Monday, February 11, 2019

Guest Post: The Truth about Detox Diets (and “Nutritionists”)

Todays guest post comes from Colleen O'Connor and Justine Horne, two registered dietitians who recently set out to investigate whether there's a difference between the information provided online by regulated health professionals (registered dietitians), and unregulated sources of dietary information (nutritionists), when it comes to "detox" diets. Guess what? There was. Here's their study published in the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research and below are their thoughts on same
With January being prime time for New Year’s resolutions, you’ve probably recently seen a plethora of social media ads preaching the life-changing benefits of every diet under the sun, including detox diets.

So do we really need to detox? Is drinking lemon water for a week going to cleanse our bodies from all of those supposedly evil toxins that surround us day to day? Is a detox diet the solution to your life-long struggle with weight management? Is “cleansing” your body with things like activated charcoal beverages even safe?

You may have guessed that the answer to all of these questions is no. So why are we so intrigued by detox diets?

Part of the reason may lie in the information we read online. Our group from Brescia University College at Western University in London, Ontario reviewed information posted on nutrition blogs about detox diets and this research was published today in the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research. The study aimed to determine if nutritionists and dietitians in Ontario are providing safe, science-based information and advice about detox diets online.

But there a difference between a dietitian and nutritionist?

In Ontario, yes there is - anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. That’s right, you can open up your own business as a self-proclaimed “nutritionist,” sell your nutrition services to friends, family, and whoever else you wish and hey, some insurance companies will even cover the cost of your services! You may have never read a single word about nutrition, yet you can call yourself a “nutritionist.” Do you see anything wrong with this situation?

We certainly do.

Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Quebec do too. That’s why their provincial legislation protects the title “nutritionist” for use exclusively by those with extensive scientific education and nutrition training - registered dietitians (also referred to as ‘dietitians’). Registered dietitians complete an accredited 4-year bachelor of science program to learn about the science behind food and nutrition, complete a competitive internship consisting of at least 1250 hours of supervised practical training, and pass a national 6 hr exam. They must continually keep up with the latest and greatest scientific evidence in nutrition, and are registered members of a regulatory college which is responsible for ensuring dietitians are promoting science-based, safe nutrition advice through a quality assurance program.

So our group from Brescia University College at Western University looked at the information posted online about detoxes from Ontario-based dietitians’ as well as “nutritionists’” websites. We compared this information to the latest peer-reviewed scientific review article on detox diets and overall, found the following:
  • Unregulated “nutritionists” are providing unproven, misleading, and potentially harmful information about detox diets on their blogs.
  • Registered dietitians, on the other hand, are providing safe, science-based information about detox diets on their blogs.
If you consider that anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist” in Ontario, these findings really aren’t surprising. But they are concerning.

Our study highlights that the current situation in Ontario has the potential to do harm to the general public. Ontario legislation around the open use of the term “nutritionist” needs to change. If you agree, feel free to show your support through e-signing this petition.

The fact that somebody can easily get roped into spending their precious time, energy and money on nutrition services that have no scientific merit and the potential to do harm is really upsetting. If you’re seeking out nutrition information, make sure it’s coming from someone credible, like a dietitian.  In Canada, you can search for a dietitian near you by clicking here, or by clicking here. Many health insurance companies cover the cost of dietitian services. Dietitians are also available through family health teams, hospitals, community health centres, and other public healthcare organizations. If you just have some quick questions about nutrition, dietitians are now part of TeleHealth Ontario. Give them a call at 1-866-797-0000 to chat for free or visit

So rather than detox dieting, devote your efforts to making sustainable, life-long, science-backed lifestyle changes. Start small, with 1 or 2 specific changes and keep these up until they become habits. Then add something new. Small, sustainable lifestyle changes can add up to a major lifestyle overhaul and set you on your road to health and well-being.

Colleen O’Connor is a registered dietitian and an associate professor in the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences at Brescia University. She worked as a clinical dietitian in various settings before returning to school and completing her Ph.D. at the University of Guelph. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in clinical nutrition. Recent research has included interests in the effects of fermented foods on human health, effects of smart phone apps on influencing healthy behaviours in youth, and nutrient intake of residents in long-term care. She is registered with the College of Dietitians of Ontario and is also a member of Dietitians of Canada and the Canadian Nutrition Society. You can find her on Twitter here.

Justine Horne is a registered dietitian and PhD candidate in Health and Aging at the University of Western Ontario. She received a CIHR Frederick Banting and Charles Best Doctoral Award for her PhD work, which aims to assess the utility of innovative personalized nutrition strategies to help patients improve health behaviours and achieve a healthy body weight. Justine currently works as a dietitian at the East Elgin Family Health Team. She is registered with the College of Dietitians of Ontario and is also a member of Dietitians of Canada and the Canadian Nutrition Society. You can find her on Twitter here.