Experts Tout Top 5 Nutrition Websites

by Sandy Todd Webster on Jan 20, 2011

Scope of practice for fitness professionals, particularly on diet and nutrition issues, can be a sticky wicket. You may know a lot about diet and nutrition, but where do you draw the line on what you can and cannot share with clients? When should you refer? Two dietitians (Jenna A. Bell, PhD, RD, LD, and Scott Josephson, MS, RD) and two fitness professionals (Nicki Anderson and Brett Klika) met in a panel discussion on this topic at the 2010 IDEA World Fitness Convention™ in August and did their best to clarify the fine line we must walk to stay in scope.

Bell summed up what you can and cannot do in a concise and simple way: “Make sure your opinion follows expert consensus and guidelines,” she advised. “Provide information that is evidence-based and supported by consensus. Those are the recommendations you can disseminate.” Josephson, a dietitian with a master’s in exercise physiology, concurred with Bell, adding that fitness professionals can identify risks, screen limitations, design programs and refer to practitioners--all from a fitness standpoint. “Don’t diagnose, and don’t prescribe,” he concluded. “You don’t counsel; you coach.”

Simple enough to understand, but what resources are considered solid for finding expert consensus and guidelines?

Here are the “go-to” websites that the panel recommends:

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPyramid offers personalized eating plans and interactive tools to help you plan or assess your food choices, based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • Powered by the American Dietetic Association (ADA), this resource is for ADA members, the public, the media, students and health professionals.
  • The T. Colin Campbell Foundation is a nonprofit organization that offers scientific and health information to the public, without influence from industry or commercial interests.
  • This site provides independent test results and information to help consumers and healthcare professionals evaluate health, wellness and nutrition products. It is subscription-fee based. The site’s work in consumer advocacy regarding dietary supplements is one of its hallmarks.

An additional website you might find helpful in these tight economic times was recently redesigned and relaunched by the University of Iowa Extension and focuses on “3 Easy Steps to Healthy Meals: Plan Smart. Shop Smart. Eat Smart.” The site includes useful tips related to the three steps, an excellent database of practical, economical recipes and a Spend Smart blog:

For a deeper look at this discussion, you can purchase the DVD of the World session “The Fine Line: Counseling Clients in Nutrition,” featuring the four panelists named above and moderated by IDEA’s associate editor, Ryan Halvorson:

IDEA Fit Tips , Volume 9, Issue 2

© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL, the health and fitness industry's leading resource for fitness and wellness professional...


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  • Debra Atkinson

    I think we reveal part of the problem in this thread. We've completely abandoned sound nutrition even as professionals and that's not good. It's no different than beginning with solid exercise principles and then realizing that won't fit 100% of our clients. Start with the basics, then custom fit to clients needs, activity, health concerns and lifestyle. When that gets outside of scope- refer. Clients will follow our lead; we have to be careful the message we're sending. More important to an Iowa State Cyclone fan...the last mentioned extension site is posted and created by Iowa State University, not the University of Iowa. If you're a Cyclone not a Hawkeye- that's important!
    Commented Mar 11, 2011
  • Bud Hill

    Ms Webster makes a valid point. First and foremost, clients need some good foundational knowledge. Then they can begin to do some exploration on their own. If they are encouraged to go forth with only a few bits and pieces, their liklihood of success is somewhat limited.
    Commented Feb 16, 2011
  • Sandy Todd Webster

    I've been following this thread with great interest. You all make great points and I can feel your frustration loud and clear on what can feel like rigid parameters when it comes to scope of practice (SOP). When an RD says to "make sure your opinion follows expert consensus and guidelines," I don't think it's at all with the intention of having you stop thinking for yourselves. To the contrary, I think the message is that you need to dig for more well-founded research and know your stuff inside and out before you dole out any nutritional guidance to your clients. The fact that you've all "dissed" the websites the panel gave tells me that you are at a level where you've done a lot of reading. But understand that the information you share with clients needs to be "research-based," not some theory that sounds good--and for your own protection. On that note, I'd love to make this conversation productive and hear what your favorite research-based nutrition websites or resources are. What is your go-to source? Where do you send clients to read up on nutrition? I also want to delve a little deeper into scope. SOP boundaries are not meant to limit you, although they may feel like that. They are really meant to protect you from liability issues. We know clients are not always forthright with us about health history or what's going on with their bodies. If you were to create a meal plan (out of your scope) for an apparently healthy client and they had an adverse reaction to it, you'd be the one to suffer because you stepped out of scope (thinking you were well informed). You'd probably get sued. My point is that we all think we know a lot about nutrition (and some of us really do!), but unless you are a well-qualified, certified or licensed nutrition professional, you are putting yourself (and your client) at risk if you start meal planning, prescribing or even proselytizing about the latest nutrition theory that has no science to back it up. What can IDEA do to help with this issue? Sandy Todd Webster, Editor in Chief, IDEA Publications
    Commented Feb 11, 2011
  • Patrick Callahan

    Has anyone heard of GLYCOMICS? The 'so-called' experts are the 'same ole group' that touts a standard of thinking that keeps them 'experts' in their own minds. Western Science/Medicine has moved so far away from Wellness, I don't believe they know how to get back home.
    Commented Feb 04, 2011
  • Travus Gehret

    Surely by now, it's plain as day that over-consumption of grains as well as their convenience is the cancer of American society. When is the government going to wake up and help it's people? When are experts going to reasearch for themselves and truly become experts? I'd venture outside of my "scope" any day to save those misinformed by the "leading experts'" toxic guidelines.
    Commented Feb 04, 2011
  • Jennifer Fiandt

    I completely disagree with these recommendations. Not only is the information in these resources disproved every day by scientific research, it's unlivable advice. As trainers, we emphasize the need for an individual approach to fitness that works for you. How can we contradict that with nutrition? This information ignores the undisputable connection of mind and spirit to our eating choices and nutritional needs and encourages people to sit and stare at their meals like they're science experiments that need to be "measured", rather than measuring their wellness on the joyful process of experimentation and bioindividuality and connecting to local, whole foods and their sources that actually make their bodies feel nourished. While there is a little science to weight loss, these recommendations emphasize an animal-based, overly regimented diet that won't work for many people.
    Commented Feb 04, 2011
  • Clint McDowall

    “Make sure your opinion follows expert consensus and guidelines,” In other words "Don't go thinking for yourself, now"
    Commented Feb 04, 2011
  • Layla Khashoggi

    Sad to see the "experts" choices... these are dated, run-of-the-mill nutrition sites (and Consumerlab, though great for info on supplements, doesn't even fall into a standard nutrition category). Please, IDEA... you can do better.
    Commented Feb 04, 2011
  • Daniela Iannone

    The Food Pyramid? I stopped reading right there.
    Commented Feb 04, 2011
  • Channing Morales

    I am dissapointed with the "experts" top choices for websites. The first website is funded by the government who, if you understand true traditional real food practices, subsidize over 70% of the grain production in America which is contributing to the increase in diabetes: grains=sugar. This leads to the next website which is supported by the food pyramid which has just recently CHANGED it's recommendations after almost 20 years of suggestioning 11 servings of grains and now 6? With what evidence is there that 6 is better? When grains>vegetables and protein, sugar will still remain the highest % in the diet. Eat like the food pyramid and you'll look like the food pyramid. The third website is pro-veganism. Colin T. Campbell would like everyone, based on his publication "The China Study", to eliminate ALL animal based food. I'm sorry, but just these first 3 websites would deter me from ever utilizing IDEA as a resource for good nutrition. My expert advice is to visit for real, whole nutrition.
    Commented Feb 04, 2011
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