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Is Google your Nutritionist?

Is Google your Nutritionist, Naturopath, Herbalist or Primary health advice provider?

If you said yes, this isn’t unusual. Regardless, we are going to have some stern words.

My time as a retail Naturopath has taught me that the internet can hold more power than a real person when it comes to information. A no-faced person (or AI?) sitting behind a keyboard in an unknown location providing diet and lifestyle guidance can hold more weight than someone in person delivering information from a decade of study and research.

Health Psychology acknowledges the gravitas of our “peer network”. The group of people in our inner circle or periphery that provide information of the efficacy of a medicine, herb, nutrient or behavioural change. Your neighbour or Aunt Sally may have tried something that works. This is completely normal to follow suit, hoping for the same or similar results in order to fix a problem. While experience is considered evidence, it doesn't hold enough weight when choosing the right treatment.

Getting something dubbed "evidence based" is no walk in the park. And it takes more than just a chat to your acquaintance Jim over your shared fence. Efficacy of a health intervention is usually tracked over time by a health professional with detailed notes of treatment and symptoms. Only when this clinical evidence is accompanied with top quality trials leading to a published paper, client feedback and practitioner acknowledgement, can a particular treatment be considered viable by the scientific health community.

When to stop reading.

You find an article that may answer a question you have. It is engaging and informative and provides some tidbits of dietary advice. In the view of some folk, the written word is gospel.

Many times, a diet plan or detox diet is popularized in the media and latched on to by the public however many crazes are not something found in reputable journals. It is usually a plan created from someone’s own experience. Which leads me to – Is the author qualified to give advice? Well, this depends on the advice so you might have to dig deeper before figuring that out. If they are a Doctor, Naturopath, Nutritionist or Dietician, the answer MAY be yes.

Specific Vernacular

I often get asked advice on one food versus another. My focus is the quality of a food such as nutritional value and suitability to a person’s needs. If when reading, a food is described as “fattening”, it may mean high caloric value or high levels of macronutrients but if the term is used without explanation, it’s time to stop reading. Other terminology that is NOT acceptable (and not part of Nutritionist vernacular) might also include:

- Crash diet

- Counting calories

- Avoiding carbs

- Lose weight fast!

If these terms are used in a persuasive rhetoric designed to make you jump on board - jump off the board and quickly swim away.

Blanket claims

Not all people are created equal. Nutritional medicine is strongly in support of individualized health care because not everyone is the same. The aforementioned peer network can support the application of unsuitable or unnecessary health approaches. Usually when we know someone else has done it, it feels safe. Similar thoughts surround published advice by assuming it must be free of harm. This is not always the case. Often GPs send people to me to obtain herbal medicines which is either a sign of industry evolution or an apocalypse, I’m not sure. I am however loving the ethical choice to point a patient elsewhere as they might have found limitations in their own treatment.

Nutritional and herbal medicine is not always safe. There are side effects and interactions. Often, I have to tell someone that what they requested is not right for them due to contraindication with medication. If this is happening in the Doctor to Naturopath crossover, it will happen with printed media.

Ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • Are the claims or approach suitable for you?

  • Do they make sense?

Obscure and unsubstantiated dietary advice also makes the rounds. A common one I have come across is a diet so good, no exercise is required. It seems like the dream option! No more stupid cardio or back breaking weight training – Hurrah! In reality, this is one of the poorest forms of advice I see as it implies that exercise is only done to control weight, while its benefits extend far beyond this.

When it comes to taking supplements or making a huge lifestyle or dietary change, always get guidance. Something might not be for you based on your health history or the medication you are taking. Advice aimed at everyone reading may not be individualized enough to be legitimate. Keep that in mind.

Weight vs. Health

A nemesis of mine is an unbalanced focus on losing weight rather than gaining health. This was a huge focus of health publications in the 80’s and 90’s and unfortunately there has been some historical overlap in the current decade. I remember reading diet articles in trashy magazines telling me what celebrities ate in a day and wondered if I could do the same. Passages of text instructing the reader on how they could feel full and eat less was widespread. Focus was on eating as little as you could get away with without keeling over. Meanwhile your hair starts falling out and your cuts won’t heal.

Choosing food based on calorie content used to be the sh*t. It meant you could eat rubbish as long as you didn’t overdo whatever points system was being used. Being allowed to eat chocolate pudding was more important than poor sleep and an immune system running on a square inch of sunlight that you soaked in walking to the bus stop.

It was the 2000’s that then became sugar-phobic and fruit became the new enemy. Avoiding fruit because of the sugar content is like avoiding driving because it might take you places. The destination can be good or bad depending on the context of the situation as well as the journey.

During this strange nutritional epoch, I had a desk job where eating snacks over the keyboard was the norm. While I was sitting eating a piece of fruit, a co-worker walked by proudly showing off the chocolate bar they were about to eat. “You still eat fruit? they asked. "Fructose is so bad for you. This is so much better.” They proudly walked away while biting the head off an edible brown frog. Slightly dazed by having my food insulted, I continued my delicious water, fibre and micronutrient rich treat. While we know now that fructose malabsorption is a thing, it doesn't apply to everyone. This was an example of a blanket claim focusing on weight management.

While I make fun of the choices made by weight loss giants, health authors and experts of yesteryear, the same might happen in 10- or 20-years’ time to myself. Health information is fast and ever-changing and only deemed academically relevant if published in the last 5 years (which reminds me, check when the book or article is from that you are reading!).

For those who were in the thick of the fat-phobic to sugar avoidance eras, you know how information can be toxic. Health advice should be individualized to you, come from qualified people, found on reputable websites or publications rather than magazines or from journalists regurgitating second-hand ideas. Even when the information seems to be credible, you are allowed to question it and have misgivings about its relevance. Always think critically and be autonomous about your health choices.

Jo Knight

Naturopath, Herbalist, Nutritionist, Researcher & Educational writer.

Get in touch for a free 15 minute discovery call today!


Melnyk, B. M & Fineour-Overholt, E. (2015). Evidence Based Practice in Nursing and Healthcare 3rd Edition. Wolters Kluwer, Philadelphia.

Toth, J, O'connor, C, Hartman, B, Dworatzek, P & Horne, J, 2019, ‘Detoxify or Die: Qualitative Assessments of Ontario Nutritionists' and Dietitians' Blog Posts Related to Detoxification Diets’, Can J Diet Pract Res, vol.80, no.3, pp.116-121.

Waring, RH, 2009, ‘Diet and individuality in detoxification’, ‘Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine’, vol.16, no.2, pp.95-105


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