With everyone from personal trainers to health coaches dishing out nutritional advice, could you be leaving your health in the hands of an under qualified “professional” rather than a properly qualified nutrition expert?
As a licensed nutritionist with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Nutritional Health, I’m often asked about the various “nutrition gurus” that are popping up left and right. Increasingly, I’m also asked to “mop up the damage” with disappointed clients misled by “self-appointed experts” who have misrepresented their nutritional know how.
Rule 1: Does my dietary guide have a nutritional license?
Obtaining a license from a fully-accredited institution – ideally one with a reputation for academic excellence – is the best guarantee to ensure genuine credibility.
My fascination with how food choices affect physical and mental health is lifelong, but it took five years of full time study to earn the necessary qualifications to be considered an authority on nutrition. I trained with BCNH College of Nutrition and Health, widely accepted as among the most prestigious and demanding in the world. Before I could enroll, I had to complete a year’s foundation course in advanced chemistry and biology. Most of us already had a university degree and were well acquainted with the rigors of evidenced-based research.
Rule 2: Understand the difference between a licensed nutritionist and a dietician
Despite differences in philosophy and approach, nutritionists and dieticians are united in their aim of improving people’s health. Both can play a particularly helpful role in educating patients about proper nutrition, doctors are usually too busy treating disease. Here’s how we differ:
- Nutritionists help patients reach their health goals by identifying underlying factors, correcting nutritional deficiencies and prescribing specific diets, supplements and diagnostic tests. In addition to diet, a holistic nutritionist considers environmental, psychological and emotional factors. Nutritionists work in private practice and consult with doctors only when asked.
- Dieticians complete a four-year degree and log in hundreds of hours of rigorous internship.They usually work within institutional settings (hospitals, nursing homes) and often work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to coordinate medical and nutritional needs. Their approach is orthodox and they focus primarily on addressing the physical symptoms of a condition.
I believe nutritional therapy has a unique advantage because there is no “one size fits all” approach. Nutritionists consider their clients’ unique dietary and lifestyle needs and offer personalized prescriptions. The focus is on prevention – especially if there is a family predisposition toward a certain condition – so our approach can be especially helpful in preventing disease in the first place.
Remember that registered dieticians and licensed nutritionists are professionals that have accredited nutrition degrees and took universally-accepted exams. Other nutritional titles – including health coach – require very little training.
Rule 3: Know that anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist”
Many who call themselves “nutritionists” lack proper credentials, which is both confusing and unhelpful to the public. The title alone is not enough to indicate whether the person in question has Ph.D. level training or simply completed a 6-month part-time course. Moreover, the number of private schools offering online nutritional training has mushroomed, spawning an unregulated industry at the early stage of its evolution.
Those seriously involved in the profession have been working for years to establish standards of training and practice. In the UK, there is now a petition to make “nutritionist” a legally protected title. Until that time, choose only nutritionists with a fully-accredited license.
Rule 4: Credibility matters
You probably know someone who’s a health coach. Perhaps they studied at the “World’s Largest Nutrition School”, notorious for being heavy on marketing and light on substance. It’s open to anyone who can pay a few thousand dollars in tuition and avoids the didactic focus of more intense courses. It does not teach how bodily systems work. Of the over 100 nutritional theories it covers, many not only clash with science, but also with each other.
These low-level “certifications” can help motivate people to fulfill their health goals, however their lack of in-depth knowledge means that their recommendations can be inaccurate and sometimes even harmful. Health coaches avoid legal implications by implying that they are not providing nutritional counseling, simply nutritional “coaching” – as if there were a difference!
Don’t get me wrong: health coaches and other consultants can provide valuable support and guidance. Just remember that all are not created equal. I encourage you to get some background information on their education and experience.
Rule 5: Avoid mistakes by checking credentials
Don’t be fooled by the “certifications” and fancy-looking stamps. There are only two things to look for that guarantee you will receive balanced and correct nutritional information. A qualified professional will usually have an undergraduate (BSc Hons) or postgraduate (MA) degree in a nutritional science, plus at least three years of professional experience.
The Bottom Line
There simply is no shortcut or substitute for rigorous education in the field of nutrition as all recommendations should be supported by science. When seeking nutritional advice find a well-qualified practitioner licensed by a reputable institution that covers nutrition science, biochemistry, physiology, anatomy, and other related topics.
Remember, your health is your most important asset. Take the time to choose your advisor wisely. A good decision will equip you with all the tools you need to reach your optimum health.
For nutritional consultations on a wide range of health issues contact Susan Tomassini, Licensed Nutritionist BSc (Hons) Dip BCNH @ 06 17481114