When you need nutritional advice, who do you trust with your health, your long-term well-being, and your physical safety? If your answer to that question included dietitians, MD’s, chiropractors, or another kind of licensed professional, you’re on the right track. For routine questions about caloric content of food, healthy recipes, dietary guidelines, and other common topics, the internet is an ideal resource. Its great advantage is that there’s no charge for the information your dig up. Just remember that old saying that free advice is worth what you pay for it. Here’s a look at some of the free and not so free avenues of inquiry for all thing’s nutrition-related, along with the qualifications you would need if you wanted to pursue the professions as a career.
People tend to use the terms nutritionist and dietitian interchangeably, but they are quite different things. Before you contact one of these experts for advice about what you eat, consider their very different backgrounds. Dietitians usually hold at least a four-year college degree in one of the sciences. In many states, they must pass a licensing examination in order to call themselves dietitians. They often conduct seminars on healthy eating, advise private clients about how to eat right and maintain optimal health. Dietitians can work in private practice, for hospitals, for school systems, or for doctors’ offices.
Nutritionists, on the other hand, do not necessarily hold degrees and might have only undergone a short course of study. The fuzzy definition is part of the challenge of finding a qualified practitioner in this field. The individual states have no educational or licensing requirements, nor are there any mandatory exams for people who want to call themselves nutritionists. If you want to earn a reliable income and be assured of multiple job opportunities, consider getting a college degree in one of the sciences and working for accreditation as a dietitian through one of the state governing bodies that oversees licensing. Job prospects are good, the work is interesting, you can add a master’s degree or PhD to your resume if you decide to specialize later on.
MD’s often help patients who have questions about dietary problems like vitamin deficiencies, adverse reactions to overdoses of certain nutrients, and obesity. Few MD’s specialize in nutritional disciplines but most are well equipped to dispense helpful information to any patient who seeks assistance. Medical Doctors, are licensed physicians who have attended a four-year post-college course of study and passed a rigorous board exam. Most have spent at least two years as interns, possibly more depending on their specialty. If your goal is to become an MD, consider taking out medical school loans in order to invest in your future and pay for med school. Private lenders offer competitive rates, reasonable terms, and often let you borrow the entire amount of your educational expenses.
Chiropractic physicians take in-depth courses in nutrition during their four-year medical schooling. These specialized doctors are not MD’s, but they are doctors in every sense of the word. In fact, the letters after a chiropractor’s name indicate as much: DC stands for Doctor of Chiropractic. When chiropractors perform a general exam on a new patient, they take and extensive medical history. In addition to helping relieve back, neck, shoulder, hip, knee, and foot pain, they often begin treatment regimens with a spinal adjustment. For patients who are overweight or underweight, the doctor will usually offer nutritional counseling as part of their standard services.
Spend a half-hour online and you can find out the basics about any food-related topic that interests you. While the net is not great at delivering personalized assistance, it is an ideal resource for finding general information on things like obesity, vitamin deficiencies, how to prepare healthy meals, how to avoid food poisoning, how to shop for nutritious foods at the grocery store, how to read nutrient labels, and more. The internet is a good first step when you want to learn more, but it’s usually a good idea to seek in-person professional help if you have a serious medical problem or suspect you might be ill.
Don’t count yourself out. Consider your past experience with diets, vitamin supplements, food allergies, alcohol use, and other experiences related to nutrition and health. Perhaps you’ve had success with a particular kind of weight loss program, or know that you have a bad reaction to certain kinds of foods. Take a few minutes to make up a short list of your personal history, as you might tell it to a doctor. Use this information in conjunction with other resources.