The risk of unregulated nutrition

Nutritionist Kate Taylor explains why the need for regulation of professional in the world of nutrition has never been more important.

With dietitians, nutritionists and nutritional therapists all providing advice, who should we trust, where is the protection for consumers.

Nutrition has been on the agenda for a while now, it’s not new. However personally I’m still constantly contacted by those who aren’t sure who to gain advice from, which health professional is the right one and who to believe. As the importance of good nutrition and therefore good advice is paramount for performance I wanted to use this as an opportunity to clear a few things up.

While at the Natural & Organic Food Show last month, at seminar hosted by the founder of a certain organic chocolate brand, the importance of nutrition, really came to light. Said host proceeded through their presentation, which was interesting up until the quote “we shouldn’t eat breakfast because it interrupts the fast”. Now there is some truth here, because that’s the point of having breakfast, in fact that’s the meaning of the word. So, in a room full of people, some of which are health professionals who will take the science view, as I did, some whom are the general public who will be leaving thinking about trying this, I was concerned. I raised my hand and asked the question – what evidence this was based on? This was answered, however the studies referenced weren’t quoted and therefore I was left unsatisfied and slightly annoyed. This example quite clearly highlights the importance of qualified advice. But in case it’s not enough, here’s a few others:

  • Australian Belle Gibson who faked her cancer diagnosis and got an Instagram following of 200,000 claiming she was curing it consuming whole foods. Her lies were exposed in 2015.
  • A popular UK newspaper article last month headlining “The very surprising foods top nutritionists say they’d never touch” – when in fact none of these were qualified or had any evidence supporting them.
  • Dr Robert Young, in the USA, claiming by visiting his ranch and adopting the alkaline diet you will be healed of disease. He’s recently been arrested.

Food isn’t a medicine, they are two different things. It can and will certainly have an impact on our way of being, there is no denying that. However medicine, the treatment of disease, cannot be solely achieved by the diet we consume from food and beverages.

So, what’s the difference between a dietitian, a nutritionist and a nutritional therapist and how are those who practice regulated?

Dietitians generally work in a clinical setting and with individuals who have diagnosed medical conditions, a lot of the time in hospitals or clinical settings. Many dietitians are also qualified registered nutritionists too and in addition they may work in education, media, research and industry. A university degree is needed to practice as a dietitian and the title is protected by law. This is regulated by the Health Care Professions Council (HCPP) and the British Dietetic Association (BDA).

Nutritionists provide information based on scientific research about how food and nutrition impacts human health and wellbeing. Nutritionist is not a protected title by law however is voluntarily regulated by the Association for Nutrition (AfN). Nutritionists commonly work in industry, education, community and also freelance with clients but rarely work in clinical settings. A university degree is needed for both human and animal nutritionists.

Currently, due to lack of lawful regulation, anyone can set up and practice as a nutritionist/nutritional therapist, meaning there is no real protection for consumers.

Nutritional Therapists work more holistically with their patients and will use many different tools to assess one’s health. They follow the Functional Medicine Model and they are also not legally protected. They are voluntarily regulated by the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

As the importance of sound advice rises so does the onus of the individual to ensure the health professional they are using is accredited. In business, this is even more important due to the number of employees that could potentially feel the impact. Whether legally protected or not, all three of these are regulated and therefore professional accreditations are regularly checked.

Currently, due to lack of lawful regulation, anyone can set up and practice as a nutritionist/nutritional therapist, meaning there is no real protection for consumers. The recent government petition on protection of title for nutritionists currently sits just under 11,000 signatures. Parliament has responded to say it will be debated once it reaches 100,000. Keep your eyes peeled for the next opportunity to pledge your support.