutrition perspective urine DOES contain small amounts of minerals (mostly electrolytes as the body tightly regulates blood levels of these substances and excretes any excess), but I still recommend getting your nutrients from food.
9. Jilly Juice
I mean the name sounds kinda fun, but it probably tastes like dirty old socks.
Created by a woman named Jillian Epperly from Ohio, Jilly Juice is definitely a strange and dangerous beverage choice. Particularly because Jillian claims that no matter your illness, her Jilly Juice is the cure. According to her, this is the cure-all to end all cure-alls. Digestive issues, fatigue, skin conditions, and of course even cancer. But Jillian doesn’t stop there- nope, she even goes so far as to claim that her concoction can cure autism, turn gay people straight, and re-grow amputated limbs. Whoa.
Now, where Ms Epperly got her idea for her miracle cure is tough to say. She has absolutely no training in any sort of nutrition, medical, or pharmaceutical field (she’s not even a naturopath!). Just a member of the public who decided she’s got the secret thats going to save the world. Staunchly anti-medical establishment of any sort, She believes that all human disease arises from an overgrowth in the body of Candida yeast, and that her Jilly Juice is THE solution. Her “protocol” includes drinking 1 gallon of her homemade juice everyday. What exactly is her groundbreaking Jilly Juice? A fermented drink made from cabbage and a whole lotta salt. barf. Side effects include nausea, explosive diarrhea, dizziness, headaches, all of which she says are just the parasites that are infecting you leaving the body. Except that I thought that all disease was cause by candida yeast, not parasites? But for someone with absolutely zero medical expertise it’s all the same thing right? Really though, these side effects are all that salt and fermentable fibres passing through your unsuspecting GI tract.
Now, it’s easy to laugh at all of this wacky business and pride ourselves in the fact that we know better and can obviously see through her BS. Unfortunately that isn’t the case for everyone, especially people who are desperate for a cure for legitimate illnesses, especially people who have conditions which we don’t have real effective medical treatments for yet. It opens the door for people like Jillian Epperly to prey on these people, selling them false hope and quackery.
So how can someone get away with making such obviously outrageous claims about a product without some sort of legal consequences? For the most part it’s because she isn’t actually selling anything. The legal loophole she managed to find herself was in the fact that she was simply sharing a recipe for her juice that the customer would brew at home themselves. The good news in all of this however is that some of her more outlandish claims do break some of her state laws and she is under investigation currently likely to face significant legal consequences. I love a happy ending!
Why get your vitamins from food when you can just hook ’em right to your veins?
Now, this is one I have a very hard time wrapping my head around, since it’s so often promoted by naturopaths, holistic nutritionists, and others who tout “naturalness” as the best way to look after our health. IV (intravenous) vitamin therapy.
A little background: The human body has adapted to absorb vitamins and minerals through the walls of the gastrointestinal tract. That is the natural way in which we get nutrients from the foods we eat. This is how other animals that eat food get their nutrients as well. If we want to talk about holistic nutrition, or trying to maintain a more “natural” way of living, isn’t getting nutrients from food the logical approach?
Now, somewhere along the way someone decided that the human body obviously wasn’t doing it’s job very well, and we should bypass the GI tract completely and start giving people their vitamins injected straight into their veins. What on EARTH is natural about that!?
First of all, no one other than a qualified professional is getting their hands anywhere near me with any sort of needle, especially not someone who learned this particular ‘therapy’ during their online nutrition certification course. Secondly, why can’t my gut be trusted to get the nutrients it needs from food on it’s own?
There is absolutely nothing less natural than all the pills and potions many of these alternative practitioners recommend, and this one is by far the most unsettling. The only exception is the case of vitamin B12- some people do require injections of this vitamin due to poor absorption in the GI tract. BUT, do not run out and get vitamin influsions willy nilly. Always check with your doctor or Dietitian before taking any nutrition supplements.
7. Mouth Cooking
Come for the food, stay for the saliva
Spending as much time on social media as we tend to do, I really thought there wasn’t much I hadn’t heard of when it came to wacky nutrition trends. Boy was I wrong! A fellow RD on Twitter very nicely pointed me toward this particularly gag-worthy trend when I started digging around for this year’s list. Mouth cooking. This very odd (and yes, risky!) trend seems to have started as a bit of a ruse, via an online video created by artist Nathan Ceddia from Berlin. The original video was created as an artistic piece and featured an actress preparing a meal using her mouth rather than proper utensils like knives. She simply tears and chews the raw ingredients to the desired consistency. As I said this video was not meant to be taken seriously however the artist reported in an interview that he also intended to inspire a new way of cooking and is currently in the process of creating recipes specifically designed to be “mouth cooked”. Yum.
Even reading about this concept made me feel quite squeamish. I guess I just don’t understand art.
Aside from the obvious ick factor there are some serious risks associated with this, even if you’re only cooking for one. Which I hope you are! Some raw ingredients could contain harmful bacteria (the video I mentioned above includes the actress swishing a raw egg in her mouth before spitting it into her stuffing mix). Doing this with raw meat would be highly unadvisable. Unless you’re ok with food poisoning.
I’m just bloody tired of it
Look, I love my veggies as much as the next person, and cauliflower is a lovely addition to any meal or veggie and dip tray- but this obsession with cauliflower has. Got. To. Stop.
First, it was the cauliflower rice. Then we had mashed cauliflower attempting to replace mashed potatoes, and now you’re trying to make me eat cauliflower PIZZA CRUST? What’s next, cauliflower ice cream? Cauliflower cookies?
Stop it already.
5. Placenta Supplements
Because why should us childless women have to go without the benefits of eating placenta?
Now, the concept of consuming the placenta after birth isn’t a new trend. Certain animal species do routinely do this after giving birth, so eating your own placenta after birth is certainly not as crazy as some of the other things on this list. As crazy. The logic behind this strange trend being that animals must do this for a reason, and it’s probably all the super nutritious stuff in a placenta like vitamins, minerals, and stem cells. All those wonderful things that kept your baby alive for the past 9 months. It’s not just, ya know, a way to avoid attracting predators with the scent of blood. Nope, definitely the nutrients. So while it’s certainly not something many of us would ever consider doing because of a definite yuck factor, it’s a thing that some people do and that’s fine. Unnecessary, but fine. Generally discouraged among medical professionals, but fine.
Meanwhile the rest of us would just have to go on living our lives and try to make it in this world without the fabulous health benefits of eating our placentas.
A news headline popped up on my social media feeds recently, warning consumers about the dangers of taking placenta SUPPLEMENTS. Like, purchasing and consuming products that have been made with someone ELSE’S PLACENTA. I suppose someone decided that it wasn’t fair to all of us out here who either have had no children and therefore have never had the opportunity to create a placenta, or who perhaps did not know about the benefits of eating their placenta and foolishly allowed it to be discarded post-birth. Or, maybe simply want to continue to reap the benefits of eating placenta beyond eating the one they made? What about men, shouldn’t they also be allowed the opportunity to enjoy the health benefits of eating placenta?
So, they came up with a solution: Make placenta pills. This way anyone can purchase and reap the benefits of “youth in a pill” as one source nicely phrases it.
Things have officially gone too far.
The first thought that comes to mind for me is that you have no idea WHERE or WHAT that placenta came from. Because even if a product’s label says it came from a specific source, the lack of regulation in the supplement industry could mean that just isn’t true.
So, I did a quick online search to see what we might be getting ourselves into. I turned up two main types of products – ones which did contain information about where the placenta came from (sheep mainly), but others did not. Which is obviously very questionable. We also do not know how that placenta was handled, processed, or what kind of bacteria or diseases that person (or animal?) may been exposed to. Of course the other (and somewhat likely option in my opinion) is that these products really don’t actually contain what they say they do. But in case they do, contact with someone (or something) else’s bodily fluids is pretty serious business, so I don’t care WHAT kind of super-eternal-life-giving-nutrients they claim is in that thing DO NOT PUT SOMEONE ELSE’S PLACENTA IN YOUR MOUTH. PERIOD!
4. The Microbiome
We really need to pump the brakes here
You’ve probably heard a lot of buzz this year about the secrets of the human microbiome. An entire universe of microorganisms that are living on us, and inside us. These bacteria are so numerous that some sources estimate we were made up of more bacterial DNA than human DNA. Which may freak you out, but these bacteria are really important for keeping us healthy! We know that our microbiome plays a role in our immune system (through our GI tract and skin), may be a factor in decreasing the risk of certain types of cancers (such as colon cancer), digestive disorders, weight regulation, and even mental health. What we don’t know at this point is what exactly to do about all of it. There is a LOT of research to be done for us to fully understand the complexities of the microbiome and be able to make alterations to it in order to optimize health.
So, that’s about where we’re at right now with what we know of the microbiome. But that doesn’t stop the supplement and alternative medicine industry from taking these concepts and running with them far beyond what the evidence actually supports.
For example, companies that will test your microbiome and give you a report as to what “bugs” are living inside you, as well as suggest/sell you products claiming to be personalized for you. Or, companies that sell probiotic supplements claiming to have proof that they will improve your immunity, mental health, or general ‘wellbeing’. Some have also gone so far as to claim that all human disease probably extends from a bad microbiome so that is where we must go to fix all of the various diseases we may suffer from.
Unfortunately, most of this isn’t backed up by evidence yet. What we currently know of the microbiome is very limited, and we know even less about what the perfect microbiome IS, nevermind how to get that perfect mix of bugs into each of us. Perhaps an optimal microbiome for you is different than the perfect microbiome for me? I say let’s wait and see before we start buying microbiome altering products or searching out the perfect donor for a fecal transplant. Eat a nutritious diet with plenty of fibre and include some fermented foods if you want to help your natural microbiome flourish, and leave it at that…for now!
3. Food is Medicine
Food was only medicine when there was literally nothing else to choose from!
We often hear “Food is Medicine” as a way to promote healthy eating and good nutrition. This quote dates way back to around 400B.C when Hippocrates (often credited as the Father of Modern Medicine) is quoted as saying “Let Food Be Thy Medicine and Medicine be Thy Food”. Even when I was studying nutrition this phrase was sort of thrown around as a way of supporting a Dietitian’s importance in good health and key role on a medical team. And this concept certainly can be applied to some disease states, particularly in situtations where nutrient deficiencies are a major public health concern. Food literally could be medicine for the people affected by these diseases of deficiency. And of course today we know the importance of good nutrition in preventing disease, and the use of medical nutrition therapy in helping to treat many conditions. Some diseases really can be managed with proper nutrition, but it’s important not to take things too far…
Some people have really taken Hippocrates quote to a new and wacky extreme. Not only do they believe that food is literally medicine, they believe that food should be our ONLY medicine. They feel that modern medicine (like vaccines, insulin, antibiotics, medications for heart disease or high blood pressure) have only made us more sick, and that the right diet is all we really need to cure and prevent illness. This could not be further from the truth. What I really want to emphasize here is that previous to our era of modern medicine, all anyone HAD was food, herbal remedies, and prayers to cure diseases and guess what? People died! On average, life expectancy in this country has almost doubled in the past century and we can absolutely thank modern medicine for much of that improvement.
You can’t cure cancer with food, you can’t cure type 1 diabetes with food, you can’t cure mental illness with food, and you certainly cannot cure nasty infectious diseases with food. In many situations nutrition can play an important role in helping to manage a condition, but it in no way can replace real medical interventions.
Yes, a nutritious diet has plenty of scientifically proven health benefits, but when we’re sick, we need a real cure.
2. Flat Tummy Co
These people just don’t know when to quit
This slot could really be given to the absurd realm of “detox” products as a whole, but this year Flat Tummy Co really takes the cake for being the absolute worst of them all.
I first heard about Flat Tummy Co after an instagram post from Kim Kardashian-West got some major backlash earlier this year. She had posted a picture of herself with one of their appetite suppressing suckers as an advertisement for their products. The rules around social media sponsored content has certainly changed over the years, in that now any paid content must be stated as such, but does that really matter? Whether your favourite celebrity was paid to promote the product or not they’re still trying to convince you that it works and that you should buy it. The amount of sponsored content on my social media feeds definitely tells me that there is still major profit in these paid posts, otherwise companies just wouldn’t bother spending the money on them.
Detoxing is BS, and these Flat Tummy Co products in particular are simply laxatives, meant to make you run to the bathroom a LOT. This may lead you to believe that you’re getting rid of some buildup of toxins in your GI tract (which is often blamed for bloating). In reality this is just the contents of your GI tract running through you more quickly than usual. The “flat tummy” you have after using these products is a combination of dehydration and the placebo effect. You think you’ll have a flatter tummy after using doing their detox, so subjectively you will.
Now, your body already has all the detoxifying equipment it needs. Your liver, kidneys, and GI tract are responsible for making sure the good stuff stays in, and the bad stuff stays out. They do a perfectly wonderful job all on their own. If for some reason they aren’t doing that job, these detox shakes or teas WILL NOT HELP. Seek medical attention immediately.
The sad part is, despite the overwhelmingly negative feedback from these advertisements, the company has trucked on, paying more celebrities to hock their products and influence their fans. Read more about why you should never take nutrition advice from celebrities
1. The Carnivore Diet
Hey keto…hold my beer
Just when you thought low-carb diets couldn’t get any low-carber, the carnivore diet emerged as an absolutely zero-carb diet. As almost a test of how extreme a diet can get, it certainly takes the cake as my WORST nutrition trend of 2018. But, if you’re currently reading this as a carnivore eater- hear me out before sending all the hate mail!
Now, the ketogenic diet (carnivore’s baby brother), which I’ve discussed at length here is a diet really only concerned with the total amount of dietary carbohydrates. If a food is low-carb, it’s allowed. This means that cheese, plain greek yogurts, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, and even a small amount of berries are often included. Ya know, for balance. There are many discussion threads on various websites about the extent to which carbs need to be limited in order for someone to be considered ‘keto’ (which would vary quite a bit person to person with activity level, etc, so all that talk is a lot of BS), But that apparently wasn’t enough for some folks. Nope, they decided “why even eat plants at all?” and went full-carnivore. A meat-only diet. They claim to lose weight, feel great, and have achieved optimal health by tossing aside all “conventional” dietary advice (as well as seemingly all semblance of common sense). They’re loud, they’re proud, and can often be spotted by the (c) next to their social media handles.
One of the main arguments the carnivores make is that fibre isn’t an essential nutrient, therefore unnecessary and really just a waste of everyone’s time. They also make the claim that plant foods (both the digestible carbohydrates and the fibre) are toxic to humans and that eating them causes gastrointestinal issues, inflammation, and of course, is the cause of all modern disease. #mealheals is a common hashtag used by these folks when telling their stories of how this diet changed their lives.
As a Dietitian, I can understand why a person might come to these conclusions, and it isn’t as crazy as you might think. But, I still think the carnivore diet is a terrible idea, and probably going to do way more harm than good in the long run.
So, imagine someone struggling for years with a condition like irritable bowel (IBS), crohns/colitis, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or undiagnosed celiac disease. Imagine that same person perhaps living in a place where their healthcare system does not make it easy to access the specialty care they need to properly diagnose and manage their disease. Imagine this person also cannot afford the cost of the medications that could help them. There is a huge stigma surrounding these digestive disorders, such that many people even seeking out help for their struggles have a difficult time discussing these problems. Digestive disorders can be unbelievably frustrating to live with and have huge impact on a person’s quality of life. They often come accompanied with significant alterations in the functioning of the GI tract, pain, unpredictable bowel habits, fatigue, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and a huge list of other problems. Foods such as gluten, dietary fibre, or FODMAP sugars can all be major triggers for the symptoms these people encounter on a daily basis. When they remove all plant foods from their diets, their GI tracts are no longer triggered, and they truly do feel better, even if they never know what the issue really was. But the problem isn’t really solved unfortunately. The carnivore diet is just a band-aid solution likely to cause even larger issues down the road. There is a plethora of evidence to suggest that a higher-fibre diet is healthier for us in the long-run, so to completely eliminate all plant foods is just not a great idea, even if it is temporarily making someone feel better.
Now, my issues with the carnivore diet lie in it’s nutritional inadequacy, illogical foundations, and lack of sustainability. And, as a Dietitian I always want to know WHY a person is experiencing a problem, and if a change in nutrition fixed it, WHAT was the change and WHY did it fix it? If we just do a massive restriction of all plant foods, we’ll never have our answer.
Nutritionally speaking, we as humans evolved as omnivores. We were made to eat plants as well as animal foods and limiting ourselves to a single food choice is just not what our bodies need. We also have very good evidence to support eating MORE plants, not less for good health and disease prevention. The carnivore promoters share several examples of populations around the world who at times would survive on a diet of primarily meat- such as the Inuit in Northern Canada, or the Massai in Kenya. And they’re not wrong, except that they’re NOT members of those populations. Nor did those groups live only on meat their entire lives. If a population adapted over generations to an all-meat diet, they may have slightly different physiology that allows them to thrive on those limited food choices for short periods of time. The people I see online debating the value of the carnivore diet is usually a bunch of white folks who have never had to catch a seal or chase down a wild animal in order to eat it.
Many people on the carnivore diet lose a lot of weight. This is not because the diet is good for you. If you limited your diet to ANY single food it is almost guaranteed you would lose weight because it’s REALLY hard to get all your daily calories from a single source. It’s boring! Especially if that food is something like unseasoned ground beef. (oh yea, most carnivore eaters don’t eat any seasonings on their meat either. I’m not sure what sort of punishment they’re looking for but this is some serious dietary self-flagellation in my opinion). Can’t food be fun sometimes too?
And of course the long-term sustainability is a major concern with something like the carnivore diet, because a person must restrict themselves to only a handful of foods. Holidays, socializing, or hell even just the fun of trying new things are all much more challenging when we are only able to eat one thing. And on top of all that, some food sensitivity issues (such as the GI distress a person can experience if they eat FODMAP sugars) can actually become WORSE we restrict them for more than just a few weeks without re-introduction. So a person may have a very difficult time re-introducing carbohydrates and fibre into their diet down the road if they change their mind about the whole carnivore thing.
So, if you are having digestive issues, reach out to a Dietitian who specializes in managing these types of disorders. They can help you find a way to keep plant foods in your life while managing your digestive concerns. Just please don’t go carnivore!
So, that’s a wrap guys! I hope you enjoyed reading my 2018 Dietitian Dirty Dozen as much as I enjoyed researching it and writing it!
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Want to check out the list from last year? Worst Nutrition Trends of 2017