Why ask a dietitian about nutrition?
We are faced daily with so much information on nutrition from various sources that it is often difficult to know what to trust, especially when so much of it seems to be conflicting. One week we hear to avoid a certain food, the next we are told to have it in abundance.
While sometimes new guidelines are published due to the results of good quality research studies much of the mis-information that we come across is due to:
- The media often taking information out of context or taking a line from a study and giving it more importance than it deserves – check the NHS Behind the Headlines website to see the science behind any media headline.
- An “opinion” article, often something that we see on social media or something that we hear through other people. Information, whether or not there is evidence behind it, can spread quickly and, when we hear the same information from multiple sources, we can sometimes start to believe that it is true. Often, the more sensational the claim, the quicker it spreads and the more easily it is accepted as fact.
- More and more people calling themselves “nutrition experts“. It is important that anyone giving nutrition advice has the right qualifications, membership of professional bodies and experience in the subject to remain safe in the area that they practice. Those that I hear giving dietary advice range from well meaning people with an interest in nutrition, people who as part of their work have done a module or a short course in an aspect of nutrition to those who may have a degree in a nutrition subject but have no clinical experience.
So why consult a dietitian?
- Dietitians can advise individuals with a variety of needs from general healthy eating, weight management, sports nutrition and health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, bowel disorders, allergies and cancer, to name just a few. They also work in industry, universities, the media and with organisations, advising on aspects of diet. Although other nutrition professionals are able to advise on general healthy eating, they should refer on to a dietitian or medical professional when they come across any medical condition that requires specialist dietary advice.
- Dietitians are regulated by law via the guidelines and ethical code of Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). The role of the HCPC is to protect the public and sets standards for professional training, performance and conduct for dietitians and 13 other health care professions.
- Registered dietitians are the only nutrition professionals who can work with people requiring therapeutic dietary interventions for a medical condition. They are the only nutrition professional who can assess, diagnose and treat dietary problems at an individual level.
- All dietitians are qualified up to a level of BSc (hons) in dietetics or have a related science degree plus a post graduate diploma or Masters in dietetics. These courses include the theory that may (or may not) be covered in other nutrition courses but importantly also involve supervised clinical practice in NHS settings where they must demonstrate competence before being able to register.
- Registered dietitians must also keep up to date throughout their working career via continuous professional development and be able to provide proof of this. In an area such as nutrition which is an evolving science, this continuous learning is essential to ensure that people receive the best up to date advice. You can check to see if your nutrition professional is registered by looking at the HCPC online register at www.hcpc-uk.org.
- Over time, as in other professions, dietitians tend to specialise in particular areas of nutrition. This allows them to become more skilled, knowledgeable and experienced in a few areas rather than having less knowledge over a wider area. One of the codes of the HCPC is that dietitians must only practice within their scope of practice not in areas that they are not adequately proficient. Dietitians work closely with other dietitians and if they realise that they cannot help you, will often know another dietitians who can.
For further information on how dietitians work, the following websites may be useful:
- The British Dietetic Association
- The Health and Care professions Council
- The Freelance Dietitians Specialist Group