Nutrition Sources You Can Trust

By Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN

Have you noticed that everyone seems to be a food and nutrition expert? Even when they have very little, if any, formal training in the subject matter. The fact that calling oneself a “nutritionist” is poorly regulated makes it even more difficult to distinguish professionals from hobbyists.

Analysis of Current Literature was one of my favorite classes in graduate school. Tasked with learning how to scrutinize everything from scientific studies to popular diet books left me skeptical about anything written or said about food and nutrition. Many studies were subjective rather than objective, depending on who funded them. Even more disturbing is the fact that many popular diet books had and still have neither a food nor nutrition professional as an author, or co-author.

For reference, a credible nutrition education requires two full years of schooling plus one year of a dietetic internship or the equivalent. The following degrees define most nutritionists or dietitian nutritionists:

  1. MS (Master of Science), RD (Registered Dietitian)

  2. MS, CNS (Certified Nutrition Specialist), CDN (Certified Dietitian Nutritionist)

  3. BS (Bachelor of Science), RD

There are also PhD nutrition professionals and those with an MS in nutrition who work in the field but do not necessarily work directly with patients. Without any of the above noted degrees, you should question where a so-called nutritionist received their training.

Many popular diet books have neither a food nor nutrition professional as an author, or co-author.

Other Nutrition “Experts”

The Doctor Just because someone has MD after their name does not mean that they are also a nutrition expert. In fact, most medical schools in the United States offer less than 25 hours of nutrition education over four years. In addition, roughly 80-percent of medical schools don’t require a single course in nutrition. Therefore, your doctor is likely not your best bet for specific dietary guidance.

However, if your doctor has advanced their education with certification in integrative functional medicine then there is a good chance that they have some nutrition education. Similarly, Naturopathic Doctors (ND) have significant nutrition-science in medical school as do Doctors of Osteopathy (DO).

Just because someone has MD after their name does not mean that they are also a nutrition expert. Roughly 80-percent of medical schools don’t require a single course in nutrition.

The Chiropractor A chiropractor, a person with a Doctor of Chiropractic degree, is not a medical doctor as an MD, ND, or DO. They do not attend medical school, but rather obtain a highly-focused graduate level of schooling that focuses on the interaction of the spine and nervous system.

Many chiropractors, with or without additional training, practice nutrition therapy. Some even prescribe supplementation. Be wary of the chiropractor who practices outside the scope of their training.

The Health Coach By definition "Health coaching, also referred to as wellness coaching, is a process that facilitates healthy, sustainable behavior change by challenging a client to listen to their inner wisdom, identify their values, and transform their goals into action." Many health coaches claim to be nutrition professionals, with just a mere 6-12 months of online “coaching” guidance. While this category of health professional can truly have a role in better health for all, especially if trained at programs within credible universities such as Duke and University of Arizona (with existing nutrition, even medical departments), health coaches are not nutritionists.

The Acupuncturist, Yoga Teacher, Fitness Guru and Trainer Simply put, these professionals are not nutritionists, meaning they are not qualified to practice nutrition unless they have additional formal education in nutrition-science. Their recommendations on powders, supplements, or herbs may be based on limited knowledge so recommending them to clients and students is outside their scope of practice. Without understanding a person's full medical history (a formal assessment, even review of lab work) paired with a solid education in nutrition, they could be putting your health in danger.

The Influencer Unless an influencer has a formal education in nutrition-science, do not buy into their pseudoscience or product pushes. It’s highly likely that money is their only bottom line.

5 Nutrition Sources You Can Trust

Making choices that truly nourish and support optimal health and well-being can be daunting especially with so much noise from food companies, media, health experts, quasi-health experts, and influencers. Learning to tune them out and tune in to your own gut instead will prove beneficial to your health. Hopefully, this provides you with a new sense of clarity and power when seeking or believing nutrition advice. If you want to learn more, these truly credible sources can serve as a solid starting point:

  1. Food Politics, Marion Nestle, MPH, PhD

  2. Cornell Cooperative Extension

  3. The Nutrition Source, Harvard University

  4. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter

  5. Nutrition Action, Center for Science in the Public Interest

Never forget that your health and wellbeing is a gift, one of your most precious possessions. So where you get your information and guidance could be a determinant of your health. Please question your healthcare providers as well as all information sources. It is your right!

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