Unit 3 – The Science of Nutrition
Who Should You Trust for Accurate Information?
A motivational speaker once said, “A smart person believes half of what they read. An intelligent person knows which half to believe.” In this age of information, where instant Internet access is just a click away, it is easy to be misled if you do not know where to go for reliable nutrition information.
When reading information on websites, remember the following criteria for discerning if the site is valid:
- Who sponsors the website?
- Are names and credentials disclosed?
- Is an editorial board identified?
- Does the site contain links to other credible informational websites?
- Even better, does it reference peer-reviewed journal articles? If so, do those journal articles actually back up the claims being made on the website?
- How often is the website updated?
- Are you being sold something at this website?
- Does the website charge a fee?
For more information, visit http://www.csuchico.edu/lins/handouts/eval_websites.pdf
Trustworthy Nutrition Sources
Authoritative nutrition news is based on solid scientific evidence, supported by multiple studies, and published in peer-reviewed journals. You can obtain valid nutrition information from many reputable organizations, websites, and professionals, if you know where to look. Whatever the source of your nutrition news, remember to apply the criteria outlined previously in this unit to ensure the validity of the information presented. You can find many trustworthy sources that advocate good nutrition to promote health and prevent disease using evidence-based science.
Trusted Organizations Active in Nutrition Policy and Research
- US Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Information Center. The USDA website has more than 2,500 links to information about diet, nutrition, disease, body weight and obesity, food safety, food labeling, packaging, dietary supplements, and consumer questions. Using this interactive site, you can find tips and resources on how to eat a healthy diet, nutritional information, and a food planner.
- The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). The AND promotes scientific, evidenced-based food and nutrition information. It is focused on informing the public about recent scientific studies, weight-loss concerns, food safety topics, nutrition issues, and disease prevention. This website also has lots of practical tips and suggestions on how to plan and prepare nutritious meals.
- Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The HHS website provides credible information about healthful lifestyles and the latest in health news. A variety of online tools are available to assist with food-planning, weight maintenance, physical activity, and dietary goals. You can also find healthful tips for all age groups, tips for preventing disease, and information on general health issues.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC provides up-to-date public health information and data on many nutrition-related topics, including healthful eating, cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, alcohol use, breastfeeding, infant and toddler nutrition, and food safety, as well as other public health issues like physical activity and tobacco usage. They also publish a monthly online newsletter called CDC Vital Signs that includes current data on the most pressing public health matters.
Many additional websites, organizations, and professionals provide valid health and nutrition information. Let’s take a look at some of these other resources.
Trusted Websites and Sources
Web domains can be an indicator of the reliability of a website.
- Websites of government agencies end in .gov and are usually considered to be trustworthy sources of evidence-based health information.
- University websites typically end in .edu, indicating the source is focused primarily on providing educational resources rather than seeking financial gain.
- Many professional organizations and non-profit organizations use websites ending in .org, but this type of domain may also be used by special interest groups and biased groups promoting a specific agenda. Approach these websites with a critical eye, looking for the common signs of reliability.
- Business and company websites typically end in .com, indicating that the primary focus of the website is to promote that particular company’s services and goods rather than to simply educate a consumer. However, news organizations also have .com websites, and while their primary mission is to inform readers, the same rules of discernment apply to make sure they’re delivering news objectively. Major news organizations or those with a science or health focus usually have reporters who specialize in these areas so have more background knowledge of the field, and they’re more likely to have a process for fact-checking an article. For example, the New York Times and well-respected publications have excellent information, but your local newspaper may not have the same level of reporters.
Any of these types of web domains could contain credible information, but you must be a savvy consumer and use the knowledge gained in this unit to separate trusted sources from the more questionable options. Check out this list of websites as a starter kit for generally reliable, trusted sources for health and nutrition information.
Table 3.2. Reliable websites that provide nutrition information
USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion
Food and Drug Administration
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements
World Health Organization
Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations
Harvard School of Public Health
Linus Pauling Institute
American Society for Nutrition
American Cancer Society
American Heart Association
American Diabetes Association
Center for Science in the Public Interest
Food Allergy Research & Education
Institute of Medicine: Food and Nutrition
When looking for credible nutrition information, one of the most important aspects to consider is the expertise of the individual providing the information. Nutrition is a tricky field because so many titles with that include “nutrition” or “diet” are not legally-protected or regulated. So it’s imperative to seek experts that are formally-educated and credentialed in nutrition. Look for professionals with the following degrees or backgrounds:
- Registered dietitian nutritionist (RD or RDN)
- Certified nutrition and wellness educator (CNWE)
- Professional with advanced degree(s) in nutrition (MS or PhD)
- Physician (MD) with appropriate education and expertise in nutrition
Registered dietitians, certified nutrition and wellness educators, or professionals with advanced degrees in the field of nutrition are the most credible sources for sound nutrition advice. Be skeptical of other official-sounding credentials, like “holistic nutrition practitioner” or even “nutrition counselor.” There are no standards for these titles, which means that anyone can call themselves a nutrition expert, and you could be taking advice from a well-qualified individual or someone who just took an online course or got a mail-order certificate. Physicians can also be good sources for nutrition information, depending on their education and background. But be mindful that most medical schools include minimal or no education and training in nutrition so most physicians may have limited knowledge in this field unless they have sought out specific nutrition training on their own.
Careers in Nutrition
If you’re considering a career in nutrition, it’s important to understand the opportunities that may be available. Dietitians, nutrition and wellness educators, and qualified nutrition professionals provide nutrition-related services to people in the private and public sectors. All three of these groups can provide nutrition education and coaching about healthy eating for weight management, fitness programs, cooking tips, label reading, food safety, and similar consumer-focused topics. However, to provide medical nutrition therapy for special diets for patients who have diabetes, renal disease, and similar health conditions, the individual must be a registered dietitian (RD) also known as a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN).
A certified nutrition and wellness educator is not authorized to provide specialized medical nutrition therapy but works in community-based and government nutrition and wellness education programs, such as Cooperative Extension, WIC or YMCA or as health or nutrition coaches. They also have the background to work in business and industry, such as nutrition advisors in grocery stores, fitness and wellness programs, and food service. Those who have advanced degrees often work in research, with the food industry, or with community-based programs.
Students interested in becoming an RD or RDN have two options, and both include courses in chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, anatomy and physiology, nutrition, genetics, food science, and food service management. The first route has been around for many years and requires completing an undergraduate “Didactic Program in Dietetics” like the one at MTSU then applying for a post graduate “dietetic internship” which requires 1200 hours of supervised practice. The second route is new, and consists of students applying directly to a graduate program that includes the dietetic coursework at the graduate level with the 1200 hours of supervised practice integrated into the courses. Students who complete either must pass a national exam and maintain their registration through ongoing continuing education. Beginning 2024, all students must have a masters degree to sit for the national exam. Many states, including Tennessee, also have licensure that requires additional forms and documentation. You can learn more about the paths to becoming a registered dietitian by going to cdrnet.org/certifications.
MTSU has a program to prepare students to become certified nutrition and wellness educators (CNWE). Coursework includes classes in nutrition, obesity, education, health, food science, food safety, health and anatomy and physiology. You can learn more about the CNWE exam by going to https://www.aafcs.org/credentialing-center/professional-certifications/cnwe.
Whether you pursue nutrition as a career or simply work to improve your own dietary choices, what you are learning in this course can provide a solid foundation for the future. Remember, your ability to think clearly, communicate, hope, dream, go to school, gain knowledge, and earn a living are impacted by your health. Good health allows you to function normally and work hard to pursue your goals. Yet, achieving optimal health is a complex process, involving multiple dimensions of wellness, along with your physical or medical reality. It’s our hope that you use the knowledge gained in this class, not just to earn a good grade, but that you also apply it to make a difference in your life.
- University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Food Science and Human Nutrition Program, “Careers in Nutrition,” CC BY-NC 4.0
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2019, September 4). Dietitians and Nutritionists. Occupational Outlook Handbook. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm
- Laptop showing vegetable dish photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash (license information)
- Table 2.2. “Reliable websites that provide nutrition information” by Heather Leonard is licensed under CC BY 4.0
- Women at desk photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash (license information)