Take a Stance for Food Neutrality

In this day and age there’s several sources to seek nutrition information from. However, it’s difficult to assess the truth vs fallacies, and even more complicated to understand  what will work for you compared to the person promoting the advice or participants of research claims’. Plus, many times this advice comes from extreme stances on recent research and fear-based mongering to steer individuals towards the claims. Yes, in some instances these claims are true and come from reputable sources, but not all. In this blog I hope to break down a few simple ways to view nutrition advice and how to tease out what works best for your needs.

Nutritionist versus dietitian, what’s the difference?

In general terms, a dietitian is a nutritionist, but a nutritionist cannot claim they are a dietitian. Dietitians, known by the credential RD (registered dietitian) and LDN (licensed dietitian nutritionist) is a nationally recognized credential with most states having mandatory licensure requirements to protect the RD credential. Nutritionists can hold various titles, or no title at all, and can claim the nutritionist credential from just having an understanding of nutrition. Certain specialties, such as personal trainers (CPT), naturopaths (ND), and medical doctors (MD or DO), can hold certifications in nutrition, all recognizing that these individuals can provide some minor nutrition advice to support overall health and wellbeing. Dietitians are the individuals who can prescribe meal plans and supplements for either overall health and wellbeing or specific disease states such as diabetes and  eating disorders, and can hold specialties in various areas of dietetics. Nutritionists are not trained to prescribe meal plans, but rather share general advice and can provide recommendations based on the research available to them on updated supplement and nutrition requirements for general health. 

How to tease out the good, bad, and the ugly nutrition advice

Here are some questions to ask yourself before joining the next nutrition trend:

  • Does this apply to my specific disease state(s)?

  • Do my current eating habits already work for me? 

  • What would the benefits be, physically and mentally?

  • What are the risks of starting this new supplement and/or dietary pattern?

  • Will these risks exacerbate current physical symptoms? Are there side effects that could worsen mental health diagnoses?

  • Who is promoting this advice? Do they hold reputable credentials supporting they understand (a) how the human body works and (b) how to interpret the research? Does this individual have ties to their recommendations, such as pay offs from the supplement being recommended?

  • Are these claims very black and white, all or nothing, stating things like ‘this is the only method you’ll need’? 

  • What are the financial costs of this diet, supplement, food, etc.? Will this be affordable to me? What are other options that meet my needs that may be less costly?

  • For those with an active or past eating disorder, how would this impact the thoughts and behaviors around food? (Hint: if you notice what you’re viewing is enticing the intrusive eating disorder thoughts then likely this needs further exploration and may not be the right approach for you at this time.)

Consider food neutrality rather than good vs bad foods thinking

Another tip to consider is taking a stance for food neutrality. Instead of thinking in all or nothing terms with food and demoralizing certain foods/food ingredients compared to others, try seeing all foods as nutrients that will fuel your body. Yes, there are foods that have higher nutrient profiles compared to others, and it can be beneficial to incorporate a greater portion of these foods in our dietary pattern. However, these less-nutrient rich foods can still fit and supply protein, fat, and/or carbohydrates, and many times one to multiple micronutrients, in varying amounts. Unless we are allergic or intolerant to a food or ingredient, or truly hate the taste/texture of the item, we don’t have to completely avoid any given food to achieve a healthy dietary pattern, and in turn lifestyle. There are also tolerable upper limits (UL) and adequate intake (AI), or recommended daily allowance (RDA), levels for almost all the foods and supplements we consume, at least those sold in the United States. These values regulate how much of a substance or nutrient the general population should consume to achieve overall health and the highest value before reaching a level of adverse health consequences. For more information on these values’ meanings and identifying specific foods/ingredients, check out the Nutrient Recommendations and Databases per the National Institutes of Health.

As a dietitian with an understanding of how to read research and debunk the facts, extreme claims, and opinions about nutrition, I feel for those who don’t have this wisdom. It’s true that nutrition advice can be confusing! What we know now may not be right tomorrow as it’s always changing, with new trends weekly and the research is always ongoing. If you take anything away from this blog, it’s this: consider what works for you first and foremost, remember that many claims are extreme and may not give the whole truth about the food item or ingredient, and if you don’t know where to start nutritionally then consider seeking out a registered dietitian to support you in meeting your individualized needs.


National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: Nutrient Recommendations and Databases, site: https://ods.od.nih.gov/HealthInformation/nutrientrecommendations.aspx