Don’t Be Fooled by ‘Miracle’ Diet Claims

ISU Extension Nutrition Specialist Offers Tips for Spotting Questionable Nutrition Claims

AMES, Iowa – Besides Auld Lang Syne and the ball drop in Times Square, another sure sign of the New Year is the variety of advertisements promoting fast and easy ways to become healthier.

“Unfortunately, many of these products and services are unproven and ineffective — they simply don’t work,” said Sarah Francis, an Iowa State University assistant professor and ISU Extension nutrition specialist. “Consumers end up confused and frustrated about nutrition and health.”

Nutrition Quackery 

According to Francis, nutrition quackery — misleading information about nutrition and health —is common. Among the reasons: people claim to be nutritionists without proper training, other scientists haven’t reviewed the research and few laws regulate dietary supplements.
“The American Dietetic Association calls it junk science and has identified 10 red flags to help consumers spot questionable claims,” Francis said.
  1. Promises a quick fix
  2. Extreme danger warning from a single product or regimen
  3. Claims sounding too good to be true
  4. Simple conclusions drawn from a complex study
  5. Recommendations based on a single study
  6. Dramatic statements that are not supported by reputable scientific organizations
  7. Lists of “good” and “bad” foods
  8. Endorsements made to help sell a product
  9. Recommendations based on studies published without scientific review
  10. Recommendations ignoring differences between individuals or groups

Question Nutrition Claims

Francis recommends asking the following questions when looking at nutrition information, products or advertisements.
  • Does the advertisement contain words like “break-through,” “miracle,” “special” or “secret”? These words are directed toward emotions.
  • Is the product or service a “secret remedy” or a recent discovery that can’t be found anywhere else?
  • Is the product advertised as helping a wide variety of ailments? The broader the claims, the less likely they are to be true.
  • Are endorsements or case histories of patients who have been “cured” offered? Do not base a decision on these alone.
  • Is the product being sold by a self-proclaimed “health adviser”? If so, insist on nationally recognized professional credentials, such as a registered dietitian (RD).
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Francis said.

Live Healthy Iowa

Join the Live Healthy Iowa 100-Day Challenge. This team-based weight loss and physical activity program helps Iowans make positive changes that lead to a healthier lifestyle. The 2011 program begins Jan. 20. For more information or to register visit Live Healthy Iowa is a partnership of the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Sports Foundation and Iowa State University Extension.