Is a Nutritionist what you need?
Should you seek help from a Nutritionist? That depends…
Are you looking to live a healthier lifestyle? Perhaps you need support with weight loss. Or maybe help with a niggling health issue. A Nutritionist might be the right choice. But when you ask a for health professional’s help, you have to be confident they’re the right specialist for you.
It’s your health after all. You deserve nothing less.
Nutritionists are nutrition and health experts
A nutritionist is a nutrition scientist. A health professional qualified to give you food, healthy eating and healthy lifestyle guidance. They have the academic background to offer you health and diet advice backed by scientific evidence. And they can support you in your journey to better health.
But nutritionists are nutrition and health experts, not medical professionals. They’re not trained or qualified to diagnose, treat or manage medical conditions. That said, nutritionists often work with people with pre-existing conditions. Just not in the direct management of their condition.
Where does a Nutritionist work?
Nutritionists don’t only work with individuals. They have a wide spectrum of roles, including
- Non-Government Organisations (e.g. charities)
- NHS Public health and Public Health Policy
- NHS as part of a medical team under the supervision of a regulated health professional
- Sports nutrition
- Food manufacturing and development
- Media and communications
Still, this article focuses on a nutritionist’s role in 1-2-1 health counselling and how a nutritionist can help you.
What’s in a name? The problem with Nutritionists
Your diet is one of the most influential factors in your current and longterm health. Yet the profession most suited to helping you achieve a healthy diet and lifestyle isn’t properly regulated. Unlike solicitor, GP or even Dietitian, the professional title of Nutritionist isn’t protected by law. Instead, nutritionist is a generic term used to describe anyone offering nutrition advice.
And that’s confusing and potentially dangerous. Because anyone can call themselves a nutritionist without a days’ education in nutrition. And anybody that’s completed a two-hour online certification can offer “expert” diet coaching. Pseudo-scientific diet advice from an unqualified source can have longterm consequences. Even if the diet changes seem insignificant. You should be wary of following the nutrition advice of celebrities, social media influencers, personal trainers and other unqualified “authority” figures.
Adding to the muddle, the media often refer to any nutrition professional as a nutritionist. Including Dieticians and Nutritional Therapists. And many of them describe themselves as nutritionists to benefit from the public’s increased familiarity with the term.
In short, nutritionist has become a catch-all term to describe anyone that broadcasts their opinion on diet and health irrespective of their qualification to so. And that makes it difficult for you to decide who you should trust with your nutritional health. So, how do you choose a nutritionist?
What qualifications should the nutritionist I choose have?
The first place to check is the Association for Nutrition (AfN). The AfN is the professional body and independent regulator for nutritionists in the UK. And it maintains the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN).
The UKVRN is a register of qualified nutritionists competent in nutritional science and practice. And only UKVRN registered nutritionists are allowed to work in the NHS.
To register a nutritionist must hold an AfN accredited degree. Or they must provide strong evidence of the equivalent knowledge in nutrition. UKVRN registered nutritionists commit to the AfN code of ethics and professional conduct. And an ongoing requirement of registration is Continued Professional Development in the field of nutrition.
Look for the letters RNutr or ANutr after your nutrtionist’s name.
University-level Nutrition Qualifications
As the name suggests, registration with UKVRN is voluntary. And for many reasons (not least cost) a qualified nutritionist may choose not to register. Still, a qualified professional nutritionist should have a university-level education in nutrition. So a Bachelor of Science degree, Masters Degree or PhD. Ask to see their qualifications. And verify their source because not all nutrition degrees are equal.
If your nutritionist has an AfN accredited qualification, no need to look further. Even if the nutritionist isn’t registered with the UKVRN. The AfN accreditation is the mark of quality in nutrition education. And to maintain standards, universities must re-apply for accreditation every five years. You can find a list of the accredited University programmes here. If your nutritionist’s qualification isn’t accredited, it’s a good idea to investigate further. Especially if the degree isn’t from a recognised UK institution.
Once you’ve established your nutritionist is qualified, verify their insurance. Make sure their public liability insurance is up to date and relevant. You will probably never need it. But many people offering nutrition advice don’t have appropriate cover. Having relevant specialist insurance is a practical demonstration of your nutritionist’s professionalism. And in the unlikely scenario that you need to make a claim…
The Role of a Nutritionist
Nutritionists are health professionals who use science and data-based approaches to coach clients. They aim to improve your health through education and guidance on healthy eating habits and lifestyle. That can include diet and meal plans, progress tracking, support and motivation, cooking instruction and education in the nutrition fundamentals.
A healthy diet can provide all the vitamins and minerals most people need. A notable exception in Scotland is Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin”. If your nutritionist recommends you take a supplement, it should be NHS approved. Your nutritionist suggesting you take a spectrum of supplements is a red flag. Especially if they’re offering to sell them to you. A reputable nutritionist’s primary focus is improving your diet, not selling you supplements.
Individual nutritionists will vary in their approach. Their personality, nutrition education and background, communication style, food science knowledge, cooking skills and life experience will all influence their style of consultation. It’s important you like and trust their approach and them. Because your relationship may last a significant length of time. And nutrition consultations can touch on some quite personal issues. It’s essential your nutritionist can empathise and relate to your situation.
The Typical Nutrition Client
There isn’t such a thing as a typical nutrition client. People seek the help of a nutritionist for a variety of reasons. Normally a client is well but has health concerns or a health goal. Typical reasons include
Lifestyle guidance and help
- Health and well being
- Low energy and fatigue
- Mood issues
- Frequent illness or injury
- Long-term health, longevity and quality of life
- Changing to a new diet, e.g. going vegan
Weight management advice
- Weight loss
- Weight gain
- Improve eating habits
- Relationship with food
- Appetite management
Support with health issues
- High blood pressure
- High Cholesterol
- Food allergy/intolerance/sensitivity concerns
- Digestive issues
Help managing family nutrition
- Meal planning
- Help caring for an elderly relative
- Infant feeding
- Improving the family diet
- Planning a pregnancy
- Enhancing Sports performance
- Body composition goals
A nutritionist can’t be an expert in every field. If your needs don’t match their expertise, a good nutritionist will put your interest first. And they’ll refer you to an appropriate nutritional or medical professional.
How will a Nutritionist help me?
Ultimately a nutritionist role is to empower their clients. Empowering them to change to their eating habits and lifestyle to achieve their personal goals and better health.
A qualified nutritionist can guide, help and support you on your journey. They’ll advise you on the most effective and safest way to achieve your aims. And they can motivate you and hold you accountable. But in the end, you have to do the hard work.
Making important lifestyle changes on your own isn’t easy. A good nutritionist is there to give you the tools you need to succeed.