Food & Nutrition | Who is an Expert?

Girls in STEM Mentor jan Choudhury

by | 26 May, 2023 | STEM Untapped

I know it is somewhat obvious, but everyone eats. When walking down the street or sitting on the bus, you can hear conversations about ingredients, recipes and dining experiences; we love connecting over food. It is probably why I was drawn to the science of food and nutrition. Food is a universal language where everyone has a voice and we all have perspectives and opinions about eating.

But what happens when opinion becomes presented as facts? When food beliefs are pushed as nutrition truths?

We live in the age of celebrity endorsements, wellness influencers and health gurus who are keen to sell us their supplements, books, diet plans and ‘what I eat in a day’ stories. Add in the recent rise of conspiracy theories around sugar and the food industry, nutrition can be a particularly noisy and confusing space.

So who really is an expert in food and nutrition?

Before we dive in, I just want to say that I don’t wish to create an unhelpful hierarchy of nutrition knowledge by dismissing different perspectives. As I said, I love working in nutrition because it is so universal and carries cultural significance for us all. At the same time, it is important to challenge information that is inaccurate or missing the whole picture. I advocate for an evidence-based approach which includes scientific knowledge (or what we know so far), clinical expertise and respecting lived experience.

Logically, when thinking about nutrition experts, education is a good place to start. It makes sense that someone who feels qualified to speak about food and nutrition, should be eligible to do so. In the UK, the term ‘Registered Dietitian’ is a protected title, meaning no-one can call themselves a dietitian unless they are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). ‘Nutritionist’ and nutrition training on the other hand is a little more imprecise. Essentially, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, whether that is after a few hours of an online course or after years of study at degree level.

Thankfully, there are organisations that act as professional bodies for nutritionists to provide them with a code of conduct and professional requirements to protect the public. In the UK, for Registered Nutritionists, the Association for Nutrition (AfN) holds the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN). For Nutritional Therapists, there is the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). So when thinking about a career in dietetics or nutrition, consider the differences between nutrition professionals and look for university degrees that allow registration on completion.

As for me, I have a BSc (Hons) in food science and nutrition and a MSc in applied human nutrition. I am registered with the AfN and so I follow their requirements for continual professional development (CPD). I hold private indemnity insurance and I also receive supervision and support from a Registered Dietitian. So does that mean I am an ‘expert’? Well, I am confident that I can provide scientific, evidence-based information and guidance on nutrition for health and wellbeing. I also know that there will always be more to learn, that nutrition is rarely black and white and that my practice recognises when to call on the knowledge of others. So perhaps being an expert isn’t so important after all, but I can say that in nutrition, being an inquisitive life-long learner and a lover of food is.

Food has always been my ‘thing’. I grew up watching TV chefs and I loved experimenting with new ingredients and recipes. A defining moment was watching a documentary specifically about food science and so I continued with sciences and home economics (now food tech) at A level to gain entry into a food science and nutrition degree at Oxford Brookes University. I have really enjoyed all the variety throughout my career; I have worked in product development, reformulation, regulatory control, novel food research projects and now nutrition counselling. I also have a master’s degree in Applied Human Nutrition from Oxford Brookes where my final year project was looking at our current understanding of nutrigenomics and its application for personalised nutrition. My day is usually spent in session with clients, writing reports, answering queries and keeping up to date with nutrition research. I love being able to connect with all sorts of people and talk about food!

Further Resources:

2016-09-01-Nutrition-Professions-Comparitive-Summary.pdf (associationfornutrition.org)

How to Spot Health Scams and False Wellness Claims – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Home – Association for Nutrition

British Dietetic Association (BDA) | British Dietetic Association (BDA)

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Written by Clare Moran

Clare Moran is a Food Scientist and Registered Associate Nutritionist working as a consultant and private practice nutritionist.