It’s never been easier to get nutrition advice, but how do you spot a fake nutritionist by deciphering the hard science from the pseudo nonsense? The Fight the Fads girls clear up the confusion about who to contact with a diet conundrum
Want nutrition advice? Just google a nutritionist, right? But run a simple online search for this term and you’ll get an endless list of wellness gurus, therapists, bought-it-online-and-now-I’m-an-expert ‘nutritionists’ as well as real-deal healthcare professionals. The problem isn’t choice, but quality of choice, as not all nutritionists are created equal.
Five ways to spot a fake nutritionist
1 If they get out an intolerance kit, run with your credit card still firmly in hand. If you want to be tested for a food allergy, see a GP.
2 If the first words you read in their biog are, ‘Lots of my clients do well giving up gluten,’ un-follow them – immediately! Then log on to coeliac.org.uk and get the medically sound reasons to give up gluten (most of us don’t need to).
3 When they try to convince you that one food prevents/cures cancer, you know they’ve never read a clinical scientific paper. Walk away.
4 Over-enthusiastically extolling the virtues of a NutriBullet is a clear warning sign. The sugars in whole fruit don’t count towards your daily 30g max. If the fruit is blitzed, they do.
5 Dedication to rice milk is a giveaway if it’s followed by a diatribe against the ‘horrors’ of dairy. If you want to switch, go for unsweetened almond milk, which is one of the few milk alternatives with similar levels of calcium.
Nutrionist versus fake nutritionist
As the law stands, anyone can practise as a nutritionist. And, for better or worse, they do. While some will have spent years studying the science at university, others will have simply signed up to a short online course for a small fee, ticked a few boxes, then adopted the job title. The problem? The latter school of ‘nutritionists’ is unregulated, meaning the advice can often be unfounded, unscientific and potentially dangerous.
Spot the difference
Following four years of studying, we’ll qualify as dietitians in 2018. Thankfully, our job title is protected by law. Dietitians are the only professionals in the field of nutrition who are statutorily regulated and must abide by an ethical code of practice. This ensures their work is carried out to the highest standards. Registered dietitians are healthcare professionals who are able to diagnose, treat and prevent diet-related diseases.
Nutritionists work with people without known medical conditions to prevent disease, offering dietary and lifestyle recommendations. Many nutritionists are highly knowledgeable and offer sound advice, but it’s the growing number of bogus individuals who are diluting the expertise in the field. We want the information available to the public to be regulated, so we set up a petition last year to have the legalities that are applied to dietitians extended to nutritionists. Happily, we obtained the required 10,000 signatures for a government response.
Nutrition or nonsense?
The pseudo nutritionist problem has come to a head because of the influence of social media. Unregulated individuals are doling out nutrition advice on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and blogs, regardless of whether they’ve received any formal training. The focus on expensive so-called superfoods, ‘detoxing’ through juice diets and cutting out gluten and/or dairy unnecessarily is a cause for concern among many healthcare professionals.
In April, the National Osteoporosis Society (NOS) highlighted the dangers current eating habits are having on young people’s health. The most common diet for under-25s was ‘clean eating’, influenced by nutrition bloggers. The NOS pointed out that these restrictive eating regimens often involve cutting out entire food groups such as dairy, an important source of calcium for strong bones. If this calcium isn’t replaced, young women face an increased risk of bone problems in later life.
How to find a real nutritionist
Look for someone with a BSc in nutrition, who is registered with the Association for Nutrition (AFN). This requires them to meet stringent criteria that includes graduating with an accredited, evidence-based nutritional science degree. Check if a nutritionist is registered by looking for the letters RNutr after their name, or search the AFN website.
The Fight the Fads team is, from left, Elizabeth Cresta, Caroline Day and Harriet Smith. Read more from them at fightthefads.com.