We’re halfway through National Nutrition Month- the ‘thyme’ of the year when nutrition and health professionals celebrate their knowledge, skills, and talent. But where (and from whom) you get your nutrition information makes a difference. Would you trust your dentist to do your foot surgery? Probably not. Yet many food and health influencers claim to be nutrition experts without the necessary education, training, or credentials.
In any health-related field, we rely on science and research studies to make decisions and provide sound advice to consumers. Nutrition is no different. The US Dietary Guidelines, for example, are based on years and years of sound scientific data. While case studies are interesting to learn from, we don’t base decisions on 1 case study. Having a baby does not make a woman an expert in pregnancy or pediatric nutrition. Yet many influencers are taking the space that should be occupied by registered dietitians with years and years of experience in those fields and giving their opinions because they look good.
RD means Real Deal
The term nutritionist is similar to the word “natural”. It can mean multiple things depending on the context. According to careerexplorer.com, a nutritionist is “an expert in the field of food and nutrition. They work in many settings, including hospitals, cafeterias, nursing homes, and schools”. However, if you went to the HR department of most hospitals and asked who took care of their patient’s nutritional needs, it would likely NOT be a nutritionist.
The term nutritionist can be used by anyone with an interest in nutrition, with or without a degree or training in nutrition. This could be someone working in a supplement shop, a second-year nutrition student or a health coach. It could also be a dietitian.
A Registered Dietitian (RD) may call themselves a nutritionist, but a nutritionist cannot call themselves a dietitian. What’s the difference? A Registered Dietitian obtains a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited dietetics program and obtains 1200 hours of training under the guidance of at least one other RD, but is often mentored by many. The “RD2be” must take and pass a rigorous 4-hour exam and maintain 75 hours of continuing education credits over a 5-year period to remain registered.
The RD credential has been in use since 1970, but due to media confusion with the use of “nutritionist”, the term RDN (registered dietitian nutritionist) was deemed appropriate as of 2013 by CDR (the Commission on Dietetic Registration). This was done to elevate the dietitian brand and reduce confusion as to who consumers should turn to for nutrition advice. RDs do not have to use RDN. They may use RD or RDN.
Mommy bloggers and influencers with high numbers of followers on TikTok and Instagram are often paid by food or supplement companies to represent their brand as an influencer. The definition of “influencer” is someone who influences others through writing, video, pictures, or other means in order to sway decisions or sell a product. Several internet influencers have from 1,000 to over 23 million followers on their social channels. Some celebrities are influencers, but not all influencers are celebrities.
According to FTC (Federal Trade Commission) guidelines, influencers must clearly disclose endorsements to their followers. Whether they are “paid” in samples or cash, they must be open about their relationship with the brand.
RDs may be influencers, too. They may be providing product reviews, endorsements, recipes, or other means of marketing for various brands. Like everyone else, RD influences must disclose their relationship with the brands they represent.
How to spot an influencer
• Look for the words “ad, sponsored, samples, or paid partnership” on their post.
• They have a legitimate platform on Youtube, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or another social network account.
• They interact with their followers and comment back to posters about products.
• A dietitian influencer may have a specific niche such as diabetes, pediatrics, weight loss, or women’s health.
• Several of their posts contain the mention or pictures/videos of various food brands and products.
* Look for the RD or RDN credentials for the "Real Deal", but remember- these professionals are being compensated in some way, too.
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
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Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and owner of Sound Bites Nutrition in Cincinnati. She shares her clinical, culinary, and community nutrition knowledge through cooking demos, teaching, and freelance writing. Lisa is a regular contributor to Food and Health Communications and Today’s Dietitian and is the author of the Healing Gout Cookbook, Complete Thyroid Cookbook, and Heart Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook. Her line of food pun merchandise, Lettuce beet hunger, supports those suffering food insecurity in Cincinnati. For more information, visit her website: https://soundbitesnutrition.com/