Who to Trust for Credible Nutrition Advice Online

by | Nov 21, 2023 | Uncategorized

Looking for credible nutrition advice online? Read our ultimate guide to who to trust when it comes to reliable nutrition information and the differences between different health “experts” online.

There have always been wild ideas about health and wellness being tossed around, especially around the topic of nutrition. But with the internet and social media at our fingertips, there is now far more misinformation online today. From blogs and YouTube to Instagram and TikTok, it can be hard to find reliable nutrition information from trusted sources.

Featuring excerpts from the conversation I had with Dr Idrees Mughal MBBS, MRes, DipIBLM on the Nourished & Free podcast, this post will help you understand how to evaluate the nutrition information you find online (and offline) as we dive into who to trust when it comes to dietary advice.

How To Identify Reliable Sources Of Nutrition Information

When it comes to evaluating good nutrition advice online vs. non-trustworthy, here are a few things you should keep in mind:

Where is the information coming from?

Is it from a blog? From a government website? From social media? The source is important because it provides context on the information being shared.

Generally speaking, blogs and social media posts are most often opinions coming from an individual and are not necessarily facts. Whereas, government websites or published journal articles are research-focused and are heavily focused on facts.

This isn’t necessarily black and white though. Bloggers or social media users might make the extra effort to provide plenty of supporting data to back up their opinions. Additionally, government websites and research articles also have their own layers of complexities when it comes to the overall context of what is being posted.

For example, are both sides of an argument being considered, or is it heavily focused on one side? Are the studies cited well-designed? Is the interpretation of that study accurate, or is someone cherry-picking data out of the publishing?

Is it research-based or based on personal experience?

An important thing to look out for when listening to someone’s nutrition advice online is whether they use research to back up their claims, or if they just base their opinions on personal experience.

Anecdotes are simply not science. They are helpful for creating scientific interest and influencing future research, but personal stories/experience is not the same thing as a controlled experiment. Therefore, personal stories shouldn’t be assumed to be applicable to everybody.

Who is the author?

While this isn’t a foolproof approach to finding reliable sources of nutrition information, a good place to start is by asking, “Who is this person, and what are their qualifications?” We want to be focusing our attention on the experts, rather than letting the noise of those who are not experts confuse and cloud our knowledge on such an important topic.

The first thing to look for when finding an expert in nutrition (or on any given topic) is to examine their educational background and specializations. For example, a blogger with a computer science degree is not an expert in nutrition *cough* like the Food Babe *cough*.

It’s also important to be wary of “doctors” giving nutrition advice. It’s easy to get starry-eyed and assume everything a doctor says is true. However, a PhD means someone is highly trained and knowledgeable on one subject; it does not mean they are knowledgeable on every subject.

There are so many nutrition books authored by doctors on the market who hold credentials and a PhD in nothing related to nutrition. These books are often filled to the brim with misinformation and harmful advice.

So if you see a doctor giving nutrition advice, ask yourself: is this person’s advanced training in nutrition, or in something else (like psychology, cardiology, etc)?

What is it selling?

When deciding who to trust for nutrition advice online, be sure to check and see if they are selling a product to you. This doesn’t necessarily make someone a bad source of info, but if they are convincing you of “revolutionary” findings in the field of nutrition and then following it up with selling you something that is supposed to keep you safe/healthy, then you can almost always toss what they’re saying altogether and consider them a poor source for nutrition information.

What is it promising?

Here’s the thing: marketers and advertisers know exactly what you want, and they capitalize on this by promising you big results in a short amount of time. Does this sound familiar? “Lose 10 lbs in 2 weeks!” or “drop 4 sizes by Christmas!”

Generally speaking, healthy and sustainable weight loss happens at a rate of 1-2 lbs/week (on average, there can also be weeks with no change). Anything promising you more than that is a scam and is likely dangerous.

What are some red flags to watch for when evaluating nutrition information?

In my interview with Dr. Idz, he noted that one of the biggest red flags to watch out for with online nutrition advice is (paraphrased), “Are they the type of person to make reductionist, absolutist statements, or are they the kind of person that actually provides nuance and a balanced argument?”

He also notes, “That one of the biggest telltales for me, when I’m quickly browsing someone’s content, is if they provide a balanced or nuanced discussion around anything”.

In our discussion, Idz also pointed out that if a creator is highly defensive with their claims and won’t provide evidence to back it up – then they are likely an untrustworthy source. In his words (paraphrased),

“Another giveaway is creators that don’t even allude to evidence or allude to science. That’s obviously a major giveaway. [Or] those who do make claims but get a bit defensive about it, they’re a little bit hesitant to provide evidence, or they get sassy.”

Another red flag that we see often with online nutrition advice is the demonization of seed oils. Idz joked, “This one will filter like 90 to 95% of nonsense creators: If someone demonizes seed oils or omega 6’s.”

Healthy foods sitting on a white countertop

Where to Find Nutrition Advice Online

The quickest and easiest place to search for information is of course the internet, and it’s not going away anytime soon. With this in mind, here’s a general guide on where to find credible nutrition advice online.

Registered Dietitians

Registered Dietitians (RD/RDN) are professionals who spend their entire education and career focused on the field of nutrition. Dietitians are required to have a minimum of a master’s degree in the field of nutrition as well as at least 1,000 hours of supervised practice in order to sit for their credentialing exam to hold the RD/RDN credential.

Dietitians work in all kinds of settings from hospitals and long-term care facilities to eating disorder treatment centers, sports teams, and even schools. A dietitian can fit in just about anywhere that an expert opinion on diet/nutrition is needed.


A nutritionist is someone who claims to know the field of nutrition but has not necessarily had the formal training that a dietitian has. Dietitians often call themselves nutritionists as it is their field of study and a generally more recognizable term (many people still don’t know what a dietitian is!), but nutritionists are not allowed to claim themselves as a dietitian without going through the proper credentialing steps.

Nutritionists are often a big culprit for spreading misinformation and even giving dangerous advice. By claiming to be a nutritionist, it’s easy to assume that they know what they are talking about. However, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist (yes, even you) as it is an unregulated, unprotected term.

Some individuals will take a certification course to become a “certified nutritionist”, however, these programs are notorious for being run by individuals with no formal training in nutrition and for not providing detailed, balanced training in the field.

Learn more about the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist.

Nutritionists are all over the internet. Many nutritionists have soared in popularity because they are giving out sensationalist advice that is not actually evidence-based. It’s a huge issue.

Some nutritionists are sensible and are able to have a balanced, nuanced conversation on the field, but they still have not had the extensive training and experience that an RD/RDN has and are very limited in their scope of practice.

Health Coach

A health coach is another unregulated term that anyone can use. Some will get certifications, but the certifications are often easy to achieve and benefit the certification company financially more than they benefit anyone else.

The most common place you’ll see the term “health coach” is when someone represents a company like Optavia, Noom, or Weight Watchers. These are coaches who are hired to promote a diet and do basic motivational interviewing and goal-setting with the customer.

Health coaches are also running amuck on social media, claiming to help individuals with all kinds of issues. The issue with hiring a health coach to help is that their clients will more than likely have specific questions that are out of a health coach’s scope of practice (it doesn’t take much to be out of their scope). Who does that benefit for the coach to either a) give advice that they have no right to be giving and may cause harm, or b) refer the client out to have to hire a 2nd professional?


If you are looking to chat with a physician (such as your primary care doctor) about nutrition, I’d proceed with caution. In the United States, the traditional education doctors receive provides only a lecture or two on nutrition.

Physicians certainly possess a great deal of knowledge about the human body and can (usually) speak broadly on the topic of nutrition, but for the most part, it’s best they refer out to a Dietitian who has more time to dig into the nuts and bolts of the topic.

Simply put: doctors have their time and energy devoted to so many other things. We honestly shouldn’t expect them to be an expert on nutrition – I personally think that’s unfair to them.

Of course, there are physicians who take the time to get an advanced degree in the field of nutrition (such as Dr. Idz).

The red flags discussed above still apply when it comes to physicians giving diet advice: if anyone (even a physician) is unable to have a balanced, nuanced conversation about diet/nutrition or they are highly enthusiastic about sensationalist things (ex: the carnivore diet or keto diet), then it’s best to seek out a different resource.

What qualifications should a nutrition expert possess?

Because everyone eats, generally everyone thinks they are an expert in nutrition. It’s a natural way to feel! However, be sure to keep your eyes out on the qualifications of whoever is giving you diet advice. These are the important green flags to look for:

  • Do they have an advanced degree in the field of nutrition?
  • Do they have professional experience in the field of nutrition, especially in a setting with peers?

Additionally, try to find out the following:

  • Are they well respected by their peers?
  • Are they black-and-white, or are they able to have balanced, nuanced conversations about nutrition?
  • Are they receptive to feedback, or okay with being wrong?
  • Are they slow to jump on any trendy topics?

Generally speaking, dietitians are experts in the field of nutrition. However, there are still RD/RDNs that lack the above criteria. Therefore, I don’t recommend blindly following someone just by their credentials alone.

An online dietitian talks to a client online

Nutritionist vs Dietitian vs Health Coach: Who To Trust for Nutrition Advice

All dietitians are fundamentally nutritionists and health coaches. However, not all nutritionists and health coaches are dietitians or even close to qualified when it comes to talking on the complex topic of health/nutrition. Simply put, nutritionists and health coaches are a wild card: you never really know what you’re getting into, but it usually isn’t someone with a deep understanding of nutrition.

Dietitians are all of the above (and more). However, not all dietitians are created equal and should still be vetted. Additionally, they are not the only people who can speak well on the topic of nutrition.

For green flags to look out for when it comes to online nutrition advice, see above.

Understanding the Role of Health Coaches

What is a health coach, anyway? This term gets tossed around a lot, especially with diet companies and MLMs. Let’s dig into it.

How do you become a health coach?

“Health coach” is an unregulated term that anyone can use, but most often we see it in the context of someone taking some sort of coaching certification course. These certification courses often teach basic principles of goal setting and motivational interviewing, and mostly just benefit the company that is making money off of coaches wanting to be able to throw a vague credential behind their name.

Are there different types of health coaches?

There are many different types of health coaches. Keep in mind that this is an unregulated term so people will make up titles left and right.

Should you trust nutrition advice from a health coach?

I generally would steer clear of health coaches. They can help you with setting goals, but nothing more than that.

Understanding the Role of Nutritionists

Scroll through Instagram or Tiktok for a few minutes and you’re likely to come across a “nutritionist”. But what does that really mean?

Can anyone be a nutritionist?

Absolutely anyone can call themselves a nutritionist (yes, even you) as it is an unregulated, unprotected term.

What training do nutritionists have?

There is no training required to be called a nutritionist. Nutritionists are often a big culprit for spreading misinformation and even giving dangerous advice.

Some individuals will take a certification course to become a “certified nutritionist” however, these programs are notorious for being run by individuals with no formal training in nutrition and for not providing detailed, balanced training in the field of nutrition.

Understanding Regulation and Licensure in Nutrition

There is absolutely no regulation or licensure when it comes to nutritionists. They can do or say anything they want with little to no consequences.

Should you trust a nutritionist?

Statistically speaking, it’s more common for a nutritionist to be off the wall and completely wrong when it comes to nutrition than it is for a Dietitian to be. However, that doesn’t mean they always are. I actually know a handful of nutritionists who have a solid head on their shoulders, and who I respect.

It comes down to the character of the nutritionists and the patterns of what they tend to teach about. Are they generally giving advice that has been refuted by many other sources, or are they having balanced conversations about the topic at play?

Are nutritionists worth it?

A nutritionist is an unregulated term by which anyone can call themselves. Working with a nutritionist is a gamble, and your health is not something to gamble with. A Registered Dietitian (RD/RDN) is a highly trained specialist in the field of nutrition. Working with an RD/RDN is vital if you are considering help with your nutrition.

Understanding the Role of Dietitians

What is the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian?

There is a MASSIVE difference between a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD/RDN) and a self-proclaimed ‘coach’* or ‘nutritionist’. RD’s must complete an extensive amount of training, education, and credentialing (see below). They are also subject to malpractice laws and are held to standards by governing bodies.

Conversely, ‘nutritionists’ and ‘coaches’ are not regulated terms and nobody is checking their work (so to speak) to be sure they are not doing any harm. It is a recipe for chaos.

What training do dietitians have?

Registered Dietitians (RD/RDN) are required to have a minimum of a master’s degree in the field of nutrition as well as at least 1,000 hours of supervised practice in order to sit for their credentialing exam to hold the RD/RDN credential. The board exam has a 50% pass rate, making it a field with a decently high threshold to get into. To maintain the RD/RDN credential, dietitians must keep up with continuing education and adhere to the RD/RDN code of ethics and standards of practice.

RDs are also required to have state licenses in order to practice medical nutrition therapy, which has its own set of regulations, requirements, and continuing education expectations.

Dietitians often go on to get board-certified training and specializations. Some common ones are:

Understanding Dietitian Regulation and Licensure

Dietitians have a specific code of ethics and even more standards set by the state in which they hold licensure. Breaking the standards of practice puts one at risk of having their titles removed.

Dietitians are also required to stay up to date on nutrition information by completing continuing education. Failure to do so can result in a lapse of credentialing, which can only be re-established by testing again.

Can you trust dietitian advice?

Not all dietitians are created equal. It would be lovely to say “you can trust all dietitians”, but you still need to approach a dietitian with the same critical lens that you do with anyone else. Yes they are qualified in the field of nutrition, but the following questions still need to be asked:

  • Are they well respected by their peers?
  • Are they black-and-white, or are they able to have balanced, nuanced conversations about nutrition?
  • Are they receptive to feedback, or okay with being wrong?
  • Are they slow to jump on any trendy topics?

Who Is The Best Person To Give Nutrition Advice Online?

When it comes to your health, it shouldn’t be okay to mess around and take poor online nutrition advice from just anyone. Be sure to check the source and determine if it’s a reputable one. Bear in mind that the only professional with a 100% focus on the field of nutrition is a Registered Dietitian (RD/RDN).

However, they are not the only ones who can provide reliable nutrition advice and are also subject to letting others down if they fail to do their own due diligence.

Be sure you research the qualifications of the person providing nutrition advice, and find out as much as you can about their work experience (including if they have worked amongst respected peers). Learn more about their client experiences, and take note of how willing they are (or aren’t) to provide evidence to support their claims.

Two women talk about where to find credible nutrition advice online

Where Can I Find Reliable Nutrition Information Online?

There is not just one place to go for the best nutrition advice (I wish it were that easy). Rather, there are many credible nutrition websites and many credible nutrition professionals. But how do you know who is credible or not? Here is a quick decision-making tree to run through when it comes to checking for reliable nutrition information online:

  1. Is the source providing a balanced, nuanced conversation on the topic?
    1. Yes = keep going
    2. No = run away
  2. Is the source making outlandish claims about nutrition (ex: eggs are bad for you, seed oils are toxic, etc)?
    1. Yes = run far away
    2. No = keep going
  3. Is the source providing quality evidence to support their claims, or if not are they willing to provide it?
    1. Yes = this is most likely a credible source
    2. No = I hope you’re sprinting at this point

Want to learn more about where to find good nutrition advice online? Listen to the podcast episode accompanying this discussion regarding reliable sources of nutrition information ⬇️