Written by Tai Ibitoye
Image by @wernerwears
When it comes to food and nutrition in relation to health, it seems like everyone is an expert nowadays. You may come across social media influencers talking about ‘foods to improve gut health’ or your next-door neighbour talking about a ‘detox cleanse’ they did or your friend talking about the ‘latest TikTok diet trend to lose weight’. However, it is important to seek advice, information, and support from those who are really qualified and trained to discuss nutrition and food-related matters.
Within the field of nutrition, Registered Dietitians (RDs) are the only qualified health professionals governed by the Health Care and Professions Council (HCPC) and regulated by law code that assess, diagnose and treat nutritional-related problems at an individual level and public health level too. They are qualified to work with individuals who are both healthy (e.g. just want general healthy eating advice) or unwell (e.g. have a diagnosed medical condition). RDs use the most current evidence-based guidance and scientific research on food, disease, and health which they translate into practical tips to help people make suitable food choices tailored towards their dietary, cultural, social and health needs.
You should see a RD if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a health condition by a medical doctor, such as, but not limited to: diabetes; digestive and gastrointestinal disease or conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); food allergies and intolerances, heart disease, liver disease, renal disease, cancer, eating disorders, or women’s health conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). RDs interpret the science of nutrition to improve health and treat diseases and conditions by educating and giving practical advice to individuals from different walks of life. They advise and help maintain one’s nutrition when they want to try diet interventions such as exclusion or elimination diets, nutritional supplementation, or dietary interventions in areas where evidence is still emerging.
People can consider seeing a RD if they are going through certain life changes such as planning to become pregnant, pregnancy, breastfeeding or menopause. Nutritional requirements change during different life changes and therefore it is important to seek support from a RD to ensure you are meeting your dietary requirements for yourself and baby if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
If you want to make short-term or long-term changes to your diet or query about which foods to eat to improve health and lifestyle, then you should consult with a RD before making these changes to your diet. RDs can provide nutrition education, help you plan your meals and assist you in reaching your health and lifestyle goals by monitoring your food intake in a non-judgemental manner to ensure that you are lowering your risk of malnutrition and optimising your diet without compromising your health.
What about Nutritionists?
While the title of a Registered Dietitian is protected by law, a Nutritionist title isn’t protected so anyone can call themselves a ‘Nutritionist’ so it is really important to ask for an individual’s credentials and qualifications (e.g. accredited degree course) before you see one. Some Nutritionists are registered with UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN) which is available online, there may be similar national registers for those who live outside of the UK. Nutritionists are qualified to provide information about food and healthy eating to support general health and lifestyle. Therefore, if you want advice within this area, then you should consult with a Registered Nutritionist. However, they are not qualified to provide information about special/therapeutic diets for medical conditions. Only a Registered Dietitian can.