Fed Up with Food Fear-Mongering

This is a guest post by Lindsey Schnell MS RD.
If you haven’t heard lately that carbohydrates and sugar are deadly poisons, consider yourself lucky. As a registered dietitian who stays immersed in both research and popular diet/food trends, a day does not go by that I don’t see single foods or nutrients being demonized and falsely labeled as evil, disease-causing, or even toxic.
That’s right, eating a slice of bread will now KILL YOU (or at least eat through half of your brain) according to numerous supposed health and fitness authorities—including doctors, registered dietitians, personal trainers, and nutritionists—as well as your run-of-the-mill diet gurus, countless bloggers-turned-nutrition-experts, and, of course, big and small media outlets, reporters, and writers. And, if that single dietary constituent somehow doesn’t kill you outright, you can be sure it will hold you hostage, force you to eat it to the exclusion of all other foods, mercilessly addict you, make you obese, and THEN kill you.
Vilifying individual foods or nutrients in the name of feigned health promotion, or food fear-mongering as I call it, is a big, big problem. It does NOT make people healthier, nor does it promote the healthy relationship with food that is so crucial for long-term success with dietary health and weight control. For reasons I will discuss in a minute, I believe that food fear-mongering makes people much less healthy in body and mind, more likely to engage repeatedly in cyclical dieting and other unhealthy eating behaviors, and far less likely to be able to derive pleasure and enjoyment from eating.
But first, let’s make sure we’re clear about a couple things. As a dietitian I’m well-aware of diet and weight-related diseases. I understand that limiting certain foods and nutrients (trans fat, excess added sugars, for example) and emphasizing others (fruits, vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids, for example) all the while taking into account the context of an entire diet and lifestyle can play a huge role in positive health outcomes. I agree that there are better and worse food choices when it comes to our eating habits, but I also realize that diet and health are never black and white, don’t exist in a vacuum, and are not nearly as simplistic as the gurus and “experts” who tell us that fructose is POISON (context and dose-dependence be damned) would have you believe.
I mention this because the last thing I want is people taking from this post that I think loads of sugar is good for you or that I’m a staunch advocate for eating wheat by the bushelful every day–that’s just not the case. But what I do hope will be taken from this post is that consuming sugar or wheat or ice cream or pretty much ANY FOOD (barring you don’t have an allergy or intolerance) once in a while will not have a significant negative impact on your health, if done in moderation, let alone be the sole cause of your death!
So let’s do a quick recap: sure, there are health problems related to overconsuming just about any food. Sure, we’d be better off with much fewer sugary treats and junk processed foods and much more whole, unprocessed real foods, all in moderation. Sure, there are probably plenty of people who could lay off some of the wheat or sugar in their diet, lose weight (as a result of creating a caloric deficit), and feel much better as a result. But deeming wheat a “dietary poison” and blaming it for all our ills…WHY??
Alright, before we go any further, I want to show you some of the food fear-mongering I see and hear on a daily basis. I’ve compiled a list of actual, recent examples—from popular diet book quotes to tweets to conversations to news media headlines (the names of misinforming “experts” have not been spared, identities of misinformed laypeople have)—that will hopefully bring you up to speed on the food fear-mongering hysteria that is going on. I must warn you, it is obscene—pure theater at times—and there is death. So. Much. Death (and carnage)!
Does eating grains destroy your brain? More from Dr. David Perlmutter on his new book, Grain Brain.” (followed by link to promotional website for Dr. David Perlmutter’s new book) 
Tweet by Professor Tim Noakes (@proftimnoakes, exercise science professor, author, and paleo-diet proponent).
Does eating bread, pasta, or potatoes make you feel better if you’re in a bad mood? You might be a sugar addict! #thesugardetox to the rescue.” 
Tweet by Brooke Alpert (@bnutritious, Registered Dietitian and author of The Sugar Detox).
You might have also just been hungry, but what do I know? In any case, the resolution to this problem—buy the book of course!

Brain attack from grains!” (followed by link to promotional website for Dr. David Perlmutter’s new book). 
Tweet by William Davis (@williamdavismd, cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly).
Is this real life?

Whole grains are the worst possible foods you could put in your mouth” 
Tweet by Jimmy Moore (@livinlowcarbman, Atkins/Paleo/low-carb diet advocate*, author of Cholesterol Clarity).
That’s funny, I could think of a few worse foods, Jimmy, and I bet you could, too, if you didn’t have an extreme low-carb image to sell. 

“Freed from the tyranny of wheat and freed from snacking, cravings, and needless tummy fat!” (followed by link to Wheat Belly testimonial)
Tweet by William Davis (@williamdavismd, cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly).
The tyranny of wheat! Lol! Move over Stalin and Mussolini, Wheat is after your spot in history!
How Grains are Killing You Slowly” 
Blog post headline by “Wellness Mama” (wife, mom, and “real food crusader”), recently promoted on Twitter by a low-carb-advocating Registered Dietitian.
Fear-inducing and completely nonsensical.

“4 Common Foods That KILL 15 Million People Per Year” 
Blog post headline by Kris Gunnars (personal trainer, student, and “authority” nutrition blogger).
In this post, Gunnars inferred from his reference that sugar, high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, and vegetables oils are directly causing the 15 million deaths (since the top two causes of death worldwide are lifestyle and diet-related). Really?!

“Things as simple as carbohydrates are devastating for the brain and…things like Alzheimer’s are preventable” (followed by link to Robb Wolf’s (author of The Paleo Solution) Paleo Solutions podcast) 
Tweet by Professor Tim Noakes (@proftimnoakes, exercise science professor, author, and paleo-diet proponent).
“Wheat incites violence! ‘An hour-long prison riot involving up to 50 inmates was triggered by a disagreement…’ ” (followed by link to an article about a sandwich-provoked prison riot)
Tweet by William Davis (@williamdavismd, cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly).
I sure hope Doc Davis was trying to be funny with this one!
” ‘Sugars and trans fat are the KILLERS and can create poor heart health. Inflammation is a ticket to poor heart health.’ –@SinatraMD”
Tweeted by Dietitian Cassie (@dietitiancassie, Registered Dietitian and purveyor of dietary supplements, low-carb advocate). Quote by Dr. Sinatra (@SinatraMD, author of The Great Cholesterol Myth, and BIG-TIME dietary supplement salesman).
It’s all in the dose, though that’s never mentioned. Call me optimistic but I don’t think anyone’s going to drop dead on the spot from either “killer” substance. 

“ ‘Gluten represents the greatest and most under-recognized health threat to humanity…’ David Perlmutter, Grain Brain 
Tweeted by Tom Nikkola (@tomnikkola, personal trainer, Vice President of Business Development for a dietary supplement manufacturing company, and low-carb proponent).
As a pal of mine so eloquently said a while back, that’s the kind of statement that gets you a book deal. And indeed it did.

“Right. Eat more grains and sugar. Enjoy killing people with your advice.” 
Message I got in response to my Butter Coffee blog post.
I could almost smell this man’s fear of grains and sugar through my computer. Sad, really.
“Gluten is our generations tobacco.” 
Quote from David Perlmutter in his book, Grain Brain.
Another classic alarmist authority quote–sensationalism at its best.
“Sugar is addictive and ‘the most dangerous drug of the times’ ” 
News headline from The Telegraph quoting Paul van der Velpen, a Dutch health official.
Is that so? Any heroin, meth, cocaine, or alcohol abusers and their families want to weigh in on this one?
“Thanks @Dietitiancassie 4 teaching me this months ago! ‘@Drudge_Report: Sugar is most dangerous drug of the times…’ ” (followed by link to The Telegraph article mentioned above)
Tweet by Identity Withheld.
Clearly showing how easily these fearful messages are absorbed by laypeople. 

“She dodged the dietary poisons, lost 69 lbs!” (followed by link to Wheat Belly testimonial) 
Tweet by William Davis (@williamdavismd, cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly).
The “dietary poisons” obviously being wheat in this case. Sigh.
*Note: I point out whether someone is a “low-carb advocate” not because I have any issue with eating low or lower-carb–if that’s what you like, go for it–but rather because my observations indicate that many of these food fear-mongering messages seem to be coming from those whose views are decidedly “anti-carb.”   

Whew…now that we’ve got those out of the way…
If you’re still with me and not engulfed in a fit of laughter, let’s move on and talk about what I believe to be the top two reasons food fear-mongering is so prevalent:
1. A sensationalistic message sells–we’ve known this forever.
Even more profitable? A feigned revelation about the dangers of a certain food spread by an alarmist “authority” in the field. As evidenced by the examples above, many of the extreme food fear-mongering messages come from people with something to sell you—in the nutrition field, that usually equates to a book, a diet/service, or dietary supplements.
2. People need something simplistic to blame for their weight or health problems.
Instead of realizing that most diet-related chronic diseases result from a combination of repeated suboptimal nutrition and lifestyle choices and caloric excess over time, it is far easier to point the finger at one food entity, slap on the blame, and then attempt to abstain from that food completely. It is unfortunate but many people just CANNOT grasp, let alone utilize, the concept of moderation with eating, and by putting unnecessary limits on their diets, they can stay on the straight and narrow, though usually not for long.
I don’t fault individuals for this: moderation and balance with diet is not easy to come by as I’ve explained before. Indeed, I feel that demonizing single foods is actually a symptom of our culture’s desperation and desire to get healthier. At the same time, however, the food blame game is another embarrassingly obvious example of how we seem to be continually grasping for eating truths and absolutes in a society devoid of a food culture, yet overflowing with food.
This makes people all too vulnerable to food fear-mongering messages, and with no shortage of these terrifying warnings, an extremely harmful situation arises.
So why is food fear-mongering so damaging?
1. Food phobias are created.
An authority figure saying that sugar is poisonous exploits people’s ignorance about diet, human physiology, and the long-term development of chronic disease and teaches them to fear food—this is no joke! I have seen the effects time and time again in my practice—people who are actually AFRAID to eat! They have listened to the simplistic, horrifying messages that x, y, or z food will maim you, induce mold growth on your upper lip, liquefy your insides after a bout of burning inflammation, and ON and ON and ON and have frantically boiled down their diet to a few fanatical food options. Then they wonder why they are tired all the time, sick, depressed, obsessed with food, and aren’t getting any real pleasure from eating. Their dietary restrictions are totally unnecessary, but have been put in place because of false fears implanted by alarmist authorities trying to make a buck. This angers me to no end!
2. Food fear-mongering creates VAST confusion.
How do I know this? Because I get asked the silliest things all the time, by well-meaning people who really think they’ve got things figured out with nutrition, but have really been duped by fear-mongerers. A few real examples:
I was recently asked with disbelief: “Do you STILL eat grains?” I apparently missed the boat—eating grains was SO pre-Wheat Belly!
Since I do eat grains in moderation, I was once accused of “trusting in corn and wheat” (In Wheat I Trust???) and also informed that my stomach is a “gluten bomb” as a result.
Discussing the health benefits of legumes with someone a few weeks back incited this response: “Legumes = lectins = leaky gut = leaky brain. I’ll get my carbs and protein elsewhere.” This was a completely nonsensical, obviously fearful response. (Side note: the presence of lectins and phytates in whole grains and legumes is often used by low-carb proponents to deter consumption of these very healthy foods).  
Someone confidently and proudly told me the other day, “I rarely eat fruit due to the high sugar content.” She surely got Robert Lustig’s “fructose is poison” memo.
I love playing dumb when I encounter self-made nutritionists so I can see what advice they have for me, and sure enough, I got schooled with this gem a couple weeks ago: “Nuts are dangerously inflammatory and should be avoided AT ALL COSTS.”

These instances make me want to laugh, cry, and pull my hair out all at once. And the worse part of this immeasurable confusion? Once this degree of food fear and brainwashing is ingrained, I’ve had little success helping people like this back to reality.
3. Food fear-mongering messages are terribly counter-productive to creating health.
Because alarmist messages attract attention, people who are not educated in the science of nutrition and are actively looking for that one causative reason for their lack of health will easily take these messages at face value, not question them, or even realize that they should question them. They believe what these health authorities tell them and start to completely shun wheat or sugar or whatever the fearful food of the year may be. Eliminating a food or nutrient may provide a short-term benefit to their health in some way, but more likely than not, the avoidance tactic will not last, and old behaviors will return, leading again to a suboptimal health status. No progress is made as a result of food fear-mongering messages. No real, sustainable, healthy eating behaviors are developed. Time is wasted. Money is often wasted. Consequently, YES, PEOPLE ARE HARMED.
Final thoughts:
Promulgating these vastly oversimplified food fear-mongering messages (most of which lack support in the overall body of research evidence) as universal diet recommendations is not only incredibly irresponsible but also completely absurd.
I’m fed up with it. I see the devastating effects food fear-mongering has on individuals as well as how it contributes to our defective, unhealthy culture of eating.
If you feel the same way I do, I challenge you to speak up when you see food fear-mongering happening. Make it clear that you DO NOT appreciate simplistic, fearful, out-of-context dietary messages and put a voice to your thoughts about how damaging they are. Food isn’t toxic. What IS toxic are fear-inducing, one-dimensional dietary messages being spread in the name of profit.
LindsLindsey Schnell MS RDey Schnell MS RD is a Registered Dietitian passionate about helping people live healthier, better lives. She has a variety of experience in the nutrition field–from public health, research, and higher ed teaching, to writing, consulting, and her private practice.
Follow Lindsey on Twitter @HealthyHausfrau.
  • Hugh

    I agree with your well-put post.

    I think part of this issue arises from the (particularly American) reductionist approach to nutrition and exercise science. This results in often animal-based studies that conclude that, for example, eating blueberries is the best thing we can do, cinnamon is great for blood-sugar control, we should take as more vitamin D than recommended, etc.

    These messages are then repackaged and regurgitated by those in the fitness and nutrition industries. Often any conclusions from the studies are extrapolated far beyoned the original findings.

    And why is this? Because people want to make money. The old message that to be healthy one should probably eat a bit less of a good balanced diet (and we pretty much all know what that is) and exercise a bit more is quite boring and, seemingly, difficult for people to accept. So “experts” constantly need soemthing “sexy” to gain clients, views on their websites, book sales, etc.

    i think it’s called “the hype pipe”.

    Oh, and we can’t all live forever. Living as slong as possible in good health should be our aim.

  • Shari

    Well written. Fear mongering over food is just in line with everything else – there’s so much information and so much clutter it’s easy to tap into the visceral human response of fear in combination with overwhelming guilt over our health (often created by the media presenting airbrushed photos of the perfect human) and vanity about our appearance. It feels very “something in your house could kill you, story at 11″ Refined carbs used to be 75% of my diet, and now it is less than 25% and I’ve significantly increased my lean protein intake, so the education has helped, but as humans tend to do – we’ve gone too far.

    • Lindsey MS RD

      Hi Shari,

      Thank you for commenting. You hit the nail on the head: We’ve gone too far.

      Lindsey Schnell, MS RD

  • Otília

    You mention how these “fear-mongers” lack evidence based on bodies of research. I’d like to see the journal and scientific references that support your arguments. It is only fair to see the research on both sides of the fence.

  • Jackie Waters

    I’m glad I read your post. It was so helpful. I recently changed my diet and have been reading a bunch and I’m so confused on what not to eat. I read that Greek yogurt can kill you. I believed it for a second until I googled it and nobody else said that. So from now on Im not believing everything I read. I’m still confused about the claims that wheat is bad for you. But I don’t eat that much anyways. Thanks again!!

    • Lindsey MS RD

      Hi Jackie,
      Thank you for your comments. I hope my post was of some help to you. Bring common sense back into the equation and relax. ;) Certainly do not believe everything you read or hear–take it all in with a healthy dose of skepticism.
      Take care,
      Lindsey Schnell MS RD

  • Jesse

    Thank you so much for this post. As someone who is recovering from an eating disorder, reading this made me think back on all the “fear foods” I eliminated from my diet. I’m a 20-year-old college student who exercises 5-6 times a week, and I simply wanted to read a few articles on nutrition to know how to better my health. Well, after a while the articles kept demonizing one food group after another (“don’t eat diary b/c it’s toxic…don’t eat meat because it’s fattening…don’t have carbs because they get stored as fat, save your fats for dinner, not after your workout, eliminate sugar, stay away from soy, etc.) What is left to eat???? This is how my disorder developed and thanks to posts like these, my recovery is moving along. Eat what you want, when you want, value your OWN health over that of other people, and follow your INTERNAL hunger signals, not EXTERNAL food rules.

    • ghendric

      True, but eating what you want should’t include a chemical sh!t storm… food isn’t suppose to be laced with chemicals so it can sit on a shelf for 6 months…

      • jesse

        I completely agree. Eat a varied diet of whole, fresh foods and make sure to exercise. Too many foods in today’s diet are ultra processed.

      • ash

        I understand you are using the colloquial form of the word chemical but this sort of thing has confused matters. Everything is a chemical so the description is inaccurate. If you eat an apple you will be processing a complicated mixture of chemical compounds include stuff considered harmful in large dosages – this is natural, the environment has nasties as well, that is just the uncaring natural environment of the earth.

        • ghendric

          Its only confusing for someone that over analyzes the conversation. Regular people know the difference. I am aware that everything is a makeup of different natural chemicals/elements. The stuff I’m talking about is the food additives.

  • jules

    I would be interested to know if you have actually read any of the articles/books written by Dr David Perlmutter who’s a neurologist, or do you pass judgment on his comments purely based on your own beliefs as a dietitian? As an IBS sufferer since i can remember (they didn’t have a name for it back when I was young), i only wish I had been told about gluten so much earlier, would have made my life a lot easier!. Many people suffer in silence and think this is normal, until the day they actually try eliminating certain foods from their diet and see improvement, they realise it wasnt normal. People should read all information with an open mind and make decisions based on their own situation and what works for them. Having removed gluten and sugar from my diet for the past two years has seen my weight slowly reduce, less stomach cramps and bloating not to mention less stress and worry when i go out in case i have to “run” for the toilet! I get what you are trying to convey, however to dismiss all research and information purely because you dont agree with it is not only arrogant, but also irresponsible. I have also seen many articles stating why grains are good for you, you shouldn’t listen to the naysayers – interesting one website in particlar which had the views and opinions of a dietition was sponsored by the wheatboard, wheat millers association, american grains association etc. So it works both ways. Keep an open mind people!

    • Lindsey MS RD

      Hi Jules,

      Thanks for your comments. I have read some of Dr. Perlmutter’s
      work, along with other research on this topic and I have to say, any large and convincing body of research JUST ISN’T THERE to be making wide-sweeping statements that wheat and gluten are brain killers.

      This post has nothing to do with people who cannot tolerate
      certain foods or food constituents. If anyone is feeling sick and suffering and a food intolerance is suspected, I strongly support seeking out a qualified dietitian and physician to help you through a food elimination diet and taking whatever steps you need to feel better.

      In regards to your last point about a dietitian with grain
      or wheat industry-backing: yes, there are some dietitians who work for
      industry. There are websites and nutrition “facts” sheets, and even research that is clearly sponsored by industry. To be clear, I have ZERO affiliation with industry and don’t waste my time with nutrition info sources or publications that have been sponsored by ANY food-related industry entity due to even the possibility of bias.

      Lindsey Schnell MS RD

  • cybersun

    Totally agree. It’s about time an OFFICIAL DIETETICIAN speaks up. I have been repeating it to whomever, just based on plain common sense. There are a bunch of so called gurus out there with or without qualification that go around telling you not to eat this, not to eat that etc. they create a class of people that will not die of diet related issue, they will die of digestion related issues generated by the stress they produce when eating anything. I would rather have small diet issues than some psychological damage,

    • Lindsey MS RD

      Thanks so much for your comment. Sometimes common sense is worth a heck of a lot more in my opinion.

      Great thoughts.
      Lindsey Schnell, MS RD

      • cybersun

        Hello Lindsey,
        I agree. It seems to me a lot of people in a lot of places are just not familiar with the COMMON SENSE concept. It looks like the appetite for consultants, data, advice has made people dependent on third party sourced opinion and have lost their capacity to shoot from the hip.
        Nice to see somebody like you being able to recommend to do so.
        Have a great week!
        Roger Bertrand, P. Eng.

  • SuperMom101

    One of the post said it best, “depends on the individual.” I haven’t touched a dairy product since I had breast cancer over 12 years ago at the age of 38. At the time I had no idea that America’s food supply could be making me sick. – and I thought I was eating “healthy.”

    Keeping an “open mind” I researched and found what’s best for me and my body. I’ve had a friend tell me I’m crazy if I think food can make me sick (funny – my oncologist agrees with me) and this same person is allergic to mosquito bites and christmas trees and is 40 pounds overweight.

    Best health to all…

    • Lindsey MS RD

      Hi there,

      Thank you for sharing your experience. Many things depend on the individual, yes. That’s one reason why widespread food fear-mongering and blanket statements can be so damaging.

      Lindsey Schnell, MS RD

  • cdex00

    As a dietetic student, I totally agree, and this is one of the fundamental reasons I decided to study to become a registered dietitian. Unfortunately savvy marketing techniques can guide people’s nutritional choices in an unhealthy direction. Whenever I see one of these fear-mongering messages, I ask myself, what’s the motivation of this source of information? What’s the ultimate intention of delivering this message to the public? Unfortunately after some research my findings usually point to a book, or a product that is a required purchase. The motivation never seems to be a goal of overall improving public health. My goal is to get people to realize they need to ask these questions and sometimes better decisions are made when you know both the pros and the cons of these fad diets.

    • Lindsey MS RD

      Hi Cindy,

      You make excellent points– ALWAYS ask and search for the motivation behind the message or source of the message. As I have seen, it’s often to drive marketing to drive a sale. Reprehensible.
      Keep asking good questions and thinking critically! Will be happy to have you as a fellow dietitian someday.
      Lindsey Schnell, MS RD

  • Chef Mike in Burlington ON

    As a culinary professional, it is frustrating to see my clients and the general public misled by books such as these. These authors are smart people, but use pseudoscience, conjecture, popular culture and simplified anecdotal evidence to infer proven scientific theory to their position when it simply isn’t true. You want this pseudoscience to move from popular culture to real science, just show us skeptics even a single long term, peer reviewed study that proves their position, just one…

    There is a small percentage of the population that can’t have gluten, and a small %age that can’t have dairy, and a small %age that can’t have shellfish, and a small %age that can’t have soy, or peanuts, or olives, or sugar, that’s the way humans are built and the way we’ve been built for 2 million years, and if you feel better not eating gluten (like my wife) or dairy or soy or olives (like me)then don’t eat them! She’s not a celiac, she simply feels better and we make that choice, as everyone can, and just because it makes you feel better/worse, doesn’t make it evil and brain killing and is nothing more then hyperbole to shill a book…
    We need to spend more time reading Science and less time on InStyle…

    • Lindsey MS RD

      Hey Chef Mike,
      Couldn’t agree more with you–well said!

      Lindsey Schnell, MS RD

  • Kelli

    Hello! I love your point of view and it is refreshing to read something real without all the hyped up language. This article helps me to remember to always pay attention to a group or person’s bottom line when they are detailing information, especially about health.
    Just as a side note though for anyone this may help I am one weird individual who was negatively impacted health wise by wheat, as in hospitalization, confused doctors and gal bladder surgery propositions. When I cut out wheat (and only wheat!) from my diet every problem I had (including things I thought were normal like allergies and highly painful menstrual cycles) disappeared in a month.
    Now, even my doctors exclaim I am an oddity including the naturopath that recommended the wheat removal, admitting that for most people such a solution does not provide these surgery-no-longer-necessary results. However for some people who are like me taking out wheat can actually change your health and drastically at that. Who knows what the wheat would have done to my body by the time I was an adult as I was 16 (!!!) when this all happened. Death? Maybe not…but bad things? Probably!
    I guess I would say from my experience one should dabble with diet changes through elimination of foods and listen to your body. I knew by the end of that month how much my life had changed. Even looking at the scale with a loss of 10 pounds. Your body will tell you what it likes and does not with these reactions and ultimately it is your body changes that should tell you what works and what you should stick to. These schemes are just ideas to test on your own life.

    • Lindsey MS RD

      Hi Kelli,
      Thank you for your comment and story. It provides one example of how some people can benefit from eliminating certain foods or food constituents.

      Lindsey Schnell MS RD

  • Angela Gallagher, RD, LD/N

    Amen!! Well written and kindly spoken. As a Registered Dietitian for the past 16 years, I absolutely hands down agree with you that the fear of food is far worse these days and will only continue unless we step up and educate, educate, educate. Keep up the good writing, sister! http://www.inspirReDLiVinG,com

    • Lindsey MS RD

      Hi Angela,

      Amen back at ya! ;) I do think food fear-mongering is getting worse, as well as much more sensationalistic and ridiculous. Thanks so much for your comment. Let’s keep up the good work.
      Lindsey Schnell, MS RD

  • Heather Ferris

    The problem is that many people ARE genetically incompatible with gluten and have an antibody response that does effect the thyroid among other things. I am one of those people. The unfortunate part is that people who are not genetically incompatible are becoming afraid of gluten; people who have not been tested, but are running scared due to the fear mongering messages as you say. Oversimplifying the matter does not help either. People need to understand that gluten sensitivity does exist and they likely do not have it. However, it does exist and it does cause physiological reactions. People can get tested if they think they might have it. This is similar to the vaccination fear mongering. Some parents with the MTHFR gene and some other methylation cycle mutations have children with these genes, and some of these children are, in fact, more vulnerable to having negative reactions to certain vaccinations. These parents have to be more careful about how vaccinations are administered to their children. Only for those people with this genetic mutation is this a problem. It would be a terrible thing for people to not vaccinate their children because of a globalized fear that something could happen to their child. So, obviously this does not mean that the general population should stop vaccinating children. However, the reality is that this genetic problem exists and some women do need to be more careful. Genetic testing is VERY good for some problems, and does not cost that much anymore. I personally prefer knowing rather than running around scared.

  • Lindsey MS RD

    I’ve tried to post replies to all comments–some are getting posted, others are not. Not sure what the issue is?
    Lindsey Schnell MS RD

  • Jake

    This is awesome

  • Catherine

    Since reading this article I have been mulling over and over in my mind how I feel about it. I agree with a lot of your points in fact but the one most important thing you are missing in this debate is that this sort of food fear mongering is making people actually start to investigate and research where their food comes from and that is something desperately needed in our society. If people went around oblivious (as they mostly still do) forever and never questioned what is happening to our sources of food, well, the industrial food system would do who knows how much damage (more than it already has). We, as a society, are suffering because of ignorance about the importance of the quality of food available to put in our bodies (the fact that there is even one person who will argue that food can’t make you sick is forehead slapping mind boggling to me). So I, for one, am glad all these people are making waves and causing these conversations because my health is improving every day thanks to them (even though I don’t follow their extreme beliefs). Someone’s outrageous claim was the reason I ever started to research anything and I am so glad. Having ‘official’ dietitians coming out and saying it is all bunkum and go back to your happy little lives and don’t question anything does more harm than good in my opinion.

  • T Christine Miller

    THANK YOU!! Well done.

  • Paulette

    This is an excellent article. Fear mongering is the main reason I don’t read publications that come out every so often slamming a food or component of food as the root of all our dietary problems. Simply stated I don`t trust anyone who tries to scare me into contributing to their income by buying their book. Personally I eliminated gluten from my diet 4 years ago after determining (through a dietary elimination trial) that wheat had a negative effect on my osteoarthritis symptoms. After I went gluten free for a time I tried to eat barley (which I love) and found it had the same effect as wheat. So I maintain a gluten free diet & find it beneficial to me because of my specific sensitivity. This is being responsive to your own system. I don`t extrapolate from my experience though to say that everyone should do the same. Then again, I don`t have a book to sell.

  • Winnie

    So much yes to this post!

  • janet

    Really enjoyed your article. After reading all the different ideas and fads, it’s almost enough to keep you from eating at all or at least from enjoying your food!


  • Miranda

    Welcome to the 20th and 21st century. Everything is for profit, especially if it’s related to the food industry. I certainly don’t agree with the food industry shoving down our throats that whole grains are good for you or cows milk helps grow strong bones. The food industry is soley for profit as well. Sure there are plenty of books and so called “experts” on the subject of grains and gluten but calling them fear mongers isn’t helping the cause of educating people and opening up their eyes to the essentially corrupt food industry. Sure many have jumped on the no carbs bandwagon and speaking from personal experience without having any allergies or sensitivities to gluten, removing it from my diet has without question benefitted my health. I’ve also fallen off the bandwagon and has indulged in such “toxic” food but I’m not about to paint all the “anti-gluten-ists” with the same brush and say they’re in it only for profit and to elicit fear. I could say the same things about the food industry who promotes grain consumption. Humans have only been eating this way for less than 5% of our existence. The levels of cancer and autoimmune diseases are severely on the rise. Survival rates to cancer has improved but the number of people getting cancer is alarming. We can not ignore the obvious; you are what you eat. Sure GMO’d foods and process foods play a huge part in that but when the evidence shows that gluten causes leaky gut, increases cortisol levels, soy causes hormonal imbalances etc I don’t think it’s very professional of you to call these “experts” fear mongers. Sometimes it takes going to the “extreme” to wake people up and say “hey you are in charge of your health and educating yourself about what the food industry has been trying to convince you of all you life has been wrong and is essentially in the name of profit.” I fear that you being a registered dietician has skewed your perception of healthy eating when you’ve been taught in school that whole grains and dairy is essential to a healthy diet. Personally I trust the knowledge of my naturopath or wholistic doctor who isn’t influenced by old school thought. I know you’re not promoting whole grains etc in your post but you as a professional can not ignore the obvious that people are getting sick and dying because of their diet. The legitimate researchers and “experts” are only fear mongering because they’ve got the multi-billion dollar food industry to go up against who has been for decades telling us what’s good for us is in fact harming us.

  • Brian Klein

    I guess our pal Hemi should take a look at some of his posts and change them then: http://blog.fooducate.com/2012/03/14/study-red-meat-not-only-leads-to-disease-it-kills/#comment-466193016

    And what about all the “fat and meat are killers” headlines you see everywhere? Are they ok? You could have at least put a couple of those in there for good measure. Turns out, those people have things to sell too. I haven’t seen much on this blog saying that sensationalism should be done away with.

  • http://mindfulmealsblog.com/ Lauren

    I totally agree – fear, guilt, and other negative emotions do not belong in food! I’ve seen actual food at Trader Joe’s that is labeled “guilt-free.” Ugh. Why don’t we as professionals focus on educating people on science-based info and provide easy, simple steps to get them started? It’s not very realistic for someone eating a standard american diet to go completely gluten-free, sugar-free, grain-free, etc. all at once. We know that small changes will make a HUGE difference over time compared to making a big change all at once and giving up. The scary thing is I’ve seen Cassie talk on Twitter how she works with disordered eating clients…

  • lorie

    Thank you for sharing your well-reasoned perspective.

  • http://www.personaltrainerinmelbourne.com.au/ DaveHPT

    this is such a wonderful and important article. I do a lot of work coaching younger people in recovery from eating disorders, and I lay the blame squarely at the feet of “food fear mongers” for how common and widespread such problems have become. Perhaps it starts with good intentions, but all of these diet authors misrepresenting or cherry picking scientific findings, ignoring or dismissing overwhelming real world and historical evidence supporting moderate and flexible approaches to dieting, and worst of all painting it all as some kind of conspiracy by qualified professionals who are not to be trusted. This stuff is doing so much damage to vulnerable people out there. It is disgraceful.

  • Marie

    I found this site because of a post I saw on Facebook which stated “Is there aluminum in your baking soda?” – The Prairie Homestead, which pretty much made me throw up my hands and say “I’m DONE!” So I googled food fear mongering and found this article.
    I have been trying to lose weight, and quite a bit at that (100 lbs). I know my reason for my current size is due to living a VERY sedentary lifestyle and eating maybe once a day, my one meal typically being a combo meal from any number of fast food establishments near me. Being the dutiful person on a diet I began ‘liking’ various wellness pages on Facebook. I am two weeks in and I honestly DON’T know what to eat anymore, why? Because grains are bad, sugar is bad, corn is bad (actually all veggies due to GMO’s) meat is bad because of hormones, cheese and dairy is bad, nuts are bad which leaves me with what? Vegetables (only organic because I can afford it) and protein shakes (who the hell knows what’s in those)? I can’t live like that, oh and I hate fish so that’s out, barring tuna anyway which is so filled with mercury I may as well suck on a thermometer.
    Just in the two weeks of being on my diet I am petrified of what I should eat to lose weight without inadvertently becoming ill due to practically starving myself, and to a greater extent I am scared of what I am putting into my kids. Well I am done.. done done done. We were all taught the food pyramid in grade school, I am sticking with that. I need it to be simple – I need it to be affordable. I need to get off my a** and exercise, and I need to eat more than one meal a day all made by yours truly.
    It’s just disgusting anymore, really, it is. The real poison is what these various outlets are ‘feeding’ into our brains. I am so over this crap.
    Thank you so much for this post, you’ve shed light in an otherwise dark tunnel, and at least I know that it is likely just that… food mongering.

    • Rebel

      Bless you, Marie! You said it best of all. Best wishes on your quest to get healthier. Like you said…the good old food pyramid, moderation, and a bit of exercise.

  • Rebel

    THANK HEAVENS there is someone out there with some SENSE!!! I am so fed up with the food nazis around me. I host meetings at my home frequently, and it has become a fiasco trying to juggle all the food phobias. I am not talking about legitmate allergies or diabetes here, I’m talking about the trenders. NO wheat, gluten is evil, no fructose, no lactose, no sugar, no red meat, no meat at all, no dairy, no this, no that! It drives you down to only vegetables….then they want organic too! I give up! Bring on the cookies and milk!

  • bpie1

    I have to agree that it is rather frustrating to find real foods to eat. As a consumer I do what I can do to be healthy. Its all about give and take especially with foods that are indeed questionable. I know that every single day I am either ingesting and/or inhaling something toxic. What should you do? You should have a routine in your day that involves some sort of exercise. You need a mixture of strength training, cardio, meditation and deep breathing exercises daily. Also keep in mind you need to detox. Check your bodies ph levels. You can buy test strips to check your levels. Keeping those levels between a 7-7.5. This will help fight off diseases that are trying to invade and corrupt your system. If you maintain an acidic ph level (below a 7) this leaves a free for all for diseases to manifest into something worse as time goes on left untreated. Get in control of your life as best as you can bc you only get one chance, so make it count!

  • Kit

    I know this is an old post, but I’m posting to say, finally, some sense at last! Honestly though, I’m sick to death of coming across these fear-mongering sites that are popping up like crazy across the net, seeming to be fed in large part by either the the paleo/ low carb/ saturated fat is good/ raw milk guzzlers- all of whom seem to have an agenda. It’s absolutely maddening and worse, downright scary to see the amount of seemingly level headed people who buy into it (but then I have read that even level headed people will jump happily into an eating plan that gives them the go-ahead to feed their bad habits). And these sites are everywhere too – you pop a question into Google about nutrition and one of these sites will almost certainly be one of the first to pop up (and you’re right too- they all seem to be selling something whether it be supplements, books or the like). Sigh. It’s just madness. If you dare to question any of them in the comments section too, you’re not only usually met with intolerant ire (some followers seem quite fanatical) but are accused of being a dummy for ‘big agriculture’ or the like, glossing over the fact that actually, the worldwide dairy and meat industries (which all of the above seem to rely heavily on for their so called ‘optimal’ nutrition) are so much more powerful and influential! Utterly hilarious. Rife with hypocrisy, those folks are. Really though, when did the terms (balanced diet and everything in moderation) go out of fashion? Crazy. Brainwashing isn’t just for cults, clearly. It’s scary for sure.

  • Dr. Jon Robison

    HI Lindsey – this is a delightful piece! -I am about to publish a piece on the dietary guidelines -n Pulse (LinkedIn) and ran across this piece when I was looking for something on fear-mongering in food – are you familiar with the Health at Every Size movement (philosophy?) I have been a leader in it for almost 2 decades – perhaps we can connect sometime – r u on LinkedIn? – If you would like to send me an email at jon@salveopartners.com, I would be happy to send a copy of this post in which I have included your link – thanks so much for this – take care – Dr. Jon

  • http://www.salveopartners.com Jon Robison

    HI Lindsey – I love this – I just wrote a piece for LinkedIn Pulse and included a link to this piecxe – thought you might enjoy reading it – take care – Dr. Jon – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/fear-mongering-5-stages-hyper-prevention-jon-robison?trk=pulse_spock-articles