Not All Nutritionists Are Created Equal

Be Healthy Boston dished out some great wellness advice, but kind of missed the mark on nutrition.

Learn how to identify a true nutrition expert. (Photo via iStockphoto.)

Be Healthy Boston had a great turnout for its inaugural year. Health enthusiasts from across the greater Boston area came out for a weekend full of nutrition talks, group fitness classes, and whole body wellness advice. The conference featured a Marketplace for mingling with local businesses specializing in some form of wellness; offerings ranged from massage therapy and acupuncture to bootcamp and yoga, to displays from one of my favorites, Local Pickins (a one-stop shop to find local products in the New England area). On the whole, when it came to demos and information about integrative health and fitness, the event was spot-on. But… when it came to nutrition advice, it missed the mark.

I attended many different presentations with experts doling out advice on subjects like mental health, fitness, finances, and of course, nutrition. But what I noticed was that not everyone talking about nutrition had an education in the subject. Yes, there were a few fantastic dietitians providing excellent nutrition advice, but then some of the “nutrition experts” were chiropractors or wellness coaches. This results in “nutrition experts” speaking about everything from the benefits of a gluten-free diet (which is not necessary for everyone), liquid micronutrients added to water (difficult to measure and potentially dangerous), and detox diets. I felt confused and frustrated by the nutrition information I heard – and I’m a registered dietitian!

What troubled me is this: there was no clear definition on the amount or type of education required to add “nutritionist” to a person’s title. Be Healthy Boston isn’t alone in this — I see this sort of confusion everywhere.

So what is a consumer of nutrition information to do? Learn where to look: you don’t have to know everything about the field of nutrition, only where to find credible information and how to spot an expert. Experts in nutrition have years of education. For example, a registered dietitian must complete a four-year nutrition program, a dietetic internship, and pass a national board exam to become a dietitian. To stay certified, registered dietitians are required to complete 75 hours of continuing education every five years. People with a doctorate in nutrition science or nutritional biochemistry are also excellent sources of nutrition information. Always check the educational background of the person before accepting their nutrition advice as fact. Other sources of credible information include government websites such as the USDA, CDC, FDA, and IOM sites. You can also reach out to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for additional sources of sound advice.

The bottom line: There are nutrition experts and there are those who are calling themselves experts without the education to back it up. Know where your information is coming from and be an educated consumer.