Welcome to my blog! I’m Harriet, a Registered Dietitian and Health Writer and founder of ‘Surrey Dietitian’.
I’ll be sharing regular blog posts on interesting and relevant nutrition topics, with a special focus on chronic illnesses. I have personal experience of managing a range of chronic illnesses, which you can read about over on my friend's blog here.
My work as a Freelance Dietitian and Health Writer is extremely varied, and with that comes a great deal of scrutinising nutritional research and news headlines. So, this first article looks at who to turn to for sensible, sound and scientific nutrition advice.
Who are the Real Nutrition Experts?
First things first, make sure that you are taking nutrition advice from a real nutrition expert.
Choosing the right person can be confusing, and this isn’t helped by the rise of nutrition and wellness gurus on social media who sometimes peddle questionable and even dangerous nutrition advice.
The safest way to know that you are seeing a qualified nutrition professional is to check their education credentials and registration details. Make sure that they have obtained at least an undergraduate degree in Nutrition or Dietetics and ensure that they are listed on a register held by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) or the Association for Nutrition (AfN).
Choosing the Right Nutrition Professional:
There’s a distinct different between Registered Nutritionists and Registered Dietitians. Nutritionists are qualified to provide information about food and healthy eating. Whereas dietitians are able to assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems.
Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals to be regulated by law, and they are governed by a strict ethical code and professional standards, which ensures they always work to high standards. Only those registered with the HCPC can call themselves a dietitian.
‘Nutritionist’ is not a protected title in the UK, and this means that anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Many of my colleagues are highly qualified nutritionists who offer sound advice, but unfortunately it’s the growing number of unregulated and unqualified nutritional professionals who are offsetting the expertise in our field.
For this reason, I launched a government petition in 2016 to legally protect the title, which received over 10,000 signatures. Although the title remains unprotected, the petition received a positive response from the government and was a step in the right direction.
Authority Doesn't Equate to Nutrition Knowledge:
You wouldn’t ask your dentist to fix your leaky boiler so why is it that we turn to celebrities, doctors and even politicians for nutrition advice?
That’s not to say that doctors don’t play an important role in promoting healthy diets and lifestyles, but you’ll hear me say this time and time again: dietitians are the only qualified healthcare professionals that assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems.
Just because a well-known doctor has written a book on X diet, doesn’t mean that they are qualified to dish out nutrition advice. Especially since, in the UK, most doctors (not all) receive only a few hours of nutrition training throughout their entire time at medical school.
Similarly, a celebrity with millions of social media followers is not qualified to dole out nutrition advice. In fact, some celebrities have been peddling ‘detox’ teas as weight loss aids on social media despite there being no scientific evidence to support their use. Some of the ingredients in these detox teas are potentially harmful and can have unpleasant side effects, which reiterates why you need to be careful about who you take your nutrition advice from.
Nutrition in the News: Fact or Fiction?
You can’t go a day without reading about a new superfood, a revolutionary diet or a quick fix supplement.
I used to work in PR and marketing, so I know that in order to sell a story, it needs a catchy headline. The media love to over sensationalise, and titles such as “tomatoes cause cancer” can create mass hysteria and grips the reader!
Five Top Tips for Scrutinising Science:
1. WHO wrote the article? Check their education credentials and their background. Just because they are a doctor or a celebrity, doesn’t mean that they are qualified to pass judgment on nutrition studies.
2. WHAT is the purpose of the article? Is it to get you to buy a product or pay for a service? Or is it a newspaper over sensationalising a study to grip the reader?
3. WHERE was the article published? If it was in a highly respected medical journal such as the British Medical Journal, then chances are (not always) the article will be credible. If it was written by an intern and published in a glossy magazine, you might want to look elsewhere.
4. WHEN was the study that is being referred to conducted? Check that what you're reading is based on the most up-to-date information available.
5. WHY was the article published? With new year around the corner, you can be sure that the wellness industry will be peddling some bizarre ‘super foods’ in 2019. Many articles in January have a HIDDEN AGENDA!
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In an age where nutrition advice is freely available at the click of a button, be sure to question the quality of evidence. More importantly, if you are paying for nutrition advice, make sure you are seeing a real nutrition expert; a Registered Nutritionist or Registered Dietitian.