Helping People Eat Healthy Food Is Illegal

Story at-a-glance

  • The Florida Department of Health issued a cease-and-desist letter, and $754 fine, to a holistic health coach for sharing nutritional advice without a license
  • She filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health, alleging that the cease-and-desist is a violation of the First Amendment
  • By encouraging the passage of laws requiring that only Registered Dieticians can dispense nutritional advice, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) is threatening your freedom of choice about whom you consult for nutrition and dietary advice. AND has a history of partnering with, and being sponsored by, junk food giants, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mars and Kellogg


This is an older article that may not reflect Dr. Mercola’s current view on this topic. Use our search engine to find Dr. Mercola’s latest position on any health topic.

By Dr. Mercola

While living in California, Heather Kokesch Del Castillo made a living as a holistic health coach, founding Constitution Nutrition in 2014 and providing one-on-one health coaching for clients. No licensing is required in California to provide dietary counseling, but Del Castillo sought out licensing privately anyway and completed a certification program in New York for holistic health coaching.

Her husband, who is in the military, was then transferred to Fort Walton Beach, Florida, where Del Castillo naturally continued on with her successful coaching, helping clients eat healthy, lose weight and live better lives.1 That is, until 2017 when she received an email from "Pat Smith," posing as a prospective client. It turned out he was actually an undercover agent with the Florida Department of Health, who later showed up at her door with a cease-and-desist letter and a $754 fine.

A licensed dietician had reported Del Castillo for helping people to eat healthy food without a license, which is required to practice nutrition/dietetics in the state. If she didn't stop, she would face jail time and more fines — $1,000 for each "offense" — so she closed her doors and "has been turning away willing clients ever since," the Institute for Justice (IJ) reported.

However, she hasn't given up just yet. With the help of IJ, a law firm for liberty and advocate for First Amendment rights, Del Castillo filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Health in a First Amendment lawsuit:2

"On October 3, 2017, Heather joined with the Institute for Justice to file a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida to strike down Florida's unconstitutional restrictions on who can give safe dietary advice that customers want to buy. Together, Heather and IJ will vindicate her right — and the rights of all Floridians — to offer nutrition advice and health coaching without the fear of being prosecuted or shut down by the government."

Spreading Healthy Dietary Advice Is a Crime?

No one would argue that it's against the law to chat with a friend about a certain food or dietary program. Nor would it be illegal to recommend one to an acquaintance, share one on a blog or even write a book about the topic. "In fact, under Florida law, it would be perfectly legal if Heather published her advice in a book," IJ notes, which is what makes it all the more puzzling that giving out the same advice in person is regarded as a crime.

For those wondering why Del Castillo didn't simply take the extra steps to become licensed in Florida, it was a burdensome process that would have required significant time and money.

First, she would have to earn a bachelor's degree with a major in nutrition or a related field, then complete 900 hours of supervised practice, pass a dietitian exam and pay additional fees. This is a military family, remember, so she may only be living in Florida for another couple of years — at which point she'd be moving to a new location that could have entirely new licensing requirements.

"Occupational licensing boards are increasingly operating as special-interest censors, while licensed practitioners — eager to keep out would-be competitors — often scour advertising spaces in search of people to file complaints against," IJ noted.3

Occupational licensing laws disproportionately harm military families who frequently move from state to state, yet are unable to transfer their professional credentials across state borders. However, at the base of the lawsuit is the fact that ordering this holistic health coach to cease-and-desist is a violation of the First Amendment. According to IJ:4

"[U]nder binding Supreme Court precedent, laws that restrict speech based on its subject matter are subject to the most rigorous level of constitutional scrutiny. Moreover, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the mere fact that a person is paid for their speech has no effect on its level of constitutional protection.

In this case, there is no possibility that the state of Florida can satisfy the highest level of constitutional scrutiny … In this area, as in most areas of life, the First Amendment protects the right of listeners to decide for themselves which speakers are worth listening to."

'Caveman Blogger' Fought for Right to Offer Nutrition Advice — and Won

Del Castillo's case is not unique in the U.S. Health and nutrition blogger Steve Cooksey, whose blog features nutrition principles based on the Paleo Diet, received a 19-page letter from the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition, complete with threats of arrest. Like Del Castillo, he was accused of dispensing a type of "nutrition advising" or "nutrition counseling" without a license.

The board ordered that Cooksey take down the nutritional advice or face prosecution — and even said he could not offer such advice for free to friends over the phone or email!

Cooksey enlisted the help of the Institute for Justice and filed a free speech lawsuit against the State Board in 2012. "In February 2015, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition surrendered and issued new guidelines making clear that Cooksey and other speakers like him have the right, for free or for pay, to offer advice and guidance on nutritional issues," IJ reported.5 It was a major victory, but 21 U.S. states still have nutritional licensing laws in place that restrict the freedom of food speech.

As reported by CrossFit bloggers Russell Berger and Russ Greene, "Nutritional licensure largely traces back to a special interest group, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics [AND]. Not surprisingly, the AND often grants special treatment to AND-certified nutritionists and dietitians, at the expense of fitness trainers, health coaches and anyone else who would like to warn others about junk food."6

AND Threatens Your Freedom of Choice About Health and Nutrition

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the U.S. American Dietetic Association [ADA]) is threatening your freedom of choice about whom you consult for nutrition and dietary advice. Their mission is to censor the broader nutrition community, which includes many well trained and educated practitioners, such that you get your nutritional advice only from one of their conventionally trained Registered Dietitians (RD), who has undergone nutritional brainwashing and sticks to the official party line.

Many are not aware that AND has been partnered with and sponsored by junk food giants, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mars and Kellogg.7 Besides showcasing their food products, they were also allowed to sponsor or hold educational sessions at the meeting. Coca-Cola has even sponsored ongoing educational webinars year-round in which registered dietitians were "educated" by Coca-Cola to get continuing education credits.

According to Michele Simon, president of Eat, Drink, Politics, an industry watchdog consulting group, and author of the report, "And Now a Word from Our Sponsors: Are America's Nutrition Professionals in the Pocket of Big Food?": "Among the messages taught in Coca-Cola-sponsored continuing education courses are: sugar is not harmful to children; aspartame is completely safe, including for children over one year."8

Since that report came out in 2013, it seems AND cleaned up their corporate sponsorship somewhat, although as of 2017 they still count Splenda and Campbell Soup Company (parent company of highly processed foods like Spaghetti-Os, Goldfish crackers and Pepperidge Farm cookies) among their sponsors.9 Still, dietary advice from many RDs is likely to be heavily biased by information from food-industry bigwigs. It's not a coincidence that, as The Russells reported:10

"In every single case where nutritionists and dietitians attempted to suppress food speech, the victim had recommended cutting back on refined carbohydrates and added sugar. We know of no exceptions.

Nor have we found a single case where the dietetics lobby ever went after the proxies of Coca-Cola, Nestlé and the like for giving patently false nutritional information. If licensure is about protecting the public, why do dietitians and nutritionists always use it against sugar opponents and never go after food industry apologists?"

In fact, even RDs that dare to share nutrition advice that's "outside the box" may be in jeopardy in AND's eyes. Cassie Bjork, former licensed dietician, is one such example. She gave up her dietitian license after fighting with her state licensing board for five years over what nutritional advice she could give:11

"I told my clients to forget fat-free or low-fat and embrace full-fat diets; to eschew calorie counting and eat more of the right things; to swap out margarine for good old-fashioned butter; to quit slaving at the gym and work out less but more efficiently … the board didn't like what I was doing.

They didn't think I should be talking about thyroid, hormones, supplements or really anything other than low-fat, no-fat, low-cal food. The results I got for clients, in the end, didn't matter. They wanted me to stick to 'the rules.' And so I had a choice: I could change how and what I teach, or I could relinquish my license."

Is AND Seeking a Nutritional Therapy Monopoly?

It's interesting that a licensed dietician was responsible for tipping off the Florida Department of Health about Del Castillo's holistic health coaching, as the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH-USA) has previously uncovered government surveillance, undercover sting operations and other suspicious activity by state dietetic and health boards — all similar to what was experienced directly by Del Castillo.

"ANH-USA has uncovered widespread surveillance (including undercover sting operations), aggressive investigations, and prosecutions of nutrition professionals.

These actions, together with the levying of criminal penalties, have been undertaken by state health departments and state dietetics boards that are enforcing monopolistic laws sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. More often than not, they are supported by local law enforcement or the offices of state attorneys general.

The AND … is not a medical organization, but a trade group that represents the interests of Registered Dietitians (RDs, who are certified by the AND's credentialing arm). The AND has about [100,000] members. These non-RD nutrition professionals are being targeted by these states' RD monopoly laws, despite the fact that many of them have advanced degrees and a tremendous number of clinical hours to their credit.

They are being prosecuted for 'practicing dietetics without a license' or for referring to themselves as 'a nutritionist' in media or marketing materials. One of the AND's key agenda items is to pass 'scope-of-practice' laws in each state whereby only RDs can legally offer nutrition services — even basic services like providing nutrition advice or nutrition consulting."12

While AND claims its licensing standards are in the interest of protecting public health, this would imply that seeking nutritional information from someone other than an RD is dangerous. But AND has not provided evidence of adverse events or harm occurring in any such cases.

Instead, ANH-USA points out, "The thrust behind the inclusion of nutritionists in ADA's licensing legislation is to eliminate competition. This is what we call a monopoly. When ADA controls the practice of nutritional therapy and determines the terms on which individuals have access — you have a monopoly."13

As it stands, in states that have laws under which only RDs can provide information about healthy food and diet, your health freedom is at risk. While it's reasonable for AND to require anyone calling themselves an RD to undergo their specified training and requirements, it's a whole other matter to seek to eliminate all other competition from the marketplace and turn others seeking to provide nutritional advice into criminals.

This harms everyone who seeks the freedom of choice in where to get nutritional information. And, as ANH-USA pointed out, "This explicitly excludes other nutrition professionals who are often better educated, more experienced, and better qualified than RDs. For example, a Ph.D. in nutrition may be told he or she may not legally offer nutrition advice, while a college-educated member of the AND can."14

By the way, in another attempt to monopolize all nutrition designations, AND also added an optional new registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) credential, making a point to highlight "every registered dietitian is a nutritionist, but not every nutritionist is a registered dietician."15

Whom you decide to trust when making changes to your diet can make or break your health, but, as a consumer, be aware that the credentials after your nutritionist's (or dietician's, or health coach's) name are not necessarily the deciding factor in whether or not they're providing you with valuable nutrition information. Ultimately, be sure such information is coming from an independent, unbiased source — not one that's beholden to industry or silenced by bureaucratic red tape.


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