An undercover investigation last week revealed that so-called “nutritional therapists” in the United Kingdom could be putting patients’ health at risk by providing them with harmful advice.
The country’s largest consumer organization, Which?, sent researchers posing as patients into the offices of 15 nutritional therapists, and all but one of the 15 offered “either potentially dangerous or misleading advice,” according to the Daily Mail. The British Dietetic Association responded to this research by stating that “anybody can set up shop as a nutritional therapist, with no qualifications” and registered dietitians are educated and registered with the Health Professions Council.
So what about here in the United States? Who can we trust to provide us with sound nutritional advice?
If your answer was “a nutritionist,” you might want to reconsider. Technically, your teenage brother or even Paula Deen could call themselves nutritionists, and there’s no institution established to determine whether or not they should. According to Livestrong.com, “no specific level of education, training or certification is required to counsel people on nutrition in most states.” This is not to say that educated and experienced nutritionists don’t exist; some obtain bachelor’s and even master’s degrees. But since there’s no regulation of the profession, you’re also susceptible to quacks who, like the nutritional therapists in the U.K., could be giving you false information that could adversely affect your health.
Dietitians, on the other hand, are regulated by the American Dietetic Association. They have a minimum four-year college degree and must complete a training program and an internship, as well as pass a national exam to be registered with the ADA. Additionally, like many registered healthcare professionals, they are required to complete a certain amount of continuing education credits every few years.
Certified clinical nutritionists vs. certified nutritional consultants
To complicate matters, there’s also something called a certified clinical nutritionist, or CCN. Livestrong.com says these individuals are licensed professionals, like dietitians. They are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree with a minimum of 15 core hours in nutrition and 15 core hours in science. Just don’t confuse this title with certified nutritional consultants. While “certified” may sound official and regulated, any individual — whether they have credentials or not — can obtain this title simply by taking an open-book exam by the American Association of Nutritional Consultants.
If you’re searching for reliable nutrition advice from an expert, it’s probably safer to find a registered dietitian, unless a nutritionist can provide you with authentic credentials that you feel confident you can trust.