Adelle Davis: Pioneering Diet Guru or Food Faddist?

Anne Marble
6 min readMar 21, 2022

Adelle Davis may be forgotten by many today, but she was once one of the most famous nutritionists. And one of the most controversial.

Many still see her as a pioneer in the nutrition world. Including renowned nutritionist (just kidding, he’s a lawyer and politician) U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy. Others view her as a “food faddist” who mixed good points with dangerous advice.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman who is wearing her white hair in a net. She is smiling at the camera.
Adelle Davis in 1966. (Source: Palo Verdes Library District Article.)

Adelle Davis and Me

I should be too young to know about Adelle Davis. But thanks to my brother, she was burned into my memory.

Before I was years old, my older brother (let’s call him Middle Brother) started reading diet and nutrition books. He praised Adelle Davis as if she were a saint. To him, maybe she was. Like a wandering monk, he made sure the entire household knew about her.

It’s because of diet books like this that Middle Brother started going to health food stores to look for unusual ingredients like raw milk. (Davis claimed pasteurized milk was dangerous. Yet raw milk can be very hazardous.)

Then, despite being very fit, Adelle Davis died of multiple myeloma in 1974. When she was just 70 years old. My brother kept heeding her advice. Others started to wonder if her advice was flawed.

Some Dangerous Advice

The Quackwatch website dives into some of the controversies involving Adelle Davis. In 1971, a girl became very sick because her parents followed Davis’s advice and gave their child megadoses of vitamin A and D plus calcium lactate. (Both vitamin A and vitamin D are fat-soluble vitamins, so that means they stay in the body longer and thus can become toxic. You can also learn more here.)

In that same year, another infant girl was seriously harmed by advice in Davis’s book Let’s Have Healthy Children, first published in 1951. Her mother also gave her megadoses of vitamin A. After Davis’s death, this was settled for around $150,000. (You can learn more if you download this article from a nutrition journal.)

The most infamous case involves the death of a baby, Ryan Pitzer. Her advice told parents to use potassium chloride to treat colic — and in 1978, the baby died. His parents sued Davis’s estate. The case wasn’t decided until 1981.

Anne Marble

I’m a writer and a copy editor with experience in editing science and engineering articles. Click Lists to find my most popular articles. And hidden gems.