One morning I was having some unusual difficulty putting in my contact lenses. My younger daughter, who was three years old at the time, was watching me struggle with the lenses. Over and over I put them to my eye but they did not adhere. My daughter saw I was having trouble and offered some advice: “Why don’t you put some glue on it?” Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that? Seriously though, to my daughter, this was perfectly sound advice. She was just trying to help. And so it is with nutrition.
It seems that just about everyone is willing and eager to give nutritional advice. People can be sincere and have the best of intentions but they can also be sincerely wrong. Some nutritional advice I have heard is good and then some advice I have heard, if acted on, would be more damaging than putting glue in your eye.
Who do you turn to when you have questions about nutrition? Whose counsel do you seek in determining what foods and nutritional supplements are best for you? Have you considered the qualifications of the person you are trusting with this important task? Have you thought about how they determined what your body needs?
I have had patients tell me they were taking a particular nutritional supplement because they heard it “was good” on a radio infomercial or read an article about it in a magazine. I have had different people tell me they followed nutritional advice given by their friend, family member, salesman in a vitamin store, astrologist, and their child’s school teacher who had a multi-level marketing business on the side.
On one occasion, I was reviewing nutritional blood test results with a patient and after discussing imbalances in her fatty acid profile, recommended she start taking fish oil and discontinue the hemp seed oil she was using. She was surprised by my recommendations. “I was told hemp seed oil was good”, she said. “Who told you that?” I asked. Her reply: “My hairdresser.” I asked her if her hairdresser tested her blood. “No, she just cuts my hair.” This patient was given good “average” or generic advice by her hairdresser. Hemp seed oil is a healthful food for many people…but not everyone. No food is appropriate for everyone. The problem is that there is no average person. Everyone is biochemically unique and has different nutritional needs. My patient in question had very elevated levels of linoleic acid, which is found in hemp seed oil and was deficient in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is found in fish oil.
Another one of my patients walked into a health food store and asked what they had to help her overactive parathyroid gland. The sales clerk, who probably meant well, sold her an herb called Bugleweed. This herb has a reputation for suppressing thyroid function. Her problem was an overactive parathyroid. They sound similar but are very different. If she had followed this advice she would have had another problem: an underactive thyroid.
What about taking nutritional advice from your primary care physician. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Sometimes I’ll have a patient tell me they want to run my nutritional recommendations past their medical doctor. I ask, “Why consult your medical doctor, why not your auto mechanic? He has about as much knowledge of nutrition.” That’s right. The average medical education includes a whopping six hours of training in nutrition.
What about taking nutritional advice from your chiropractor, massage therapist, pharmacist, acupuncturist, or personal trainer? While consulting any of these professionals makes more sense than those we’ve discussed so far, there are still better sources for nutritional expertise. After all, nutrition is one of the most powerful influences on a person’s state of health. You wouldn’t want someone who “dabbles” in surgery to operate on you, would you? So why seek nutritional advice from a practitioner who “does it on the side”?
When it comes to nutritional professionals there are many credentials to choose from. Some titles however, such as nutritional counselor, are meaningless and are not backed up by any educational requirements or licensing regulations whatsoever. Some nutritional “titles” are simply made up to give the impression of legitimacy to someone who has no training in nutrition, usually for the purpose of selling a specious product.
Some of the legitimate nutritional credentials include a masters or PhD degree in nutrition, CCN (Certified Clinical Nutritionist), CNS (Certified Nutrition Specialist), and RD (Registered Dietician).
The premier credential in the field of nutrition is the DACBN – Diplomate of the American Clinical Board of Nutrition. The simplified way to refer to a professional with this credential is “Board Certified Nutritionist”. Just as a cardiologist or neurologist can be board certified, so can a nutritionist be board certified. The DACBN is the only certification that is accredited by an outside agency. Just as with the other specialties in health care, the American Clinical Board of Nutrition is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, a federally recognized, national accreditation agency. To qualify to sit for the American Clinical Board of Nutrition exam to become board certified, a candidate must be a health care professional who has completed the 300 hour diplomate educational program. According to the American Clinical Board of Nutrition, “Professionals of the ACBN include MD, DC, DO, PhD, ND and others who have successfully passed the ACBN examination. Once the candidate has passed the exam, they are certificants of the ACBN and are recognized as Diplomate, American Clinical Board of Nutrition or D.A.C.B.N. To maintain certification status, certificants complete annual requirements attesting to the highest quality standards of this certification agency.” For more information visit www.acbn.org.
In case you haven’t guessed, I am a Diplomate of the American Clinical Board of Nutrition – a Board Certified Nutritionist.