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You just have to open Instagram at any given time to find thousands, if not millions, of people providing nutrition advice. These days, anyone with solid social media skills, a phone and an opinion can make a lot of money crafting a very convincing argument for how you should look after your health! And then there is the often conflicting advice from dietitians, clinical nutritionists, naturopaths, doctors, chefs and personal trainers – all with different qualifications. So who should you go to for nutrition advice?
Nutritional advice can range from generalised comments such as “it’s important to be hydrated” to specific recommendations that addresses a medical or clinical condition. Personalised nutrition advice may include the recommendation of a therapeutic or tailored diet, meal plan, supplements and the monitoring of your medical or clinical condition. This kind of nutritional therapy can:
Providing effective nutrition therapy requires specific training in the physiological, biochemical and psychological factors relating to human nutrition, health and disease but also the social, biological and psychological factors that impact behaviour change. It requires developing a treatment plan that is individually tailored, translating nutrition science into practical food, drink and supplement guidance for an individual, accounting for their relevant medical, social and cultural circumstances and motivating them to follow the plan.
In Australia there are limited people qualified to provide personalised nutritional advice. This includes registered dietitians, clinical nutritionists (also known as registered or accredited nutritionists) and naturopaths.
Dietitians have a minimum of 4 years of university training which includes studies of the physiological, biochemical and psychological factors relating to human nutrition, health and disease. They are highly trained in the hospital setting and are accredited by the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA). This accreditation means clients of a registered dietitian may be entitled to claim rebates through Medicare or with their Private Health Insurance funds. Dietitians work with diet, lifestyle and nutritional supplements and can order and interpret functional tests.
Clinical nutritionists have at least 3 years of university training and have also studied physiological, biochemical and psychological factors relating to human nutrition, health and disease. They take a holistic approach that is evidence-based and is registered with a body such as ANTA or ATMS. This registration allows clients to claim rebates through their Private Health Insurance funds depending on their insurer and level of coverage. Clinical nutritionists work with diet, lifestyle and nutritional supplements and can order and interpret functional tests.
It is important to understand nutritionists are not regulated by the government, which means that unqualified individuals may call themselves nutritionists. Therefore, it is important to seek a clinical nutritionist if you’re looking for personalised nutrition advice.
Naturopathy combines the art and science of medicine using traditional forms of healing alongside evidence-based practice to prevent and treat illness. Some naturopaths will lean more toward traditional forms of healing than others will. Naturopathy combines herbal medicine, flower essences, iridology, and homeopathy. Naturopaths are also registered with bodies such as ANTA and ATMS, however you can’t claim their fees through Private Health Insurance.
Although doctors (including specialty fields like obstetrics and gynecology) have done a significant amount of medical training and are able to diagnose and treat medical conditions, order a range of tests and prescribe medications, they often have minimal nutrition training. Globally, medical schools have been described as lacking sufficient training in nutrition. This often results in doctors recommending the Australian Dietary Guidelines which isn’t always the best option, particularly if you’re experiencing PCOS, insulin resistance or gestational diabetes.
While doctors agree on the impact of nutrition on health, they often aren’t aware of the latest research around nutrition, supplementation and the various products available as it isn’t their area of expertise. When you consider dietitians and clinical nutritionist have at least 3 years of specific university study in nutrition, it is understandable many doctors report feel they lack the confidence, knowledge and skills required to provide effective, personalised nutrition advice.
Doctors have the training, experience and expertise to provide basic nutrition advice. However, improving an individuals nutrition requires more than providing basic information. It requires sufficiently detailed advice that is relevant, useful, and consistent, alongside long term support to change and maintain new behaviours. Unfortunately the clinical setting most doctors operate in doesn’t support the consultation times required for this level of nutritional support.
Chefs are trained professionals who have experience with a range of cuisine styles, cooking techniques, food preparation, and menu development. However, this is very different from providing nutritional advice!
With many people relying on convenience foods, food away from home makes up close to half of household food expenditure. This places chefs in a unique position to influence the nutritional intake of people and many culinary schools are incorporating nutrition into their studies.
However chefs don’t study the physiological, biochemical and psychological factors relating to human nutrition, health and disease or the social, biological and psychological factors that impact behaviour change. They also haven’t developed the research skills to analyse the different types and methodologies of research, their strengths and weaknesses as related to medicine and the skills to make sound, evidenced-based decisions for clinical management and prevention of disease and medical conditions. Chefs also aren’t trained in analysing biochemical tests or how supplements work and the optimal dosages.
Personal trainers have completed a certificate IV in fitness, nutrition coaches have completed a certificate IV in nutrition and health coaches have completed a course in health and wellbeing. But does this qualify them to provide personalised nutrition advice?
The short answer is no.
The long answer is that personal trainers, nutrition and health coaches can talk to their clients about what they eat and provide general suggestions if they are knowledgeable about nutrition and the person is healthy. They can talk about basic nutrition make generalised statements like suggesting a client drinks water to stay hydrated. And they can encourage clients to follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines but as per the above, these guidelines aren’t always the best nutritional advice for an individual.
Personal trainers, nutrition and health coaches don’t have the university study required to recommend a specific diet, meal plan or supplement to treat or manage medical conditions, or provide personalised nutrition advice.
If you’re after specific nutrition or supplement advice relevant to your current health and your goals, you need to see a clinical nutritionist, dietitian or a naturopath.
If you’re interested in taking any supplements, please discuss this with your practitioner to ensure you’re taking the correct dose and form for you. This article is not intended to be medical advice and is purely for education purposes.