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?
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!).