Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are trained in food science, agriculture, nutrition and health. 

A heartfelt thank you to Dr. Patrick Neustatter for the sound advice in his article “Consider science when picking a diet,” in his Nov. 25 column.

Simply put, nutrition IS a science.

What we eat is determined by the science within seeds; the proper care of animals; the soil and weather conditions; technology, economics, religion, culture, social conditions and politics.

Food is complex and involves chemistry. Do you know how to scientifically interpret the FODMAP diet? Would you consume a doughnut that didn’t rise, or chicken from the grill that didn’t brown; or lumpy gravy? Food physics helps us to enjoy what we eat. Why do foods sizzle, steam, boil? Why are some foods crunchy and some soft? Does that impact the labeling expiration date? What is aquafaba? What do we do about those picky eaters?

Perhaps you’re interested in disease prevention, where human physiology and all its intricate mechanisms are at play – how does a diabetic person on a low income eat, and manage their blood sugar and insulin doses? Is wine good or bad? Should we eat butter or margarine? What is lycopene? Is a potato fattening? And, how do we delay the wrinkles on our face or ease migraine headaches through nutrition? Science is ever-evolving and changing, and through research we learn more about global food and nutrition for better health today and tomorrow.

As one of 100,000 nationwide Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, I regularly see patients who believe the anecdotal nutrition, food and health advice found in places such as blogs or social media sites; or from community members, friends and family who are not trained in nutrition science. Everyone eats, so everybody has an opinion on what to eat or avoid. The danger is that incorrect advice can, and does, cause real harm to others. I counsel many eating disorder patients who slide down that slippery slope after watching a food movie in health class, or because their coach or loved one told them to eat a certain way. I see patients who try the keto diet to lose weight or fight cancer when the keto diet has been around for decades to treat epileptic patients. Likewise, are patients who follow a gluten-free or lactose-free diet to alleviate GI issues doing the right thing? And I counsel several young athletes looking to correctly improve their game through accurate, safe nutrition practices.

RDNs are trained in food science, agriculture, nutrition and health. RDNs hold advanced degrees and certifications after completing years of rigorous medical nutrition science training that by 2024 will require a mandatory master’s degree; completion of a medical internship program; passage of a board-certified exam; and career-long continuing education requirements. RDNs know how to take the science and put it in a usable format for patients and the general public. We stay current on new food products, nutrition health research and food product recalls.

As Dr. Neustatter said in his article, “it’s very common for medical interventions, implemented by both patients and doctors, to be based on bad or inadequate evidence.” Every day, I correct food and nutrition misinformation and myths from all the chatter out there.

While allied health care providers may be well-meaning, they can often miss the mark on food and nutrition science, quite honestly because their medical training is not nutrition intensive. The best patient outcomes occur when the health care provider refers patients to a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for in-depth nutrition counseling.

Importantly, when it comes to medical procedures that have nutrition considerations, like diabetes or bariatric surgery, almost without exception insurance companies require that only RDNs provide the nutrition consults for third party reimbursement purposes.

You truly are what you eat. To find an RDN nutrition expert near you, and type in your ZIP code.

Nancy Z. Farrell Allen is owner of Farrell Dietitian Services and is an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics national spokesperson. She teaches nutrition at Germanna Community College and Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science.

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