Clean-Eating Backlash: How To Find Nutritional Information You Can Trust

'When it comes to food, everyone thinks they are an expert.'

02/02/2017 15:43 | Updated 03 February 2017

It’s 2017 and clean-eating is facing a storm of scrutiny. The hugely successful healthy eating trend has seen a major backlash.

Clean-eating - where people avoid processed foods, sugar and gluten in favour of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains - has been spearheaded by numerous foodies with large social media followings.

The problem is, some of these so-called healthy eating gurus might not have any nutritional qualifications. In fact, with social media, anyone can share dietary advice online.

A new survey by Sainsbury’s found that one in five 11 to 14-year-olds now look to bloggers and social media stars for information on healthy eating. Of the 2,000 youngsters surveyed, 43% believe cutting out a food group will lead to a healthy lifestyle.

To combat growing uncertainty surrounding dietary advice, we spoke to experts about the best way to track down nutritional information you can trust. 

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The clean-eating industry is now worth £590 million. But many have noted that there is a dark side to the trend. 

The idea of “good” and “bad” foods has been criticised. At worst, clean-eating has been linked to orthorexia - an eating disorder characterised by “an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food”.

Ella Mills, famously known as Deliciously Ella, and the Hemsley + Hemsley sisters have distanced themselves from the term, with Mills reportedly removing all mentions of clean-eating from her website. Alice Liveing, aka Clean-Eating Alice has said she will be keeping her brand name, but she acknowledges that the term is problematic and seeks to promote a balanced approach to eating.

Mills recently starred in a BBC documentary, alongside biochemist Dr Yeo, who explained that the ‘clean’ part of clean-eating has become too “complicated and loaded”.

“When I first read the term, it meant natural, unprocessed,” said Dr Yeo. “Now it doesn’t mean that at all. It means diet. It means fad.”

Dr Yeo isn’t the only person to brand the trend as a fad diet. Last year, three students from King’s College London launched a campaign called Fight The Fads to “address and correct misinformation in the media to remove the fear and confusion over nutrition”. Clean-eating was very much on the agenda. 

More recently, they released a petition to legally protect the title ‘nutritionist’ which has so far garnered more than 6,000 signatures. 

In light of this, we spoke to experts about how to get nutritional information from those you can trust. 

1. Check Advice

In the first instance, registered nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed said people need to be wary of what advice is being given to them and question it.

“I would say to check out what claims are being made,” she told HuffPost UK. “If they sound too good to be true or are very clear cut when it comes to nutrition, it’s very unlikely to be from a registered nutritionist.

“Additionally if they are promoting or pushing a detox, cleanse or ‘superfood’ you need to be wary.”

A registered nutritionist will usually have an undergraduate or post-graduate degree in a nutritional science, plus approximately three years professional experience.

Stirling-Reed explained that nutritionists have to weigh up scientific research along with Government guidelines before they make any recommendations or give advice, meaning they are “more likely to talk about balance and variety than cancer cures or foods with super powers”.

2. Search A Directory

People looking for a trusted professional can find registered nutritionists through the Association For Nutrition.

“However keep in mind that this is a voluntary register, and it is not compulsory for someone calling themselves a ‘nutritionist’ to be signed up to this register,” a British Dietetic Association (BDA) spokesperson told HuffPost UK. 

They add that for someone to legally use the title ‘dietitian’, they must be on the HCPC register.

According to the Association For Nutrition, the title of ‘dietician’ is the only one that is protected by law, as you must complete one of the HCPC’s approved degree programmes to be given the title.

While this is great news for dieticians, it also means that other titles in the nutritional field may be open to abuse.

“There is no statutory protection for any other title in the nutrition field, so no other job titles are legally protected,” an Association For Nutrition spokesperson said. 

“However the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN) was set up to provide a way for the public and employers to be able to distinguish nutrition professionals who can demonstrate that they meet high standards relating to their level of nutrition science knowledge and its application in professional practice.”

People who register on the UKVRN have a minimum of degree level nutrition science. Many of them have Masters degrees or PhDs in nutrition too.

3. Look Out For Initials

New graduates with less than three years experience can register as registered associate nutritionists - and then use ‘ANutr’ after their name.

After an individual gains enough experience to be able to demonstrate the sustained evidence-based application of their knowledge in professional practice and their professionalism, they can then apply to become a registered nutritionist (RNutr).  

According to Charlotte Stirling-Reed, the simplest way to tell who is qualified quickly is by checking the initials after their name.

“Hopefully you can spot them as they will be referred to as a registered nutritionist - not a therapist, food expert or guru - and have the letters ‘RNutr’ after their name,” she said.

“When it comes to food, everyone thinks they are an expert. But make sure you’re getting advice from someone who really is an expert when it comes to nutrition and your health.”

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