It’s Time for an R.D. Revolution

Dietitians for Professional Integrity
Andy Bellatti is a registered dietitian and an outspoken critic of the food industry’s influence on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the trade group that educates and certifies RDs. He wrote the nutrition blog Small Bites for more than five years (his nearly 2,000 posts are still available on his site), and continues to be active in social media and on other sites around the web. Andy and I have also collaborated several times before.

A few weeks ago, Andy created a Facebook page called Dietitians for Professional Integrity, advocating for greater financial transparency as well as ethical, socially responsible, and relevant corporate sponsorships within the Academy. He invited me to join the group, which I enthusiastically did, of course (it’s not just for RDs – he invites all supporters to join). I also asked if I could interview him to help spread the word, and he quickly agreed.  I sent a few questions his way, and here’s what he has to say.

What led you to create this group?

For several years, I was disappointed with — and embarrassed by — many of the actions and decisions taken by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the professional organization that represents me as a Registered Dietitian. Through social media, I was able to meet other like-minded RDs who also saw the inherent problems with AND taking money from the likes of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Hershey’s.

When Michele Simon’s report on AND was released earlier this year, the issue of these problematic partnerships became a national topic of conversation and helped mobilize many of us who have had these concerns for years.

I thought it would be an opportune time to bring together RDs with similar concerns and create a forum where we can voice our concerns. We are proud of the RD credential, but not at all proud of how we are represented by AND.

It’s also important to note that many of us have written to AND with these concerns over the years, only to never receive a response or receive a form letter stating that the sponsorship model causes no conflicts of interest. In other words, AND has shown — time and again — just how tone-deaf and out of touch they are.

What’s most troubling is that AND has spent years fighting for licensure to protect the RD credential without realizing that one main reason why so many people seek out nutrition advice from non-RDs is precisely because AND’s corporate sponsorship model makes all RDs look like puppets of the food industry. For some reason, AND doesn’t connect those dots. If their concern is showcasing RDs as the experts on nutrition, getting rid of these insidious corporate sponsorships would work wonders.

Coca-Cola's Influence on Registered Dietitians

The name “Dietitians for Professional Integrity” seems a little redundant. Or are you implying that not all dietitians have integrity?

The name has more to do with what we believe to be the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ lack of integrity. This Facebook group was formed solely by Registered Dietitians who want better representation. We are simply calling for more ethical behavior from AND so that the RD credential can be seen as something worthy of respect. I can’t believe this is seen by some as “extreme” (it speaks volumes, if you ask me).

While many RDs have supported this cause (along with doctors, public health advocates, and notable nutritionists like Marion Nestle), some of the most vocal opponents to this movement have been other RDs. Of course, they are either spokespeople for the Academy or work for the food industry, which makes their criticism both predictable and inconsequential.

Clearly, the formation of this group — and the support it has received since its inception — has struck a nerve with RDs who are very friendly with the food industry, which means we’re doing something right.

What are you hoping to accomplish with this group?

Our hope is to help create an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that represents RDs with honor and integrity, rather than sell us out to the highest bidder. Many of our colleagues have been working from within to bring about change, and we think that adding this public and external factor can only help to bring about change.

Isn’t corporate sponsorship a “necessary evil” in today’s world? How can it work so that the Academy can get the funding it needs, without being unduly influenced by the food industry?

While going the “zero sponsorship” route is a possibility, we are not opposed to sponsorship entirely. We believe there are ways to receive funding without posing such an atrocious conflict of interest. The American Public Health Association, for example, has some really terrific guidelines for sponsorship.

Also, within AND, the Hunger & Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group has come up with some really great criteria for ethical sponsorship (note how, based on those guidelines, many of the current AND sponsors would not be considered appropriate).

We also urge AND to think outside the food box for sponsorship. This can be done.

Coca-Cola Corporate Influence on Registered Dietitians

Photo by Debra Riedesel, RD, LD. She says:
“Photo is a snapshot of the Philadelphia FNCE session program at a glance. Sunday, October 7, 2012. A few choices for 8:00-930 a.m. Asterisk indicates interest, check mark indicates session attended. Crossed out session is one I was definitely not attending.”

This may be a little bit of a tangent, but: It seems that all nutrition and health information we receive these days is inherently biased. Studies are paid for by big companies with vested financial interests, or media outlets are alarmist in their reporting, and on and on. How can we restore some sense of sanity to evidence-based research? How do we know who to trust, and who to ignore?

I urge everyone to apply these three tips:

* Always look to see who an “expert” is affiliated with. Don’t just look for food companies or specific industries. Look for front groups, too (such as the International Food Information Council, the American Beverage Industry, or the Center for Consumer Freedom). If someone works for the Corn Refiners Association or PepsiCo, they certainly aren’t interested in an objective dialogue on the issue. Someone with no ties to a company that uses high fructose corn syrup for hundreds of products is much more likely to offer data that reflects actual research, as opposed to corporate interests and spin

* Look for intelligent discourse. I always appreciate experts who ask tough questions and look at food through multiple lenses — social justice, animal and human welfare, sustainability, agriculture, etc. Chances are that someone whose sole preoccupation is how to save 40 calories in a dish by using spray butter from a pressurized canister isn’t a good source to get the latest on nutrition research.

* Look for nuances. While there are some absolutes in nutrition (partially hydrogenated oils are unhealthy, soda offers zero nutrition, etc.) there are also lots of grey areas. Statements like “fruit is fattening”, “high-fat foods are bad”, and “artificial sweeteners are 100% safe” are not reflective of the research that is out there. A reliable expert, for example, will differentiate between fruit juice and whole fruit, between eating an avocado and cooking with soybean oil, and will at the very least point out that artificial sweeteners are under a lot of scrutiny right now for several reasons.

Most of my readers aren’t dietitians. What can they do to help support the cause?

You can help support the cause by Liking the Facebook page and helping spread the word. In the same way that you don’t need to be sitting in the Oval Office to be an agent of change, you also don’t need to be a Registered Dietitian to appreciate how problematic it is for a national nutrition organization to take money from the like of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Speaking out and demanding better is enough.

Public pressure is a great agent for change. Staying quiet only perpetuates the status quo. Of course you will have detractors when you speak out, but that comes with the territory (and, remember, critics only come out when the work you’re doing threatens their foundation, so consider their barking a sign that you’re progressing).

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Mollie Walker Freeman
March 5, 2013 3:17 pm

Like Like Like! (I couldn’t find the like button)

March 3, 2013 5:22 pm

Thank U Mr. Wilder for promoting clean, healthy food choices and doing the leg work that many of us may not have time. As a RD working in a diabetic clinic, I know I need to provide the best and most evidence based education to the pt/client as do-able in one hour. Competing with big industries and clever marketing ads, in a lower educated and economically depressed area while trying to provide better food choices and healthy habits is NOT an easy one. I attended a FNCE a few years ago in Chicago – as the title of the expo states: Food & Nutrition Conference and Expo. That is what we are mainly about, food and nutrition so I did expect many companies to be with food product and samples. What I found difficult to digest is the companies that are partners/sponsors of AND were unable to answer some of… Read more »

Momma Jo
Momma Jo
March 2, 2013 12:57 am

Found Andy Bellatti of Small Bites via as someone posted his name. That fellow speaks the truth and gives the power of knowledge to those of us lost in the food industry maze. When he and Michelle attended that expo the pics and humor (he has) of that expo was a blast. People are waking up and learning to eat clean and self sustainable foods. I for one am amazed at the change the journey of clean eating has made. The food industry is built to be addictive by adding chemicals to our food supply. Grocery stores are so some place we rarely spend time or money at anymore. Grassfed beef and veggies from local farms are where we invest our money now. Just tried the local bacon from the pig/chicken farmer and amazed at how unlike store bacon it is. Hemp milk has now replaced for the most… Read more »

Rochelle @
February 28, 2013 11:20 pm

Thank you for this. I recently signed up to take a nutrition course through Coursera. It was taught by an RD and focused on nutrition for chronic disease prevention. I dropped the class after a few weeks because the instructor continued to use graphics and information from organizations such as the US Canola Organization and the Corn Refiners Association. Her bias was very obvious. It was not the whole foods, healthy nutrition approach I had hoped for. Very disappointing!

Andy Bellatti
February 28, 2013 6:28 pm

Thank you all for your support.

Sunithi — to join, simply “like” the Facebook page. No special invitation needed. If you would like to send in a statement of concern for the page (we publish one every weekday), please send it to:

Nimisha Ambati
February 28, 2013 12:49 pm

I am glad that RDs are coming together and standing up for the integrity of their profession. I debated whether or not to become or a RD and finally decided to go to holistic nutrition school to become a NC. I recently attended the Childhood Obesity Conference put on by Slow Food SF and these were concerns that repeatedly came up. Families and people are confused on what to eat and mixed messages from their healthcare providers compounds the problem. Good luck!

February 28, 2013 12:45 pm

I went to see an RD through my HMO. The advice I was given was total crap. Instant oatmeal for breakfast, yes, the flavored ones were just fine. 2 eggs a week, NO coconut oil, low-fat margarine only, spray release agents were okay too. I stood up in the middle of the session and said I had to leave. I was sorry, but I only eat fresh, unprocessed foods.

I took the unprocessed challenge in 2011 and have stayed pretty true to it.

March 3, 2013 10:12 am
Reply to  Susan

You’re probably one of the few patients the RD gets that actually follows clean eating, so he/she may be used to working with patients who refuse to give up processed food. In my experience, I am trying to get patients to make at least 1-2 small changes and most of them won’t give up processed food. If a patient is trying to follow a clean eating lifestyle then the RD should certainly work with that. Trying to force clean eating upon people who aren’t motivated/open to it doesn’t tend to work often though, unfortunately.

March 3, 2013 12:21 pm
Reply to  Ashlie

That said, the RD must not have done a good job of assessment prior to giving advice, or she would have known her food preferences. I finished school years ago, and back then we got really no training on counseling and the techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy. I think many RDs just go in and lay a bunch of list on the table and make broad statements that are not well understood.

March 3, 2013 12:12 pm
Reply to  Susan

I completely agree with Ashlie, 80-90% of the patients I’ve seen in my internship are utterly addicted to processed foods, and near that same percentage don’t have the time it would take to learn the cooking skills, etc., that would be necessary to make a fast change. I do what I can to ease them in the right direction, knowing that with small successes and lots of follow-up, they can get there eventually.

However, that being said, the *first* thing a dietitian should do is find out what you are eating now. Which clearly didn’t happen here. How can you help the patient start from where they are if you don’t attempt to get a clear understanding of where they are?

March 3, 2013 5:27 pm
Reply to  Holly


“How can you help the patient start from where they are if you don’t attempt to get a clear understanding of where they are?”

Nicely said. 🙂

March 4, 2013 3:56 am
Reply to  RD2BCDE

Bammo You put it out there. We as humans don’t change like chamileons (I know bad spell) ..It is an education process and a detox… Heck it has taken our family 2yrs to get to the level we are at. Looking back all I can say is damn near died. Education is the key. I am a stubborn old goat and have went off too far on my raw juicing I know raw beets good for saled not good for quantities in my raw juice slurpees… I turn to Stone.

Sunithi Selvaraj, RD
February 28, 2013 12:43 pm

Liked the page and would also like to join the group. How do I get an invite ?

February 28, 2013 12:24 pm

A very useful and insightful piece – one that I’m saving to read more thoroughly later during the weekend. Thanks –

Brittany S.
February 28, 2013 10:30 am

I can’t believe AND thought it was okay to allow corporate sponsorship by Coca-Cola!! That is just mind-boggling. Obviously there is a conflict of interests there. It’s disgusting.