• Dr Emma Derbyshire

Nutrition is NOT a Simple Science


What is Nutritional Science?

The science of human nutrition includes food science, food chains, behavioural science, wellbeing, law and policy, exercise and weight management. It is vital to study how the food we eat can prevent disease, enhance wellbeing and improve performance. Nutrition professionals have careers in food and health promotion, sports nutrition, government policy making and public health.


There have always been many questions about the reliability of nutritional science. Yet, nutrition is not a simple science. Much of what is known about nutrition and the methods that have built that knowledge is as robust as classical physics, biochemistry and sciences generally recognised as ‘hard sciences’.

Nutrition involves biochemistry and physiology, and is governed by scientific facts. Today, we understand many of the mechanisms and pathways concerning dietary compounds, and can now, usually, predict metabolic responses to lack or excess.


How does Nutritional Science compare to other Sciences?

As with all sciences, research can be challenging in practice because of the many different factors involved, some of which may not yet be elucidated. This is the same for nutrition, as it is biochemistry, chemistry, physics and any other ‘hard science’. Detailed study and scientific testing is paramount in all scientific disciplines, including nutrition, to lead to resolution and advancement of that scientific discipline. Scientific advances are painfully slow in all scientific disciplines.


Nutritional Science as a Hard Science

Nutritional science is a complicated discipline, in line with other scientific disciplines. It requires significant resources and expertise, with the nutritional scientist needing determination to succeed when faced with discoursing result, which is the norm for all scientific researchers. Nutrition concerns most aspects of modern medical practice. Medical doctors cannot serve their patients without understanding and dealing with the most typical nutritional scenarios in practice. Hence, nutritional science is as important to medical doctors as physiology, pharmacology or anatomy.


Unfortunately for nutritional scientists there is competition from less informed colleagues. The biggest problem is that anyone can set themselves up as a nutritional therapist or lifestyle coach to offer nutritional advice. This downplays the years of education and training required to become an evidence-based nutritionist or dietician. A registered nutritionist (with the government-approved Association for Nutritionists) must have an approved university degree or postgraduate course with the emphasis on ‘evidence-based nutrition science’. This is vitally important as it means that the research undertaken is scientifically proven and does not involve unproven methods that may be used by an unqualified lifestyle nutritionist or nutritional therapist. Efforts are required to establish nutrition as a hard science, yet allowing anyone to set up and distribute nutrition advice softens the hard science undertaken by qualified evidence-based nutritional scientists.


The Future for Nutrition

Today, we are well aware of the potential for better health through nutrition and lifestyle choices. Scientifically, there are better outcomes, both for treatment and prevention of medical conditions through nutrition and lifestyle. The direction that is taken by nutrition professionals is likely to impact populations and generations to come. Nutrition can lead the way to better knowledge and understanding toward continued health gains and greater well-being.


There is such importance to disseminate high-end nutritional research to practitioners, and nutritionists consider the globally accessible delivery of impactful and trustworthy nutrition information as their singular goal.


References

Kohlmeier M (2018) Nutrition is a hard science. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health 0:1-2.


Recommended Reading

The journal, BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, aims to present the best available evidence of the impact of nutrition and lifestyle factors on the health of individuals and populations. The journal will present robust research on the key determinants of health including the social, economic, and physical environment, as well as lifestyle and behaviour. It will explore dietary factors, exercise and healthcare interventions and technologies, which aim to maintain and improve health and wellbeing and to prevent illness and injury.

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