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Nutrition 101: Finding Reliable Sources of Nutrition Information
We'd all like to be healthier. We wish we exercised more and ate better. Some of us even begin to make changes in our lives to accomplish this goal, but we may not be as effective as we like if we aren't gathering the best information.
Finding reliable nutrition information can be quite the challenge in this age of information overload. Everyone knows you can't believe everything you read or hear about nutrition, but we all fall prey to believing the last factoid we have seen or heard.
It's well known that the Internet is full of both factual and fallacious information. So how do you find reliable information and differentiate it from the anecdotal, misinterpreted, designed-to-sell-you-a-product, downright false stuff?
And just who is the nutrition expert? There are people who call themselves dietitians and those that proclaim to be nutritionists, not to mention several variations on those titles. What is the difference? Who do you trust for accurate, science-based information?According to a 2011 the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) survey on where people seek out nutrition information. Television, magazines, and the Internet were named as top information sources, while medical professionals, including doctors and dietitians were less likely to be consulted.(1) If this describes you, you might want to look more critically at the nutritional information you have been relying on. It may not be wrong, but unless you know how to determine whether it is based on solid scientific research, you could be making needless changes to your diet, or worse, putting your body at risk by too much of a good thing.
Let's do some exploring and see if we can find a way to decipher all the information and determine the best sources of credible, science-based nutrition information.
Finding a Nutrition Expert
One way to gather information is to seek out a professional for nutritional advice. But this is not as straightforward a solution as it might seem. There are considerable differences in training among the people who hang out their shingles offering nutritional help, and it pays to know the background of the person from whom you seek nutritional advice.
Registered DietitiansWhile many health professionals have at least minimal training in nutrition, it is the registered dietitian (RD) who is most highly trained in nutrition. Registered dietitians complete a four-year degree from an accredited university. They are trained in all facets of nutrition, everything from basic nutrition to nutritional biochemistry to medical nutrition therapy, a therapeutic approach to treating nutrition-related medical conditions through the use of a modified diet. The curriculum also contains courses in anatomy, physiology, chemistry, statistics, and research methodology.
In addition to the courses needed for a degree, a student must compete for a slot in an accredited dietetic internship and complete a minimum of 1,200 hours of supervised practice in hospitals, public health settings, and foodservice management. Then there is a national examination that must be passed. Only then does one become a registered dietitian.(2) In addition, about 50% of RDs hold at least a master's degree. All that schooling gives the RD an edge when it comes to differentiating nutrition fact from nutrition fantasy.
Dietitians and NutritionistsAre a dietitian and a nutritionist the same thing? Well, the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. Consulting a "nutritionist" is not a guarantee that you are seeing a qualified nutrition professional. People can (and do) pay to get a fake degree or certificate in nutrition and become a "nutritionist." Others attend a weekend workshop, read popular nutrition books, and/or peruse the Internet, and proclaim themself to be a "self-taught nutritionist."
Most states regulate dietitians or nutritionists through licensure, certification, or registration. The laws differ from state to state and some are stricter than others. Some states will allow the use of the title "nutritionist" by noncertified individuals, but not the title "dietitian." Other states regulate both titles.(3)
Confused? Don't be. Regardless of the state you live in, the credential you are looking for when seeking the services of a nutrition professional is "RD." The other letters after a RD's name can vary, depending on their state's laws and other educational or specialty credentials the person carries. Consumers can find a registered dietitian in their area by using AND's (the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) "Find a Registered Dietitian" referral service. A link is provided on AND's home page.(4)