Will the real nutrition experts please stand up?
August 19, 2015
It’s a confusing time to be a consumer. These days, anyone with good sales skills, a computer and an opinion can make a lot of money crafting a very convincing argument for how you should look after your health. So how do you know if what you are hearing and reading is from a credible source? Deakin Master of Dietetics student Sophie Jamieson gives her run down on how to recognise a real expert in nutrition.
It baffles me to see who is giving dietary advice today in the wide world of social media. A prime example of this is a high-profile journalist whose message that you should “quit sugar” boils down to no more than a marketing strategy, one based on selectively picking scientific research that suits their interest. Another example is a famous chef who has made a lot of money advocating that the diets of cavemen are what we should be eating today.
Don’t get me wrong, excess sugar consumption can certainly contribute to weight gain and our life style of processed packaged foods has a lot to do with this country’s health crisis, but people’s health and well-being can’t be optimised by following restrictive diets.
So who are the real experts in nutrition?
To start with, the qualifications of a journalist or chef turned “health coach” come nowhere close to that of a Registered Nutritionist (RN) or Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD).
A Registered Nutritionist has studied a minimum of 3 years to obtain a Bachelor’s degree majoring in nutrition. Some even have a postgraduate degree or PhD specialising in nutrition.
An Accredited Practising Dietitian has studied at least 4 years of human nutrition. They also undertake supervised professional experience in community health, clinical nutrition and food service as part of their degree.
Unfortunately, some individuals call themselves nutritionists or dietitians even when they have unsuitable qualifications. Some can have no qualifications at all! They can do this because the title of ‘Nutritionist’ or ‘Dietitian’ is not protected legally in Australia, although both RN and APD are protected in who can use these titles.
To be confident in the quality of nutritional advice you’re receiving, see a qualified nutritionist or dietitian that is registered with the Nutrition Society of Australia or the Dietitians Association of Australia. Which means you can be sure that these practitioners know what they’re talking about!
Dietitian or Nutritionist?
So what’s the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian, you ask?
All dietitians are trained to be nutritionists, though nutritionists who have not specialised in dietetics cannot take on the role of a dietitian. In their role, nutritionists seek to assist individuals, communities and the greater population to achieve optimal health and well-being through food and nutrition. They usually do this by designing, coordinating, and implementing a variety of population health interventions.
Dietitians, in addition to being nutritionists, have completed study that involves considerable theory and professional practice in a variety of clinical and organisation settings. They have also been supervised and assessed to ensure certain standards are met in their professional practice. This allows them to take on roles in clinical (medical) nutrition, community nutrition and food service management.
Unfortunately, you won’t hear or see RNs or APDs getting quite as much media attention as “health coaches”. The key reason for that is that they aren’t spicy enough….
When you complete your three or four years of nutrition training and become a RN or APD, you are bound by a code of conduct and professional ethics that prohibits you from making outrageous claims, using testimonials from clients and from using those inappropriate (and probably Photoshopped) before and after photos.
Although not great for a marketing strategy, this code of conduct is great for consumers! It means that, as a consumer, you can be confident that your RN or APD will maintain client confidentiality, be professionally competent and provide you with evidence based nutrition advice.
So if you want to read some real, evidence-based nutrition articles, check out some of the below social media accounts from the real nutrition experts (all RNs and APDs of course!).
Dietitians Association of Australia
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RN and APD are great. Health coaches are also wonderful. They speak to people in ways they understand and in places where they frequent, like online blogs and social media. If they didn’t have a lot to offer, they wouldn’t be nearly as popular as they are. Why not be allies? Although the approach may be different, the goal is similar: to help Australians eat more healthy food and less of the unhealthy foods.
Thank you for your comment. The big difference here though is those experts do not promote the Paleo diet as the ‘only’ diet a person should follow nor make disease-curing claims of MS and autism as Pete Evans openly does by his use of testimonials on his Facebook page.
I appreciate the quick response.
While I agree that no one should say any diet is the “only diet”, the modern paleo diet isn’t a single diet, it’s a template. Theoretically, there is a version for everyone. I’ve seen all of the stories about Chef Evans supposed claims about autism and MS, but in reading the sourced cited for these claims, he makes no claims at all and simply asks the question, “Why are these diseases so rampant now?” One could assume that he is insinuating cause, but you cannot call it a claim of cause with any integrity.
With regard to diet testimonials, show me a diet blog or Facebook page that DOESN’T include testimonials and I might agree that you have more reason to bag on Chef Evans than John McDougall or Freelee the banana girl. And I see no such criticism of them or any other here.
It is rather easy to attack Pete Evans for not being “qualified”, and as such, to dismiss the modern Paleo diet template as the ranting of a silly celebrity chef. However, the template is promoted by literally hundreds of highly qualified nutrition experts and even more medical doctors. So while Pete may not have the credentials you believe necessary to promote Paleo, there is no shortage of nutrition experts promoting it as well. This is great resource for dietitians with blogs-
So clearly, Pete’s “credentials” aren’t of issue at all. There are plenty of “real experts” by your own definition, who are pro-paleo. =)