How 'Expert' Is Your 'Expert' Nutritionist, Really?

23/01/2017 11:49 GMT | Updated 23/01/2017 11:49 GMT

By Pixie Turner, MSc - recent graduate of UCL Nutrition Programme - and Laura Thomas, PhD, RNutr - a freelance Registered Nutritionist.

Get The Gloss are at it again - this time shamelessly trying to defend their decision to use non-experts on their 'expert' website. Honestly, we're a little embarrassed for them. But really, this is nothing new; publications incorrectly use the word 'expert' all the time.

In the piece, GTG claim to explain exactly what to look for when seeking out nutrition professionals.

Except they don't.

They just add to the confusion by insinuating that nutritional therapists are on a level footing with Registered Dietitians. They're not. Not even close. What's more, they completely neglect to mention an entire profession of credible, evidence-based nutrition experts - Registered Nutritionists. So we're here to, once again, explain what's really going on.

Let's break it down - who is qualified to give nutrition advice in the UK?

Registered Dietitian - (or RD) - these guys use nutritional science to manage and treat medical conditions. Dietitians often work in the NHS (doing heroes' work alongside our doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals), but others work in media, industry, and research. RDs have to have, at minimum, a BSc in Dietetics, many will have advanced degrees, and all will know how to critically appraise the scientific literature. They are regulated by the Health Care Professions Council (HCPC) and their professional organisation is the British Dietetic Association.

Registered Nutritionists - (RNutr) - provide scientific, evidence-based information and guidance about the impacts of food and nutrition on the health and wellbeing of individuals and the public. RNutrs also work in the NHS, research, higher education, industry, and media. RNutrs also have to have the minimum of a BSc in nutrition, and many have advanced degrees. RNutrs will be trained in how to critically appraise the scientific literature. Registered Nutritionist is not yet a statutorily regulated term (which is why any Insta-celeb can call themselves a nutritionist), but they are voluntarily regulated by the Association for Nutrition who has very stringent criteria for registration. Their professional organisation is the Nutrition Society. There's a great petition to get the term nutritionist legally protected, which you can sign here.

Associated Registered Nutritionists (ANutr) are recent university grads - like Pixie - who are required to have an additional 3 years supervised practice before applying for their full RNutr.

But GTG said that nutritional therapists are nutrition experts...I'm confused!

Well, not quite... Nutritional therapy is considered to be a complimentary medicine and is highly variable in terms of the approach that is taken. It's not necessarily evidence-based. In terms of education, nutritional therapists could have taken a distance learning, £10 online course, or short course, a three year diploma, or part-time course. That's a lot of variation. Unlike RDs and RNutrs, they don't have to have a degree in nutrition or dietetics - or any degree at all! Nutritional therapists can be registered with the Complimentary and Natural Healthcare Council or the General Regulatory Council for Complimentary Therapies - their professional body is the British Association for Nutritional Therapists.

It kinda sounds legit?

Look, the general consensus is that, if you want sound, safe, evidence-based (i.e. scientifically validated) advice the people to go to are RD's and RNutrs/ANutrs. When it comes to nutritional therapists... not so much. In 2012 Which published a report finding that some advice given by nutritional therapists could seriously harm patients' health.

Nutritional therapist's have a history of giving dodgy advice...

In our own experience, we've seen the questionable, and potentially dangerous advice given by nutritional therapists - including the client who was advised to only eat sweet potatoes and brown rice (hello nutrient deficiency!) and the weird methods nutritional therapists are taught to diagnose disease (something only your doctor should do) - by spitting into a cup to test for yeast infections - you don't need a nutrition degree to figure out that is BONKERS.

Even more recently, in the Jan 2017 issue of Women's Health a BANT nutritional therapist advised that vegans should get vitamin B12 from spirulina. SPIRULINA DOES NOT CONTAIN ANY TRACE OF B12 - B12 deficiency can lead to irreversible neurological problems - way to go, genius!

The same nutritional therapist also advocated avoiding processed (quelle horreur!)

soy products (soy milk or yoghurt) and instead advocated eating sprouted or soaked beans because they "increase the absorption of the protein". They don't. But because processed soy products are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, they are an important source of nutrients for people who don't eat dairy and should no way be cut out.

Listen, we want to make it really clear here, not all nutritional therapists suck, and lots of RD/RNutrs totally suck. We just want you to get safe, credible, evidence-based advice from the most qualified people out there (i.e. the experts), and your best bet is to look for a RD or RNutr/ANutr qualification. If someone tries to put you on a detox, cleanse, or very restrictive diet, tries to sell you supplements, or endorses a whole bunch of products. AVOID. If you're not sure about the advice someone has given you, seek a second opinion - your health matters!