Behind the hype: Getting good nutrition advice - NPA283
The two-page Behind the Hype information sheets contain evidence-based advice to help you provide clear consistent information to consumers.
Food and nutrition misinformation can have harmful effects on the health, well-being, and economic status of consumers. This information sheet provides information on who you can trust and where to get good nutrition advice.
The full resource:
Behind the hype: Getting good nutrition advice
What's the issue?
There is a lot of dubious nutrition advice in the media, and on the internet. Also, some commercially available diets, such as detox diets, or diets that exclude whole food groups, are not based on sound nutrition principles. Food and nutrition misinformation can have harmful effects on the health, well-being, and economic status of consumers1. It is important to know where to find credible information on nutrition and health, and to refer people who need nutritional support o a nutrition specialist who is a registered health professional.
Who can you trust?
Dietitian is a legally protected title. In New Zealand, a dietitian must, by law, be registered with the Dietitians Board and hold a current practising certificate. The Dietitians Board protects the health and safety of the New Zealand public under the Health Practitioners Competency Act (HPCA) 2003, by ensuring that every dietitian working in New Zealand is fit to practice and meets the standards of professionalism. In order to be registered, dietitians must have completed an undergraduate degree in human nutrition as well as a post graduate qualification in dietetics. Dietitians are required to take part in a continuing professional development programme each year to maintain competency.
Dietitians are qualified to translate scientific nutrition information into practical dietary advice and often work in hospitals and private practice settings. Medical nutrition therapy can be provided for a number of medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, renal disease and heart disease. Dietitians can also work in a variety of other settings including food service, sports, education, research, media, the food industry and government. Dietitians work in partnership with individuals, whānau, communities and populations, in states of health and disease, to support optimal health and well-being. Dietitians also have a prescribing endorsement. This means that they can prescribe special foods, vitamins, minerals, and nutrition-related medicines. You can check if a dietitian is registered by going to the Dietitians Board website.
The term nutritionist is not a protected term, there is no specific qualification or statutory
legislation that regulates the profession and, therefore, the title can be used freely by
anyone. This could range from someone with a PHD in a specialty area of nutrition,
to someone with no formal training at all.
The Nutrition Society of New Zealand sets criteria to achieve registration status. To be
a registered nutritionist, a science degree must be completed in nutrition at bachelor
and/or post-graduate level. In addition, many registered nutritionists have also completed a Masters degree. To be registered, a nutritionist must also have at least two to three years of professional work experience, and registered nutritionists are expected to take part in continuing professional development every three years to maintain a high level of competency. Registered nutritionists may work in a variety of settings ranging from government, private practice, community, public health, sports, research, education and the food industry. Registered nutritionists may provide practical support for lifestyle nutrition and disease management, such as eating for wellness, weight management, sports nutrition. You can check if a nutritionist is registered by going to the Nutrition Society of New Zealand website.
A “registered clinical nutritionist” is unlikely to be as highly qualified as a dietitian or a
registered nutritionist. This is because the Dietitians Board and the Nutrition Society
of New Zealand both have a much higher academic bar to registration than the Clinical
Nutrition Association. To become a registered clinical nutritionist requires a diploma in nutrition (NZQA level 6) and six months of work experience.
In New Zealand, anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist”, a “clinical nutritionist”, a
“therapeutic nutritionist” or a “holistic nutritionist” – all of which are not defined by law, unlike titles such as “dietitian”, “doctor”, “nurse”, “midwife” or “dentist”.
Be wary of nutrition associations that are not credible. The English scientist and writer Dr Ben Goldacre once famously applied for a certificate from the American Association of Nutritional Consultants (AANC) for his dead cat Henrietta2. “It looks as if all you need to be a certified member of the AANC is a name, an address, and a spare $60. You don’t need to be human. You don’t even need to be alive,” said Ben.
Terms such as “clinical”, “holistic” and “therapeutic” – can be warning signs that the
nutritionist doesn’t have a Bachelor of Science (BSc) or a Master of Science in Nutrition – the minimum anyone should expect if paying for advice. If medical nutrition therapy is needed, a registered dietitian should be consulted, as the wrong advice can have harmful outcomes.
In New Zealand, always ask if a health professional is registered with the New Zealand
Dietitians Board or the Nutrition Society of New Zealand, and if not ask for evidence of
their qualifications, experience and competency.
Always refer anyone needing specialist nutrition or dietetic advice or support to a registered dietitian or registered nutritionist.
- Wansink B; American Dietetic Association (2006). Position of the American Dietetic Association: food and nutrition misinformation. J Am Diet Assoc. Apr; 106(4): 601-7. (Website https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16639825,
Accessed July 2021).
- Goldacre B (2004). Bad Science (https://www.badscience.net/
index.php?s=henrietta+cat Accessed July 2021)
How to check if a health professional is registered