“In most states you don’t even need a license to call yourself a nutritionist, which means that anyone, including people with little or no formal education or training, can set up shop as a nutritionist,” warns Dr. Kenney. “It really is a case of ‘buyer beware.’”
There are huge risks, and not just to your wallet. A quack nutritionist may blame a symptom of a serious health problem on the lack of some nutrient and try to sell you a bunch of supplements to correct it. In some cases, time spent fiddling around with such cockamamie cures delays legitimate treatment, allowing a disease to progress to the point where it may do permanent damage to your body.
So whom can you trust for reliable nutrition advice? Always rely on the most qualified professionals in the field of food and nutrition. They are called registered dietitians (RD), like the registered dietitians at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami.
RDs (the Real Deal)
Registered dietitians in the U.S. must meet the following criteria to earn the RD credential:
- Receive a bachelor’s degree from a U.S. regionally accredited university or college and course work approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education of the American Dietetic Association (ADA).
- Complete a CADE-accredited supervised practice program at a health-care facility, community agency or a foodservice corporation or combined with undergraduate or graduate studies. Typically, a practice program will run six to 12 months in length.
- Pass a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
- Complete continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration.
RDs at Pritikin
When visiting Pritikin, you can schedule one-on-one appointments with one of the Center’s RDs. It’s the best place to do so because the RDs at Pritikin have full knowledge of your health history as well as practical Pritikin skills, like grocery shopping, restaurant eating, and cooking. They can design an eating plan that is not only the healthiest for you but also the most doable for your lifestyle.
The Pritikin RDs have also completed advanced training and hold graduate degrees in their fields.
RDs at Home
If you’re looking for a registered dietitian upon your return home from Pritikin, “do be careful, especially if you’re a vegetarian or are interested in finding support for our program, because conservative attitudes still prevail among many registered dietitians,” warns Kimberly Gomer, Director of Nutrition at Pritikin.
“Some dietitians still think, for example, that a healthy low-fat or vegetarian-based diet may not be nutritionally adequate, which is really a shame because a low-fat or vegetarian-style diet that follows Pritikin recommendations has plenty of variety and is full of the nutrients our bodies need. And some foods, like artery-clogging red meat and cheese, should not be eaten ‘in moderation’ – in fact, the less, the better.”
One convenient way to find a bona fide RD on the homefront is to go online to the American Dietetic Association (www.eatright.org) and click on the link “Find a Nutrition Professional.” There you can type in your zip code and receive a list of registered dietitians nearest your home who are members of the ADA and conduct individual counseling. If you prefer to get this information by phone, call the ADA at 800.877.1600, extension 5000.
To further help you select a nutrition/food counselor that is not a quack, the registered dietitians at Pritikin have compiled the following red flags to watch out for:
The Five Red Flags of a Quack Nutritionist
1. Phony nutritionists do not have a minimum four-year degree in dietetics or related field from a college approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) of the American Dietetic Association, ADA.
You can go online to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to see if the college on your dietitian’s diploma is on the list of accredited colleges.
2. A quack nutritionist often boasts about belonging to a lot of impressive-sounding organizations.
The fact is, there are only two organizations you should be impressed with – the American Dietetic Association and the American Institute of Nutrition and its clinical branch, the American Society for Clinical Nutrition. Both accept only qualified dietitians as members.
Another plus is the letters FACN (Fellow of the American College of Nutrition) after one’s name. They indicate graduate-level training in nutrition science and/or clinical nutrition.
A questionable credential commonly seen is CNC, or “certified nutrition counselor,” used by many “nutritionists” with diploma mill degrees.
3. Phony nutritionists often insist you purchase supplements, especially nonsense things like “diet miracles,” “metabolism boosters,” “detoxifiers,” “fat busters,” or “antioxidants.”
States Dr. Kenney, “There’s no good science that any of these supplements work. And sometimes they’re dangerous.”
Until recently, for example, ephedra was found in many herbal diet pills, but in 2004 the FDA banned the sale of ephedra in dietary supplements. The herb was found to cause high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, tremors, seizures, heart attacks, strokes, and even death.
And some phony nutritionists have a penchant for blaming all or most health problems on food allergies. Certainly, food allergies exist, but they don’t cause heart disease (atherosclerosis), hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, or numerous other ills.
4. A quack nutritionist often uses weird unproven nutritional assessments, like hair analysis, muscle testing (a.k.a. “applied kinesiology”), or dark field live cell analysis.
“After all,” says Dr. Kenney, “how else are they going to convince you that you need to buy all those supplements they’re selling?”
Legitimate dietetic assessments involve the following:
- A detailed diet analysis of the foods you eat daily. You may be asked to keep a log for several days of everything you eat and drink.
- A complete medical history, including your family’s health history, any medications you’re taking, your current level of physical activity, and the amount of stress in your life.
- Evaluation of your physical exam. Blood pressure and blood values, like cholesterol and glucose levels, are a must.
5. Phony nutritionists make claims that sound too good to be true.
If a claim sounds too good to be true, it is. Steer clear of anyone who tells you, for example, that “your belly fat will melt away!” or “you’ll lose a pound a day” or “you’ll never have to go to the gym.”
“No credible scientific research supports these claims,” asserts Dr. Kenney.
“What credible research has found, time and time again, is that long-term weight control and good health require that we cut way back on calorie-dense, high-fat, and low-fiber foods and eat far more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Good health and a good body weight also usually require a significant increase in daily physical activity,” sums up Dr. Kenney.
“Anyone who promises you the moon – and promises you can get there without a healthy diet and exercise program – is a con artist or quack.”