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Doctors Know Less Than They Think About Nutrition

Doctors found to be overconfident in their knowledge and ability to counsel patients about lifestyle modification for chronic disease prevention.

November 10, 2011 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Images thanks to aeu04117.


In failing in a test of basic knowledge on diet and coronary heart disease, doctors are failing their patients. “The current study clearly shows that there is an undeniable misalignment of health professionals’ actual and perceived lifestyle modification knowledge. Simply put, doctors say they are knowledgeable but the majority of them are not. The range of knowledge demonstrated in the study indicates that misinformation and misconceptions regarding lifestyle modification are rife among health professionals. These results are particularly disturbing since the study tested health professionals’ applied knowledge of lifestyle modification, directly providing an indication of the information that they dispense to their chronic-diseases-of-lifestyle patients.”

“These perceptions lead to misplaced complacency among health professionals and explain why they do not view lack of knowledge as a barrier to counselling. Even more disturbing is the fact that they are confident in providing lifestyle modification counselling to patients, which begs the question: are patients really benefiting from the current counselling sessions?

When the doctors were asked why they don’t counsel their patients more often on diet, exercise, and smoking cessation, they denied the main problem their lack of knowledge, nor inadequate counseling skills on their part, no. Lack of time was certainly indentified as a problem but reason number one, they blame the patients.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Peter Mellor.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Be sure to leave any ask-the-doctor type questions and I'd be happy to try to answer them. And please be sure not to miss Medical school nutrition education and all the other videos on the medical profession.

For some context, please check out my associated blog posts: Nutrition Education in Medicine: a Doctor a Day Keeps the Apples Away, Health Food Store Advice: Often Worthless or WorstWatermelon For Erectile Dysfunction, and  Treating Breast Pain with Flax Seeds

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Be sure to leave any ask-the-doctor type questions and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And please be sure not to miss Medical school nutrition education and all the other videos on the medical profession.

  • rhelune

    Several years ago my endocrinologist gave me a cabbage soup diet pamphlet and said “give up vegetarianism”.

    • Toxins

      Haha, wow!

      • Emilie Gagnier-Marandola

        Oh my goodness! That’s horrible in a really funny way! I guess that’s why there are such tough standards and entrance exams for foreign doctors moving to Canada/USA.

    • Tan Truong

      You think that’s bad? A 13 year old vegetarian girl visited her country Colombia last year. Some of the adults kept trying to force her to eat meat because they believed she was unhealthy without meat. One was her grandmother, which is understandable because that’s what you expect from seniors steeped in tradition.

      However, two young doctor friends of the family told her horrible things such as, “You can’t have a baby on a vegetarian diet.” Also, something along the lines of, “You may grow an extra limb”. And we thought the protein myth was bad. There was more, but I don’t remember. She told them that studies show that meat is connected to heart disease and cancer, and they told her, “Those scientists are lying”. In the end, she reluctantly ate some meat because they were so forceful. If that’s not child abuse, I don’t know what is.

      The good news is that her aunt went out of her way to prepare vegetarian meals and her young adult cousins supported her. Shame on those other adults and “doctors”.

      So we had a long talk and I send her links to studies such as ones from this site and other sources at least once a week. Her mom got her “Skinny Bitches” (not my style, but better than the blatant lies by those Colombian “doctors”). With all this true science and the scores of fit vegan role models I show her, armed with more veggie knowledge, she feels a lot better now and is on her way to a healthier diet and lifestyle, and peace of mind!

  • World’s Worst Diet

    Thanks for all the great videos. I’d love to see the original article on this one. Do you have the link? Thanks!

  • World’s Worst Diet

    oops! nevermind, I just found it. Thanks.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    For some context, please check out my associated blog post Nutrition Education in Medicine: a Doctor a Day Keeps the Apples Away!

  • Andy

    Happily, my husband’s cardiologist said he had gone to a lecture by Esselstyne and was persuaded that eating a whole foods plant based no added oil diet was a responsible thing to do.  He added that he couldn’t get his wife to cook that way for him.

  • Mariarn43

    my doctor had me on statin drugs for cholesterol and as a Fibromyalgia sufferer the statin drugs made my condition much worse.  I decided to go vegan…nothing to lose and everything to gain.  When I went back to my doctor 3 months later for a check-up and told him I was now vegan…..the first thing he asked me was “where are you getting your protein from?”  I had to sit and educate him on where I was getting my vitamins, protein, etc from.  It has been 8 months since going vegan.  I no longer have constant pain, I have lost weight and my cholesterol is now in the healthy zone.  I will never go back to eating meat or animal bi-products again as I feel terrific and I am healthy.
    Thank you so much for your wonderful video clips.  They are very helpful and help to further educate me on healthy eating.

  • Jill, The Veggie Queen

    I would love to figure out a way to teach doctors more about nutrition from my 30 years of knowledge and experience. We know that changing what you eat can, and will, change your life.

    Great idea to blame patients. We need more doctors who say “I don’t know”.

  • Lisa

    HI, I have diverticulitis. I’ve had a colon resection but stlil have diver on the other side. I have since started taking probiotics. They seem to really help and my flares are much less. Two questions; Can probiotics with prebiotic in the diet heal the colon and is there a point where taking probiotics should stop. I also am making green smoothies which seem to make quite a difference. Thank you.

  • DoctorYum

    I wish I had learned more about nutrition from medical school, but I didn’t. I have taken an active interest and learned for myself about nutrition, specifically the benefits of a plant-based diet. The system has to be changed. Physicians should be taught nutrition and how to cook so they can pass this onto their patients. Some medical schools are starting this, but all need to follow. I will be starting a pediatrics practice with a teaching kitchen, vegetable garden and cooking classes for our patients. Educating patients is the only way to really help them overcome diet-related illness. But the teacher needs to be educated first.

    • Thea

      DoctorYum: You patients are so lucky to have you!

  • guest

    completely off topic but your video starter pics get me every time. :)