I love being a dietitian. I get to talk about food all day. I get to work in the health care sector. I get to have a meaningful impact in the lives of hundreds of people. It hasn’t always been an easy path, and I’ve questioned my career decision on numerous occasions, but right now, I can’t think of anything else I would rather do for a living. Unfortunately my beloved profession is at risk of losing some ground to unregulated, unregistered, unqualified individuals peddling dangerous health claims and nutritional hogwash.
Before I go any further, I highly recommend viewing this video created by the College of Dietitians of Manitoba. The information is specific to Manitoba but gives a great overview of what a dietitian is. Only professionals registered with an accredited licensing body such as the College can call themselves registered dietitians. The issue at hand is that ANYONE can call themselves a nutritionist, nutrition expert, food crusader, etc. And they can market themselves as such, see clients, dispense nutrition and health advice. This is where the issue becomes unclear and potentially dangerous as it is all too easy for consumers to find themselves footing a hefty bill for faulty advice from a self-professed nutrition guru.
Full disclosure, this is not to say that all of these “nutritionists” give shady advice all the time. It is simply too difficult to know how trust worthy the advice will be. Adding the prefixes “certified” or “registered” or “licensed” to nutritionist don’t mean a thing (at least not in Manitoba and most of Canada).If you’re in the market for a nutrition professional either for yourself or as part of your company, I have three reasons why the only reliable choice is a registered dietitian:
- Each and every RD has completed a bachelor’s degree and minimum 40 week practical internship. This system is by no means perfect, but it far outweighs other “nutritionist” diploma or certification programs.
- RDs are required to upgrade their skills on a yearly basis. If not, they could lose their license to practice. Our continuing education must be evidence- and science-based.What this means is that we are continually learning, upgrading, reading the literature to provide the most current and accepted standards of nutrition care.
- RDs can be sued. If you believe that a dietitian has given unsafe care, false advice, or caused harm, you can log a complaint and even file a lawsuit. It’s the same process as suing a medical doctor for malpractice. Again, if the dietitian is found to be at fault, they will lose their license and will not legally be allowed to work in the field. Unregulated nutrition-advice-providers offer no such protection to the public: if you are hurt by their advice, your legal recourse is significantly limited.
Given that today nutrition information is more readily available than ever, what you get with a dietitian is a critical appraisal of the information available and education and advice based on best practice principles. Sometimes we don’t know the answer, but that is only human; sometimes our advice may not be definitive, usually because the current evidence does not support a stricter stance. Be wary of a nutrition “expert” that knows all the answers all the time; they either have super-human memories and intellects or they are actually ill informed on the current state of the research. When looking for nutrition care, weigh your options carefully; you’ll find an RD is your best bet every time.