I am a Registered Nutritionist with both a degree in Nutrition Science and a Masters in Nutrition. I’d like to think that I do know a few things about nutrition! I wholeheartedly cheer on anyone who is trying to improve their health and diet and will happily share advice and information. However, I also find it incredibly frustrating that people are so quick to believe non-experts who dish out nutrition advice when they a) do not have any formal qualifications in dietetics or nutrition and b) often recommend restrictive diets along the lines of – no gluten/no dairy/no sugar/clean/alkaline/detox/juicing…….
Nutritionist is not a protected term, so look for a Registered Nutritionist!
It should be highlighted repeatedly that the term ‘Nutritionist’ is not a protected one, either in France or in the UK. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. You could read a book on nutrition or do a weekend online course and start calling yourself a nutritionist. Equally, you could do nothing at all and just wake up one morning and decide to call yourself a nutritionist. Hence the confusion! The term ‘Nutritionist’ is meaningless on its own.
Unlike ‘nutritionist’, the title of dietitian is protected by law. In the UK, only individuals who are registered with the Healthcare Council can call themselves a dietitian. Dietitians in the UK have a degree level qualification and follow a strict code of professional ethics.
In the UK, the term ‘Registered Nutritionist’ is used to indicate individuals who have completed an evidence based nutrition qualification. A minimum requirement is a degree level qualification. A registered nutritionist is voluntarily regulated and like a dietician must follow a strict code of professional conduct and apply evidence based principles.
The main difference between a registered nutritionist and a dietitian is that dietitians can prescribe medications, work with acutely ill patients and prescribe therapeutic intervention diets, such a diet to support diabetics type 1.
Registered Nutritionists can give general advice on food, healthy eating and diets for disease prevention but need to refer to a dietitian in terms of therapeutic diets for specific medical conditions. Click here for a useful summary by the British Dietetic Association.
The importance of evidence based advice!
It’s so important that any nutrition advice you are given is ‘evidence based’. This means that the advice is evaluated, tested and proven to be effective in making a positive difference to your health.
For example, advising people to eat more vegetables is evidence based advice as this is backed by scientific studies demonstrating a strong association with vegetable intake and better health. But advising people to cut dairy products from your diet because they ‘are bad for you’ is not evidence based advice. The studies on health and dairy products are conflicting. An evidence based approach involves evaluating and assessing the many studies which have been performed, not just hand picking the ones which support your beliefs. Once this evidence based approach is applied to dairy products, the bulk of the evidence tends to indicate that dairy products are generally positive for our health. The role of registered nutritionist or dietitian is to clearly explain all this information to you to help you make informed choices about your diet based on your preferences and the latest science, as opposed to the latest food fads (!)
Nutrition in France – Diététicien and Medecin-Nutritionniste
In France, the title of diététicien is also protected by law. The qualifications required are either a BTS Diététique (a 2 year course) or a DUT (diplôme universitaire de technologie) with a nutrition option which also takes 2 years. They can then join the Association Francaise des Diététiciens Nutritionnistes and are registered with the Agence Regional de Santé.
You also find medecin nutritionnistes, doctors who have taken a nutrition module called a DESU (diplome complementaire in nutrition). This allows them to give nutrition advice in addition to their existing medical speciality.
How to choose a nutrition expert
As to my final tips on choosing a nutrition expert? While I’m just ever so slightly biased and would love you to come and see me (!), these are some tips to ensure you get proper nutrition advice!
- Check their qualifications – ideally, they should have a degree level qualification and be registered with a nutrition or dietetics professional body. Titles such as ‘nutrition coach’, ‘health coach, ‘diet expert’ are not valid qualifications!
- Make sure they are insured to give nutrition advice – ask to see their insurance certificate
- Look for them on Linked In – while they may have an impressive social media presence (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter….) check out their credentials on Linked in too
Remember, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is and be very sceptical of any nutrition expert trying to sell you supplements or tests as they tend to get a percentage of sales which can influence the advice they give you!