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Dietitians Week: How to find good quality nutrition information

Lead Dietitian, Cromwell Hospital
11 June 2021

Are you looking for reliable nutrition advice and information online? In this podcast episode, dietitian Niamh Hennessy, talks about how to find good quality nutrition information. Listen to the podcast below or read on to find out more.

Why is finding good quality nutrition information so important?

Finding safe and accurate information is very important. This is because there is information available online that isn’t supported by good evidence, and some of this advice can be harmful.

Have you seen any misinformation about food and COVID-19?

There has been quite a lot of misinformation about diet and nutrition during the pandemic. This includes claims on social media that certain foods and supplements can prevent or cure COVID-19.

We do know that having a healthy balanced diet can support the immune system. But there aren’t any foods or supplements that can prevent you from catching COVID-19.

What common nutrition myths do you hear while working as a dietitian?

Unfortunately, some of the most common myths are those about food and cancer. Being told you have cancer can be frightening, and it can be comforting to believe that changing your diet will help.

We see people making lots of dietary changes that don’t have a positive impact on their health and wellbeing. Some people are told that they can cure their cancer by cutting out whole food groups, but, this is not true.

What can I look out for when searching for diet and health information?

There are some common claims you might find online that tend not to be accurate. These include:

  • recommending large amounts of a supplement (a product you add to your diet that contains extra vitamins, minerals or other nutrients)
  • recommending large amounts of a certain food
  • advising people to cut out whole food groups such as carbohydrates or dairy
  • promoting a food or supplement as being able to cleanse, cure, or detox your body

The truth is that there is no need to follow a restrictive diet. Instead, it’s best to have a wide variety of foods in your diet to get the energy, vitamins and minerals you need. And, our bodies are able to get rid of waste products through organs like our liver and kidneys.

Can taking these supplements do me any harm?

There can be a risk if you take too many fat-soluble vitamins because your body holds onto them. These include vitamins A, D, E and K. Water soluble vitamins won’t be stored. This means that if you take a high dose you will simply get rid of them when you pee. Taking some supplements in high doses has been linked to kidney problems.

Some supplements have a laxative effect (make you poo). Taking lots of these can be dangerous.

Where can I find accurate health information online?

There are lots of websites that provide good quality health information, including those run by:

  • healthcare organisations like Bupa and the NHS
  • the UK government
  • registered charities such as the British Heart Foundation or Diabetes UK

You can also look for the PIF tick on the website you’re visiting. This is a logo from the Patient Information forum which is only displayed on information that is up-to-date, evidence-based and has been reviewed by experts.

Can you explain the differences between dietitians, nutritionists, and nutritional therapists?

Dietitians

Dietitians have the title RD, which stands for Registered Dietitian, and they:

  • are the only nutrition professionals to be governed and regulated by law.
  • are able to register with The Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).
  • have a bachelor’s degree (BSc Hons) in Dietetics, or a related science degree with a postgraduate diploma or master’s degree in Dietetics.

Dietitians provide practical guidance to healthy people and people who are unwell. They often work as part of a team. This includes people such as doctors, nurses, physiotherapists. They can help treat health conditions such as diabetes, allergies, IBS, and eating disorders.

They also work in the food industry, catering, education, sport and the media, and public health relations.

Nutritionists

There are two main types of nutritionist: registered and unregistered. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, but only registered nutritionists have met the standards of professional education in nutrition.

Registered nutritionists:

  • are registered with the Association for Nutrition (AfN)
  • hold the title Registered Nutritionist
  • have a minimum of an undergraduate degree or a postgraduate degree in Nutrition or a related subject, such as Public Health Nutrition or Sports Nutrition
  • are qualified to provide information and advice about food and healthy eating, but not about special diets for medical conditions.

Registered nutritionists are often self-employed, but there are some working clinically alongside Registered Dietitians. Nutritionists also work in other roles, including food service, research, teaching, sports and the media.

Nutritional therapist

Nutritional therapists practice complementary medicine. This means it is outside of regular medicine. They might provide recommendations for diet and lifestyle with the aim of preventing or treating illness.

Nutritional therapists:

  • are not able to register with the HCPC
  • are not able to register with the AfN

Every year, the British Dietetic Association marks Dietitians Week, which aims to celebrate and showcase the work of dietitians. This year it runs from 7–11 June.

Niamh Hennessy
Lead Dietitian, Cromwell Hospital

    • Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Food safety and nutrition. World Health Organisation. www.who.int, published 14 August 2020
    • There is no diet to prevent Coronavirus. British Dietetic Association. www.bda.uk.com, published 24 March 2020
    • Food myths. Cancer Research. www.cancerresearchuk.org, reviewed 3 December 2020
    • FAQs: Cancer – nutrition myths. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, published May 2018
    • Fad diets: Food Fact Sheet. British Dietetic Association. www.bda.uk.com, published October 2017
    • Detox Diets: Food Fact Sheet. British Dietetic Association. www.bda.uk.com, published May 2019
    • Supplements: Food Fact Sheet. British Dietetic Association. www.bda.uk.com, published March 2019
    • Nurse Prescribers' Formulary—Laxatives. British National Formulary. www.bnf.nice.org, accessed 09 June 2021
    • PIF TICK Criteria at a glance. Patient Internet Forum. www.pifonline.org.uk, published June 2020
    • Dietitian or nutritionist? British Dietetic Association. www.bda.uk.com, accessed 09 June 2021
    • Gabardi, Steven, Kristin Munz, and Catherine Ulbricht. A review of dietary supplement–induced renal dysfunction. Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology 2007 2(4): 757-765. doi:10.2215/CJN.00500107
    • Food supplements. Food Standards Agency. www.food.gov.uk, updated 24 March 2021
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