The Dietitian Dirty Dozen: Worst Nutrition Trends of 2019

Nutrition and Diet

I just want to start off this final post of 2019 with a huge THANK YOU to every one of you who’s read, subscribed, shared, liked, and taken the time to comment on my work. Sharing an article or liking an instagram post may seem like a small gesture, but I see and appreciate every single one. Thanks for making 2019 a great one!

Anyway, it’s officially time for my end-of year wrap up! This time of year is always an opportunity to reflect and think about our progress and achievements. It’s also a time of year for list making. From top songs (does anyone else get absolutely pumped when Spotify sends them their most-played songs of the year?), top news articles, or in our case- top 12 WORST nutrition trends of the year!

I call my list the “Dietitian Dirty Dozen”, which is named after the classic example of nutrition-BS from the environmental working group. 

So, my Dietitian Dirty Dozen list is an annual round-up of the 12 WORST nutrition trends we saw make waves this year. I had a few ideas of my own, but also took to twitter (@stephHfitness) and instagram (@stephthedietitian) to see what you guys thought, and boy did I get some great responses! I laughed, I cringed, and sometimes I just had to shake my head.

Keep on reading to see what made my list for the top 12 WORST nutrition trends of 2019!

Drumroll please!……

12. Aim for your Leanest Livable Weight

Coming in at number 12 on my list we have the single worst piece of diet advice one could ever give. (well, maybe second worst- wait until you see #11!)

When you hear the phrase “leanest livable weight” what do you think of? Because I know I think of trying to get as thin as I possibly can without dropping dead.

So, where did this all start, and were it’s intentions really to encourage us all to strive for our lowest weight possible no matter the cost?

No, but in a world of click bait titles and 280-character limits, let’s be honest sometimes we’re all guilty of not actually reading the article. This particular poor choice of wording came from a GOOP article (in case you’re not sure what GOOP is it’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s dumpster fire of a health and wellness brand), in which the writer was actually recommending NOT doing crazy things to lose weight. What they meant by “leanest livable weight” was from a quality of life perspective, not a survival perspective. They were merely trying to suggest that a person should strive to stay at the lower end of their body’s natural “set point” weight range that doesn’t require any wacky dieting to maintain. The trouble is, how many people did get the wrong message and instead are going to celebrate any amount of weight loss no matter what extreme measures they have to go to, or be less concerned with negative side effects of extreme leanness, like hormone disruption, loss of menstrual cycles, or nutrient deficiencies?

Another big take-home message here is for all of us that are creating and sharing content in the social media and blogging world: we need to be so careful with our choice of words. People take the things we say seriously, and we need to be aware of potential harm we may cause by not thinking about how our messaging may be received. Using stigmatizing terminology, or unintentionally motivating someone to do something dangerous should be front of mind for anyone sharing information online.

And for everyone else? Just stay off GOOP.

11. The 5-Bite Diet

A great example of why we shouldn’t be putting doctors in charge of giving nutrition advice

Now, you probably don’t really need me to tell you what this one is all about. As you can probably guess the 5-Bite diet limits dieters to just 5 bites of food. At lunch and dinner that is. Unfortunately you don’t get 5 bites of breakfast, you get zero. Sorry.

So just to be clear, that’s zero breakfast (just black coffee and a multivitamin), with only 5 bites of food at lunch and at dinner. All in all you’re estimated to get about 800 calories per day (although that could vary dramatically depending on specific food choices). Created by a California MD named Dr. Alwin Lewis, this diet is cruelly and unnecessarily restrictive, and ultimately going to harm people more than help them. Dr. Lewis also greatly overestimates the actual nutritional value of a multivitamin, like it’s somehow an acceptable meal replacement (it isn’t)

Dr. Lewis says “the thinner you are the healthier you are and the longer you will live”. I say “GTFO”.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that this diet is so wacky even Dr. Oz didn’t recommend it.

The person who shared this suggestion with me for my list this year felt that this diet is really an eating disorder in disguise, and I completely agree. Dr. Lewis’s statement about thinner being better is also completely and totally untrue. There is absolutely a point at which being too thin is bad for our physical health. Despite the huge issues with using BMI to assess health in general, even there we do have a lower end cut off where we’d be pretty concerned about a person being underweight. There is also a point at which extreme dieting practices like these ones are bad for our mental health, which in turn is bad for our physical health too. Considering Anorexia Nervosa is the number one most deadly mental health condition, it makes this diet and it’s creator’s statements pretty damn fucked up.

If something is too awful for even Dr. Oz to get on board with, best to steer clear.

10. Dieting for Children

There were a few trends this year that involved kids and food that were particularly cringe-worthy.

The first was the partnership of Weight Watchers with Kurbo- a weight loss app that’s targeted at children between ages 8 and 17. WW has been working hard to undergo a ‘re-brand’ that focuses on health and wellness, not weight, so this new partnership was extra strange given that it’s rife with the same before and after pictures and weight loss stories we’re used to seeing from WW. Except, you know, with 12 year olds.

Overall there were some mixed feelings about the app, and even I can see why a person might feel like it’s a good thing, but I Kurbo got a spot on my list for just completely missing the bigger picture. Programs like this just don’t have the ability to address the social determinants of health that lead some children to be more prone to obesity and chronic disease than others, and the monthly fee for the program is hella expensive, which is going to create even more barriers for these lower-income families. All in all, it gets a fail from me.

To read more about my thoughts on Kurbo for Kids, click here 

9. Hydrogen Water

Move over alkaline water, hydrogen water is here!

What on earth is hydrogen water? Glad you asked!

Hydrogen water is water to which hydrogen molecules have been added. These hydrogen molecules raise the pH of the water (creating alkaline water) act as antioxidants in the water, providing benefits to us such as reducing inflammation, decreasing risk of metabolic syndrome, reducing side effects of cancer treatments, and remove acidity from the body.

When companies made the switch from promoting their products as “alkaline water” to “hydrogen water” I’m not sure- might have been right around the time the creator of the pH Miracle diet went to prison for fraud…

So, obviously this is a bunch of BS. Your body has several mechanisms in place which regulate the pH of your bloodstream incredibly tightly. Our digestive tract, lungs, and kidneys all play various roles in keeping our pH in check and if our acid/base balance goes out of wack- we die. Staying hydrated is important for good health, but the only thing these fancy waters can have a real impact on is your wallet.

8. Potato Hack Diet

I’ll give you one guess what this is all about…

This silly diet makes my list just for having the word ‘hack’ in it. Seriously. It’s just a diet where all you eat is potatoes for a few days to lose a bunch of weight. It’s a relatively simple strategy compared to some of the other diets du jour that make people calculate their net carbs and pee on ketone strips. The guy who wrote the potato hack diet book took the idea from an old-timey remedy for people who encountered GI issues from “living too luxuriously”. He really loves potatoes and calls them “the best diet pill ever invented”. Can’t hate on a guy for being down with his veggies, however I think we can all agree this particular diet isn’t exactly a great recipe for sustainability. And like all “lose weight fast” schemes, most people wind up unable to maintain their weight loss- often regaining more weight than they even lost in the first place. And so goes the cycle.

Unfortunately, potatoes have definitely gotten a bad rap over the past few years. They’re white and starchy, so often get roped into the category of “refined grains” that we’re always encouraging people to avoid. They also frequently come to us in fried form, covered in butter, gravy, cheese, or sour cream which definitely doesn’t help their case. But a baked, boiled, or roasted potato is actually a great source of nutrients like potassium, and despite being white in color, is absolutely not a refined grain! Just eat the whole potato (including the skin!) to get the most nutrients possible. And ya know, add some other stuff to your meal too.

7. Direct to Consumer Food Sensitivity Testing

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) food sensitivity tests are another up and coming trend in the nutrition world. Before the popularity and ease of online ordering, most people got these tests done through some type of alternative medicine provider- like a naturopath or chiropractor. Now several companies have begun to market their products directly to consumers, no middle man needed. You simply order a test kit, send in a sample (usually blood), and in a few weeks they’ll send you a detailed analysis of which foods you may have intolerances or sentivities to.

The only problem is that these tests are total BS.

These DTC food sensitivity tests are not actually capable of diagnosing a real food sensitivity. They’re just not in the same ballpark as going to get testing done by an actual allergist. You see, these tests are looking at something called IgG antibodies in the blood, which are not used to determine if someone has an allergy or intolerance to a food. All IgG antibodies can tell us is if a person has been exposed to a certain food. Which means these tests can tell us what you’ve eaten, but not if you’re having a negative reaction to a food. All they’re good for is creating food fears and anxiety around eating that people just don’t need.

To read more about at-home food sensitivity tests, click here. And, if you think you’ve got undiagnosed food intolerances, go see a Dietitian!

6. Eating Dirt for Gut Health

If you read my list last year, you may remember the buzz around our microbiome earned it’s place. And it looks like things have only gotten wackier when it comes to promoting good health from the inside out.

Proponents of the practice of dirt eating (called geophagia) speak of this as an ancient practice that dates back to ancient civilizations. Which is kinda true. Historically, dirt and clay were eaten to treat a variety of stomach ailments. It’s also claimed that this practice would boost immunity, provide needed vitamins and minerals that were lacking in ancient diets, support a healthy microbiome, and prevent parasites or pathogens from making people sick.

Now, I actually do recall reading a little this year about how the small amounts of dirt we might find on fruits and vegetables can contribute to better microbiome health and actually improve mood, but that is a FAR cry from heading out to the garden with a spoon.

There are a few reasons why you should absolutely not do this: The first, is that doing things just because old-timey people did them is ridiculous. People back then had to do things like eating dirt for stomach issues because that’s literally all they had. They did not have access to the range of diagnostic tests, pharmaceuticals, OTC medications, or any of the things we are able to benefit from today’s modern medicine. No, they could choose between suffering, and eating dirt (and probably still suffering). The other reason is that eating dirt, especially large amounts of it could be extremely dangerous. Especially if that dirt contains a lot of clay. Clay in the digestive system could literally clog your pipes, causing a bowel obstruction, which is a big, big problem. Dirt may also contain a variety of minerals, but that doesn’t mean they’re in forms which our bodies’ can metabolize and extract the nutrients from. We also want to be extremely careful about where we get this dirt from, since contamination could be a major concern in some areas.

So, sure, go ahead and eat your fruits and vegetables, and perhaps the tiny amount of dirt that might come along with them. But please, please do not use dirt as a nutrition supplement.

5. The Vegan Keto Diet

It was only a matter of time really…

Two of the most prominent dietary trends over the past few years have been the keto diet and people going vegan. The trouble is, for all intensive purposes these two diets preach the complete opposite of one another- one blaming carbohydrates and insulin for all our health woes, while the other points the finger at saturated fat, animal proteins, and compounds like heme iron. It’s enough to make my head spin, I can only imagine how all my clients feel reading all this conflicting information!

So, as one might expect it was only a matter of time until someone came up with a great idea… a vegan keto diet that gives you the best of both worlds! Or maybe the worst? I’m not sure…

What foods can you actually eat on a vegan keto diet?

Well, on a keto diet you have to eliminate grains, fruits, starchy vegetables, pulses, milk, yogurt, and all added sugars. You’re allowed to eat small amounts of non-starchy vegetables, meats, eggs, cheeses, added fats, and maybe some nuts/nut butters. Your carbohydrate intake must be extremely low to remain in ketosis.

On a vegan diet you have to eliminate all animal products- no meat, eggs, or dairy. You can eat grains, pulses, fruits, nuts/seeds, non-animal fats and both starchy and non-starchy vegetables.

So that means on a vegan keto diet you can eat non-starchy vegetables, some nuts and seeds, and added fats. Oh, and coconut. Ya know, for variety.

There’s definitely a time and place for a ketogenic diet, and a time and a place for a vegan diet. Just not together. I’ll stop right here and just say that this diet is not and will never be nutritionally adequate without some serious nutrient supplementation. It’s just a bad idea.

4. The Wonderful World of Fasting

If there’s one diet trend we all heard about constantly in 2019, it was fasting.

Intermittent fasting has scored a spot on previous DD lists of mine, and it’s popularity is only climbing. Some research into the physiological processes that occur in the body during periods of fasting has definitely helped drive this trend, with “autophagy” becoming a household word. The variations on fasting have also become endless- from time-restricted feeding (TRF), to day-long, or several-day long water fasts, or one-meal-a-day (OMAD) fasting. This makes it really hard to compare one diet to another when looking at fasting from an evidence perspective. There’s also been a growing list of health issues that fasting can supposedly help with, including type 2 diabetes, weight loss, cancer, energy levels, mental and physical performance, etc. Supporters of the practice will swear they’ve never felt better or healthier when partaking in some good old fashioned fasting, while skeptics will say it’s just a clever way to get us to eat less.

“Detox Your Body, Detox Your Life!”

“Fasting” has really become the new diet buzzword du jour. Similar to ‘detox’, or ‘cleanse’ it’s being used to turn fairly run-of-the-mill activities into trendy practices. Instead of saying we’re not snacking in the evening, we say we’re doing “early time-restricted feeding”. Instead of saying we’re ‘Relaxing’ we now say we’re doing a “Dopaimine Fast”.

Is there maybe something to the whole idea of intermittent fasting? Maybe. Only time and research will tell.  But what I do know is that even if the research can show a benefit, it needs to be practical and realistic for the average person to put into practice long-term. It also needs to jive with other health or performance goals. Athletes for example are very unlikely to see performance benefits from IF if they’re under-fueling. Do I think it’s a good idea for people to avoid eating when they’re not hungry and maybe not eat most of their calories in the evening in front of the TV? Absolutely yes. Is it also a good idea to eat more calories around the times of day we’re most active- and that can vary widely from person to person.

When it comes down to it I’m just not a fan of eating by the clock – whether that’s when you have to eat or when you’re not allowed to eat. I think as Dietitians we can do better for people, helping them plan meals around activity (when we need the most energy), and our hunger/fullness cues which so many of us have lost touch with.

So, sure if you want to avoid eating late into the evening by telling yourself it’s a “fast”, by all means go for it. Small changes like that are actually very likely to contribute to better health (and better sleep quality!) But just like every other diet trend out there- it ain’t magic.

3. Becoming a Certified Carnivore Coach

Another great example of why doctors should not be in charge of giving out nutrition advice.

If you read my 2018 DDD list, you may remember the Carnivore diet actually claimed my #1 spot. It almost made the top of my list again, but then I saw something even more amazing. And of course I mean amazing in a bad way.

Just in case it isn’t clear from the name, the carnivore diet is a diet in which you consume only meat (and eggs, depending on the person you’re talking to), often with added salt. It’s essentially a zero-carb, zero-fibre, 100% animal diet that’s gained some traction over the past few years, perhaps as the anti-thesis to the rise of veganism. The idea here is that plant foods contain toxins that wreak havoc on our gastrointestinal tract and health, causing chronic disease and inflammation in our bodies. Of course in the year since I last wrote about the carnivore diet’s rise in popularity there has yet to be a single study published on it’s effects. So, any of the claims being made about going carnivore are completely anecdotal in nature, and completely not backed by any evidence. You can read a little more on my thoughts on the diet in general by clicking here

Now, I don’t want to take away from the people who have truly found a diet that they feel has given them management of their chronic disease symptoms. It’s tough out there for people with gastrointestinal disorders, inflammatory or autoimmune conditions that the medical system just hasn’t figured out a great treatment for yet. Medications for some of these conditions are expensive, maybe have side effects, and for some people simply changing their diet can give them the symptom management they need. Is the diet perfect and nutritionally adequate? No. Can it potentially lead to bigger issues down the road? Perhaps. But I’m not here to shit on the people who are suffering and desperate for a solution. No, what’s got my attention this year is one particular Doctor who has deemed himself an expert on nutrition, in particular carnivore nutrition such that he has even created a ‘coaching program’, which grants it’s graduates a certificate in which they can become a “certified carnivore coach”.

This really grinds my gears for a few reasons, and definitely fits the criteria for my DDD list.

1. Everyone knows doctors receive little to no nutrition education during med school. Most doctors have absolutely no business talking about nutrition because they just aren’t nutrition experts. They simply don’t know what they don’t know. This doctor in particular consistently disses RDs on his social media feeds and discourages his followers from seeking legitimate nutrition help, instead promoting this diet for a wide range of different medical conditions.

2. Creating a BS certification like this carnivore coach program gives an air of legitimacy to this diet that it just doesn’t deserve. It also just adds to the long list of “nutritionist” programs (like the holistic nutrition schools) that convince their students an online nutrition course is going to prepare them for providing medical nutrition therapy to the public. And it isn’t. This coaching program is taking advantage of both the people who pay for the certification ($275.00), and the folks who may fall prey to paying for services from these coaches thinking they’re meeting with a legitimate nutrition professional. They aren’t.

Will there one day be some research done on the carnivore diet, and could there be potential for it to be part of our medical nutrition therapy techniques for some disease states? I’ll never say never. But these made-up coaching programs aren’t going to get us an answer that’s for sure.

2. Collagen Supplements

For the past few years, protein has been the darling of the food and supplement industry. Protein is being added to food products far and wide from granola bars to gummy candies to bottled water. And it’s no surprise since protein is often touted as the most important nutrient for muscle growth and dropping body fat. Protein powders and have also been a mainstay of the supplement industry for years, widely used among both active and sedentary populations. Now, a certain protein- called collagen is taking centre stage, shoving plain old whey aside in favor of this seemingly superior option.

So, why collagen? What is collagen and why would anyone want to supplement with it?

Well, collagen is a protein comprised of the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline that provides structure to our body’s tissues- in particular our skin, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. There are many different types of collagen out there, but the primary ones found in the human body are types I, II, and III. Collagen on it’s own is nothing new either. It’s been a big component of anti-aging skin products for YEARS due to the fact that as we get older we naturally have less collagen in our skin, leading to the development of wrinkles (I have no idea how well it actually works for this TBH). More recently however, collagen has been moving from the skin care department to the supplement department as the popularity of collagen powders rises.

The sale of collagen powders as a dietary supplement has absolutely exploded in the past few years- in the US alone there was a 34% increase in sales from 2017-2018, reaching 46.6 million dollars. 

Dietary collagen has been praised online for a number of possible benefits, including hair/skin/nail health, joint health, gut health, and weight loss. Naturally with any new food buzz, collagen can be purchased on it’s own as a powder or liquid supplement, or is being added to a wide variety of foods and beverages.

But, what does the evidence really say about all these claims? 

Well, unfortunately collagen supplements are probably just too good to be true (but I’m sure you saw that coming since it made my list!). The reality is, collagen molecules are just simply too large for them to be absorbed whole in our digestive system, as are most of the intact proteins we consume. Part of our normal digestion is to break down large proteins into smaller ones, which are then absorbed into our blood stream as amino acids. These amino acids travel to our body’s cells where they do the job of building new protein structures- whatever those may be. Basically, we provide our cells with the basic building blocks, and they do the rest. As long as the correct amino acids are available, our body can build whatever proteins they require.

The other issue with tossing your whey or soy protein in favor of collagen supplements is that collagen is actually not a complete protein. Unlike many other protein powders out there, collagen is missing one of the essential amino acids- tryptophan. Remember how I said we needed to provide our cells with the right building blocks so they could produce whatever proteins they need? If we don’t get enough of these essential amino acids, our cells can’t do their job.

So, the hype around collagen supplements just doesn’t hold up to science and is actually less nutritious than the complete protein powder you might have been supplementing with before. Save your cash and focus on meeting your daily protein needs with real, whole foods and let your body’s cells do the rest!

So we’ve made it to the Number 1 spot! The WORST Nutrition trend of 2019 is….

1. Celery Juice!

Apparently this one became so popular that the price of celery skyrocketed, and grocery stores were running out of stock. Which is actually wild for me to think about because to be totally honest celery is the WORST vegetable of all time. Celery juice takes my top spot this year for not only having a super shady origin story, but because it was far and away the most popular trend voted by you guys!

Drinking celery juice was made popular this year by the ‘medical medium’ Anthony William, a man with absolutely zero medical training or credentials of any sort. This guy has made his name by giving health advice based on the guidance of spirits, and more recently has been credited with starting this celery juice trend. According to his website, celery juice can help with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, eczema, psoriasis, acne, SIBO, constipation, chronic fatigue syndrome, blood sugar ‘issues’, migraines, acid reflux, high blood pressure, addictions, adrenal issues, gout, allergies, and autoimmune conditions. That’s a long list! He’s actually written multiple other health-related books about the healing power of certain foods that have garnered huge celebrity attention. Of course in addition to the books, you can also find a large array of supplements available for purchase on his website. Of course. The best part of all this, and the reason Celery Juice wins my #1 spot for this year is that according to one article I read, the idea for drinking celery juice daily as a fast-track to better health came to him in a dream.

In. A. Dream.

I could probably write a whole piece on this guy, but anyone who’s been hanging around my blog for awhile knows anything this guys has to say is definitely gonna be classified as some grade-A nutrition BS.

However, celery being a vegetable and all (even though it’s the grossest one) it does contain lots of good stuff and is certainly part of a nutritious diet. However like all “food is medicine” trends, the problem arises when people start replacing real medical care with things like vegetable juices, or believe that something this simple is the magical cure to their complex health conditions.

Please don’t replace your real prescription medications with celery juice.

Now, the question some of you may be asking is: can’t you just eat the celery? According to Anthony, No.

Are there potential downsides to drinking up to 36 oz of celery juice every day? Aside from it probably being super gross probably not. Who knows, we also may discover some component of celery that DOES have medicinal effects. But it’s highly unlikely to be the cure-all Anthony Williams claims it to be, and we’ve just gotta do better than buying into fads that some guy literally dreamed up.

The Bottom Line

Well we’ve made it through another year and the end of another entire decade! Although I’m super inspired to see so many of my friends and followers ditching the fads and simplifying their healthy lifestyles, I know we still have a long way to go. Will there always be scam artists hoping to make a quick buck off people’s health anxieties? Unfortunately yes, but as consumers we can arm ourselves with a little knowledge and hang on to our time, energy, and cash. Here’s to keeping it real in 2020!

Check out last year’s Dirty Dozen list

About the Author:

Stephanie Hnatiuk is a Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She believes good health doesn’t need to be complicated, and that you don’t need to be afraid have your cake and eat it too.

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