Your “superfoods” are supplements.

In addition to the general disarray that is social media at this point I have noticed some trends:

  • Everyone has an opinion on the upcoming election, it seems no two people have the same opinion
  • Everyone it seems like is selling something: wraps, protein powders, supplements. one size fits all cotton clothing.

I mean it’s basically a great time to be a keyboard cowboy.

I have never posted about politics so I hope you can already tell which of the above points this post will be focusing its attention on.  I’ll leave out the piece about the clothes too, because I’ll be honest: I love me some leggings.

What I find fascinating is that everyone who is selling something via social media has suddenly become an expert in the area of nutrition.  Which is just so damn delightful to me (please read that in a sarcastic tone).

Another thing I find fascinating is that these overnight experts don’t seem to realize their products that they idolize are in fact supplements.

Here’s the thing supplements are not regulated by the FDA the way medications are.  To be clear: IT Works, Beachbody, Juice Plus etc are SUPPLEMENTS!!!!

So what does this mean?  

So products that are supplements do not generally require pre-market approval the way a medication would.  However, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer that their  product labeling is truthful, and not blatantly misleading.

An example of this is Beachbody’s protein powder- in that it is marketed by it’s followers as a “superfood” – so the ingredients on the list are factual- or are supposed to be.  However, the term superfood is still quite ambiguous, and quite frankly there’s no evidence to support you’re getting the same level of nutrition from those “superfood” ingredients that are ground up components- as you would from having the same ingredients in their whole forms.

This does mean that the ingredients list and nutrition facts labels do need to be truthful- so what you see is what you get in that regard.

The FDA is involved in post market monitoring as well, this involves monitoring safety, adverse event reporting and claims, product labeling- and claims on the product, and any accompanying inserts and literature for a particular supplements.  The Federal Trade Commission regulates the advertising of supplements.

So.  Why am I writing this post?  

I have been very vocal before that Dietitians are THE nutrition experts.  That being said I have also agreed that many individuals who sell nutrition supplements have similar goals as dietitians do, they want to advocate for people to make healthier lifestyle choices.

The difference is Registered Dietitians work with many people to help them make successful lifestyle changes, and utilize evidence based practice.

In the instance of people selling supplements they have had personal success with themselves, the information they are able to provide is either from their mother-ship of whatever supplements they are selling OR from their own personal experience.  I mean let’s also call it what it is too, they are in the business to succeed if they have more followers and individuals they are able to recruit.  So a smidge of a conflict of interest….

MLM stands for mid level marketing, it is a model that emphasizes newcomers to find more newcomers and so on. i.e the more people who you bring on board to drink the company koolaid means more $ for you. This is better known as a pyramid scheme.

I’m not such a hypocrite that I won’t act like I don’t use supplements myself- because I totes do, I am pro-protein powder.  However, there is a very fine line in using a supplement to do just that supplement your diet, versus placing unrealistic expectations into a supplement- i.e. that it is a main reason driving weight loss, and/or filled with super foods.

So how can we all work together?  

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again- most of us want the same goal.  I think as dietitians we should accept support in the form of encouragement of people to adopt more physically active lifestyles.  But this is a two way street, people who sell supplements (“health coaches”) need to recognize they have no place making meal plans for people, or telling people to “just stick with the plan” (the plan being 21 Day Fix)- and ultimately just realizing that what works for one, will not work for everyone.

I also take issue the excessive amount of buzzwords they use: healthy, superfoods, “better”, etc as they do not have enough training to realize that when people struggle long term with weight loss/weight gain using terms like more healthy/less healthy, good/bad can actually be quite damaging.

So what is the take away?

  1. Buyer beware.  Supplements will never be a complete means to weight loss, or better health, and I think it is important for people to realize that these popular means that are marketed for weight loss are in fact supplements.
  2. Consider your source. Dietitians aren’t in business to sell sexy, evidence typically is not fun or zazzy.  It’s boring, and lifestyle change takes time.  But all of that considered dietitians work with more than one client- meaning our experience is much more robust and diverse, and we realize how important it is to use evidence to tailor to the individual.
  3. Consider what is being promised.  Things like fat aren’t meant to be blocked, foods aren’t “super”, and wraps will totes displace fluid- but temporarily.
  4. A consistent routine of nutritious eating, and physical activity that combines both cardio at weights will be the only consistent way to achieve and maintain weight loss.

I don’t mean to be harsh, but I am protective of my credentials, and do feel responsible to help put more quality information out than what I typically see.  This isn’t about just picking on people who are looking to make some extra side money, this message is also totally applicable for anyone who is a “personal trainer”, “coach”, or markets themselves as a “nutritionist”.




If you would like to read more about the FDA’s involvement in how they regulate supplements


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