How to spot the 'fake' nutritionist

Emma Brown - Nutritionist | 09 Aug, 2020


Emma is a real nutritionist, there’s nothing fake about her, or her MSc (Human Nutrition) – the result of 2 years hard study at university.

But there are plenty of ‘fake’ Emmas out there, luring the unwary with untried and untested food and nutrition ‘advice’ – but how do you know who’s cracked the hard science – and who’s just playing you along?

So, we asked Emma to untangle the fakery.

“There’s a lot of confusion about who to talk to when you need advice on your diet. We’re used to Google giving us the answers to pretty much everything and a simple online search for ‘nutrition advice’ throws up an endless stream of wellness gurus, body therapists and the “I’ve done an online course” experts. Dotted in amongst all of these are the real food experts – but how to you spot the fakes?

“The problem isn’t choice, but quality of choice, and understanding the qualifications behind the person. Pretty much anyone can do a short online ‘nutrition’ course; again, a quick Google brings back literally thousands of options.

“And the law doesn’t discriminate: absolutely anyone can practice as a nutritionist, no questions asked. And some do. Whilst some – like me – spent 2 years studying this exacting science at University and coming out with a master’s degree, others will have simply signed up for an online course, ticked the right boxes and adopted a suitable serious sounding job title. There are even free courses, so there’s very little risk for anyone wanting to reinvent themselves as a food or nutrition ‘expert’.

“And therein lies the problem. The plethora of pay-for-title nutritionists is unregulated, meaning the advice offered can be unfounded, unscientific, misleading – and potentially dangerous. The rise of the pseudo nutritionist has come to a head because of the power and influence of social media. Unregulated people are doling out and endorsing nutrition advice via Facebook, Instagram and blog posts, regardless of whether they are qualified to do so. They often focus on quick fix, radical ‘new’ food fads, which can create huge problems for anyone desperate for a quick fix solution.

“There is no quick fix. Eating healthily and understanding what your body needs is a way of life, not a blog post. The recent trend for ‘clean eating’, which was very popular with the under 25s, was pushed heavily by celebrity bloggers and reality stars. Much of the advice focused on cutting out entire food groups, such as dairy, which is a hugely important source of calcium – particularly for girls, as it is the main mineral that strengthens bones. This is very important during adolescence when teens are going through their growth spurt. People reach their maximum bone density during adolescence and gradually lose bone mass the rest of their lives. If this calcium isn’t replaced, young women face an increased risk of bone problems in later life. To cut out calcium is extremely foolhardy and no-one should be promoting this.

3 easy ways to spot a fake

Telling you that 1 ‘superfood’ is the answer to well, pretty much anything. Walk away. There’s no scientific paper anywhere that supports this.

If they tell you “lots of my clients are giving up gluten/dairy etc” – there’s no basis for giving up any foods unless you have an allergy or intolerance – and if you think you do, get your GP to test you.

If they tell you that ‘calories don’t count’. They do. You can’t escape the science and everything we eat and drink (apart from water) has calories. The only way to accurately manage what you eat is to know how many calories you’re consuming every day.

“And lastly, if I had to offer just 1 piece of advice it is this: avoid fads of any kind. The world is full of them, and they’re never the answer. The well quoted saying ‘if it sounds too good to be true it probably is’ applies just as much to ‘nutrition’ advice as much as any other area of life. A safe amount of weight to lose would be around 2lb a week, which is steady and achievable just by controlling your calorie intake.

How to find Emma – and other real nutritionists:

Look for someone with a BSc or MSc in Nutrition/Human Nutrition, who is registered with the Association for Nutrition. This ensures they will have graduated with an accredited, evidence-based nutritional science degree. They can use the letters ANutr or RNutr after their name, and you can find them on this website:

Don’t settle for anything less.

Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.