Why You Shouldn’t Get Nutrition Advice From Your Doctor

Male Doctor with Stethoscope Holding Green Apple.

Let me ask you this first; have you ever gone to your doctor as a result of any of the following:

  • being overweight

  • feeling chronically ill

  • getting bad blood test results

and then asked for or were given nutrition advice from your doctor?

I’m sorry to say it, but there’s a good chance that you were given poor advice.

The Case Against Doctors Giving Nutrition Advice

Going to University allowed me to meet a lot of intelligent people.  Some of the brightest were studying in order to go to medical school and become various types of physicians.

Here’s the traditional job definition from Wikipedia:

“A physician is a professional who practices medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining or restoring human health through the study, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, injury, and other physical and mental impairments.”

I know what you’re thinking, “Isn’t good nutrition part of promoting, maintaining or restoring human health?”, and you’re right, it is.

The problem, I contend, is that the majority of physicians do not have the knowledge or experience to give proper nutritional guidance.

How Physicians are Trained

Medical school is arguably the toughest program to get accepted to, and once you’re in it’s no cakewalk.  However, medical schools currently do not prepare students (future doctors) in nutrition to anywhere close to an acceptable level.

hours of nutrition trainingThis graph on the right shows the main results of a survey conducted in 2004 by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  They sent the 12 question survey out to the 126 accredited medical schools in the United States and received 106 responses.

The key finding that I’m interested in is shown in the graph, which is the amount of contact hours a typical student receives in nutrition during their time at the school.  The national average came out to be 23.9 hours.

The average doctor has less than a day’s worth of time spent learning nutrition.  I routinely spend more than that reading journals and nutrition-related books in a week.

How are you possibly supposed to learn everything you need to know about proper nutrition in less than a day? The answer, you can’t.

Not only that, but how much of those 24 hours of nutrition training will they remember? Not many in all likelihood unless they continually review them.

The Experience of a Physician

Doctors are amazing at discovering what is wrong with people.  They see sick and injured people all day, and over time they become extremely good at recognizing the problems and treating them.

The problem is, that healthy people don’t often go to see doctors.  What this leads to, is that the average doctor knows what doesn’t work in regards to human health, but they don’t know what does work.

The Exceptions

It wouldn’t be fair to call out all physicians for having poor knowledge in nutrition.  There are certainly a small percentage who spend a significant amount of their own time educating themselves so that they can provide good nutritional advice.

The bonus here is that most physicians have a really good understanding of biology, and once sufficiently educated, they really know how to tie everything together.

Some well-known doctors go as far as to have their own nutrition blogs, like Peter Attia.

The Takeaway

Don’t overestimate the knowledge that a doctor has just because they are in a position of prestige and authority.

If your doctor gives you nutrition advice, it doesn’t hurt to consult other sources for second and third opinions.  Ask questions and do your own research/education as needed so you can take your health into your own hands.

If you have any experience with doctors and nutritional advice that you would like to share, leave a comment below.

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6 comments

  1. Lindsey   •  

    I agree 100%! It seems unfair that everyone expects doctors to have the answers all the time, but there is only so much one person can know.

  2. Blake   •  

    if my dr tells me to do somthing to be healthy, i do it!! they might not have too much traning but there smart people.

  3. Ahmed   •  

    I am thinking of becoming a doctor in the future. In all honesty from what I’ve read and experienced you’re right that nutrition has to be made a bigger part of medical school. There are several people campaigning for this, albeit without too much success unfortunately.

    For now I believe that individual doctors who see the worth in nutrition must spend the time on their own to learn before giving out-dated and often incorrect advice.

    • Dale   •     Author

      Thanks for the comment Ahmed, it seems like we are on the same page. As long as you are aware you need to educated yourself on nutrition I’m sure you’ll be a great doctor.

  4. Abby   •  

    I agree!!

    24 hours of nutrition training is nothing compared to the year(s) of school that we do to become nutritionists. I’ve heard that doctors have also given really bad advice when it comes to food – but for some reason most of the public look up to doctors when it comes to food.

    Cheers,
    Abby
    http://www.primephysiquenutrition.com

  5. Dave   •  

    Doctors are trained to treat people who have become sick and come see them, not to prevent anything. Nutrition is a major part of preventing illness. It would seem then that the medical establishment would not be interested in promoting a healthy diet and eating habits. Perhaps this is why medical schools spend so little time educating doctors about one of the major foundational elements of health.

    Conversely, veterinarians, who many times sell pet food in their practices, often are very interested in nutrition, especially younger vets.

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