Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Dietitians and brand recommendations

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The above tweet really bothered me. Why? For a couple of reasons. One, where is this data coming from? I assume it’s in regards to dietitians in the US, as that’s where the tweet originated. So, can we really paint all dietitians with the same brush? Would dietitians in other countries also be recommending products to clients by brand name 90% of the time in other countries? Are we even talking about dietitians in all areas of practice? After all, we’re a pretty diverse bunch, working in many different areas. 

Two, the implied assumption that this is a bad thing. Maybe I’m the only one, but I immediately felt like we dietitians were somehow doing a disservice to our clients by recommending foods by brand name. The 90% is really quite meaningless. It could mean that a dietitian recommends every food by brand, or it could mean that the dietitian recommends but one of all of the recommended foods by brand. 

Personally, I tend not to recommend foods by brand name. However, I can see times when it might be useful. For example, when telling a client with celiac disease about gluten-free products. Or when someone asks which coconut milk doesn’t contain preservatives or stabilizers. Or when advising someone about humane meat products available at the grocery store. Or when identifying a product which is unique in the market. I don’t think that recommending a product by brand name necessarily means that a dietitian is being influenced by the company in question. I don’t think that it should be taken to mean that his or her credibility is in question. It may simply mean that they are trying to simplify the navigation of grocery store aisles for their clients. 

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Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

5 thoughts on “Dietitians and brand recommendations

  1. Reminds me of my physician father who used to laugh at the claims that “three out of four doctors recommend” whatever. He said they would just have four doctors, three of whom recommended the medication in question.

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  2. This is an interesting topic Di and quite a hot one in the UK at the moment too! My view is we can’t avoid the ‘real world’ people often relate better to brand names and want specific instruction. There are certainly circumstances where it is absolutely appropriate to recommend a brand & others were its not needed. I think the key is disclosure of any conflict of interest. If a dietitian is recommending a brand that they have some sort of connection with or may benefit from recommending then they need to be clear about that (and in some circumstances NOT use the brand name). Credibility is about trust so rather than ‘brand’ (pun intended, sorry about that!) those that use product names as ‘not credible’ maybe we need to look at the how and the why. :)

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  3. I often recommend brands in my practice–I do it because it helps a clients decision making process flow easier. Often, they come to me so overwhelmed that pinpointing exact food items is helpful to them–I also take time to gauge what other determinants affect their health including their socioeconmic status. Example–if a student is asking information on protein supplements, I wouldn’t suggest something that is incredibly high in price. Instead, I’d list options that they would be capable of purchasing and be sure to incorporate a learning/education element for WHY a particular brand is suggested.

    Thanks for the post Diana!

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    • Thanks Nita. Great points about cost. There are a whole lot of reasons for us to recommend products by brand that have nothing to do with us being in cahoots with “big food”.

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