We are constantly looking for answers to questions. Questions of all kinds. Thousands of people are interested in expanding their nutrition knowledge, but where are they turning for the answers to their questions? According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), most people get their nutrition information from the media: Television, magazines, the Internet, and newspapers. However, these popular sources of information are among the least credible, according to the ADA.
Many people are now going to the Internet first: Google and other search engines, WebMd, Wikipedia, personal blogs, etc. Can you trust the answers? Take for example Wikipedia…this is a free encyclopedia that anyone can edit…no expertise or qualifications needed. Do you really want to trust that information?
Sometimes the text on a page, or the well-meaning advice you received from a coworker, just won’t cut it. And when this advice fails, more consumers are seeking guidance from experts who can answer their questions, provide personalized feedback, and offer individualized advice. But who is qualified to provide these answers? We want to trust our physicians, but the truth is 80% of physicians have not had even one course in nutrition. The most credible sources for your nutritional needs are registered dietitians.
Buyer beware – Do your homework
One of the most accessible locations claiming to offer such services is local fitness centers. However, you must do your homework before signing up. Just as I have warned you about personal trainers, not all nutrition specialists are created equal. Some local fitness centers allow trainers to call themselves ‘Certified Nutritionists,’ well aware of how deceptive that is.
Unfortunately, the definition and meaning of the term “nutritionist” may vary greatly from one facility to another. This makes it difficult and confusing for you, the consumer. In many states, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, even without a college degree or any formal training in the science of nutrition. Although some states regulate the title of “nutritionist,” other similar sounding titles, such as “nutrition consultant” can still be freely used with no defined meaning. However, this is not always the case. In fact, using the title Certified Nutritionist, as some do, actually disregards legislation (s. 448.76) which states:
A person who is not a certified dietitian may not designate himself or herself as a dietitian, claim to provide dietetic services or use any title or initials that represent or may tend to represent the person as certified or licensed as a dietitian or as certified or licensed in a nutrition-related field.[Emphasis Added]
Clarifying the background and credentials of the person you meet with is important because nutrition is a complex science that requires years of training and continuing education. Receiving incorrect information from an untrained or poorly-trained individual could result in worsening your health. Here’s a breakdown of the credentials:
Registered Dietitian (R.D.). The R.D. credential is granted by the ADA and ensures that this individual has graduated with at least a bachelor of science degree in nutrition or dietetics from an accredited program, finished a 900-hour supervised internship that includes clinical experience, passed a national board examination, and completes at least 75 hours of continuing education every five years. R.D.s have more formal training in nutrition science than any other health professional.
Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist (L.D. or sometimes L.D./N.). Currently, 30 states require nutrition practitioners to apply to the state to become licensed as a dietitian or nutritionist (similar to physicians, nurses, physical therapists, etc.). State licensing ensures that an individual has met educational and training requirements. In addition, states can penalize individuals who operate unsafely or unethically, including revoking their license to practice.
Seek out a R.D. or L.D. if you have any medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, high-blood pressure, high cholesterol, polycystic ovary syndrome, food allergies, or digestive problems. Check with your insurance company to see if they will cover your visit or reimburse your out-of-pocket expense. And if you are generally healthy (no medical conditions), consider taking a group nutrition class taught by a R.D.
If you’re meeting with anyone other than a R.D. or L.D./N. – such as a nutritional consultant or a personal trainer who is not also a R.D. – expect to receive only general nutrition education and advice. Fitness professionals have some nutrition training, but not enough to provide individualized nutrition assessments and counseling. They can, however, provide basic but important nutrition information, which may include explaining the basic food groups, teaching you how to read food labels, or answering general nutrition questions.
So, be careful who you take advice from. Each body is different. We know this. And just as each person should look for customized workouts, each person should seek out the diet and nutrition specific to their body type and lifestyle!
Enough said for today!
American Dietetic Association, www.eatright..org
Wisconsin Administrative Code, Retrieved from: http://nxt.legis.state.wi.us/nxt/gateway.dll?f=templates&fn=default.htm&d=stats&jd=448.76.