by Tandis Bishop

Who do you turn to for advice on food, proper nutrition, and diet? Most people ask their family doctor for advice on diet and nutrition, but a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that 60 percent of medical schools in the United States are not meeting minimum recommendations for their students' nutrition education.1 This means that doctors are not necessarily nutrition experts, in fact, most of them are not.

So Who Is?

The fact is, many health conditions such as heart disease, obesity, cancer, stroke, and diabetes are related to what we eat. It’s quite common for someone to need nutritional advice on how to loose weight or to bring down their cholesterol levels. But if doctors are not the best people to seek advice from, then who is? It is often better to consult a qualified nutrition expert such as a Registered Dietitian or a Certified Nutritionist (i.e. someone who has had special education, training, and experience in the field of Nutrition.)

Eat your liver… Not!

Here is a common example of how doctors’ advice can be off track. If tests indicate you are iron deficient, a doctor will often recommend that you eat liver. This is bad advice. While liver may contain concentrated amounts of Iron, it also contains concentrated amounts of toxins that are very unhealthy for you to consume. The liver acts as a filter to remove toxins and other contaminants from the body, and therefore is not a healthy source of iron.

Doctors and vegetarianism

Those who are trying to become vegetarians often receive poor nutrition advice from their doctors. For example, you may not have learned how to balance your diet properly to substitute for the meat you are no longer eating. Thus you may experience feeling tired or unhealthy. If you tell this to your doctor, the likely response is that your symptoms are caused by the lack of meat in your diet (not because you just need to eat a more balanced plant-based diet). So while a doctor would probably tell you to start eating meat again, a Registered Dietitian or nutrition expert would tell you the opposite. They would teach you how to balance your meals properly and reassure you that you can have a perfectly healthful, balanced vegetarian diet. In fact, "it is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes."2 We are not saying you should not see your doctor for regular checkups or if you have health concerns, but if you need nutritional advice, it may be in your best interest to seek out an expert with specific training and experience in that field.

Footnotes: 
  1. Adams, M.K., et al. Status of Nutrition in Medical Schools. Am J Clin Nutr April 2006 vol. 83 no. 4 941S-944S. Available at http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/83/4/941S.full
  2. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of American Dietetics Association. Volume 109, Issue 7, Pages 1266-1282 (July 2009)