Nutrition Experts I: Who is considered an expert?
Not all RDs are nutrition experts, not all nutrition experts are RDs!
I have been a dietitian for just over five years now and have met many different people in the health/wellness/fitness field with varying credentials. Some knowledgeable, others...not so much. What I find frustrating are the declarations that registered dietitians are the one and only “nutrition experts”. In this series of posts, I will discuss my thoughts on nutrition expertise, the dietitian professional governing body, my critique of who can give advice in the current wellness industry.
1. What even is an expert?
The rallying cry made by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND; the Academy), the dietetic professional organization in the US, is that dietitians (RDs) are the experts in all things nutrition related.
At the end of my undergraduate degree and dietetic internship, and passing the credentialing exam, I became an RD. Did all this validate me as a nutrition expert? Heck no. I was 22 and had zero real work experience. Yet according to the Academy, I held “The highest level of nutrition counseling”. Without proper licensure, it is illegal to counsel independently as a dietetic student. So one week I’m a student and the next week I’m an expert? To claim I had reached the pinnacle of nutrition counseling upon becoming a RD sounds flawed to me.
A recent grad with a bachelor’s is unlikely to be an expert in nutrition science. Is it possible for one to become a “nutrition expert” early in their career? Sure. Psychology researcher Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania writes about expertise acquisition in the manuscript, World-class expertise: a developmental model. She and co-author Scott Barry Kaufman devised a formula: “Expertise = Talent x Effort” where talent is the rate of learning. Essentially, becoming an expert at something depends on one’s knack for picking up a skill and the amount of work put in to hone this skill.
RDs obviously have a baseline of knowledge given required coursework and internship, so it can be safely assumed dietitians are more credible than Kim Kardashian’s latest thoughts on keto. An RD’s required training likely places one closer to expert on the spectrum of nutrition knowledge compared to journalists or bloggers who may be self-taught.
Nutrition expertise is not exclusive to dietitians either. Consider researchers such as Stu Phillips, an expert on dietary protein or Andy Jones, an expert on dietary nitrate. Researchers who teach nutrition, research the heck out of specific areas of nutrition, and read nutrition textbooks and scientific articles year after year. Also consider professionals who initially started down the path to become an RD, but changed course and are still involved in the nutrition world. For example, John Berardi, founder of Precision Nutrition, whose expertise lies in counseling and behavior change.
An important caveat here is that a huge component of dietetics training is clinical nutrition, which I will discuss in my next post. So while certain researchers and nutrition professionals may have vast expertise in certain areas of nutrition, no one is an expert in all things nutrition. And that is okay, we all have to work together to meet the needs of the population.
My argument is that 1) being a dietitian doesn’t automatically grant one the title of expert, but certainly people can achieve expert status and 2) not being a dietitian doesn’t preclude one from becoming a nutrition content expert.
Next week's post will be Nutrition Experts II: Eating to survive vs eating to thrive!
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