Meet Sassafras Herbert, Nutritionist Dog

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Editor's note:

Victor Herbert, M.D., an ACSH Advisor, passed away on November 19, just a few days after we posted this item about an amusing stunt Dr. Herbert once pulled. We intend no disrespect by leaving the item up and trust that Dr. Herbert would have been delighted to know that new readers are learning about one of his many efforts to lampoon quackery and pseudo-science.

The following piece originally appeared in the September/October 1983 issue of the old ACSH newsletter, ACSH News & Views. We reprint the item, about the ease with which a dog was credentialed as a nutritionist, in response to reports from ABA Journal and that a cat has recently been credentialed as a psychotherapist. Yes, it's all true.

ACSH congratulates Ms. Sassafras Herbert, a longtime fan of our organization, on her latest achievement. She has been named a "Professional Member" of the American Association of Nutrition and Dietary Consultants, which describes itself as "a professional association dedicated to maintaining ethical standards in nutritional and dietary consulting."

Since Sassafras has "met all the requirements" for professional membership (as her wallet membership card states), she can benefit from the Association's free professional referral service, and she can be listed in the Official Directory of Nutrition and Dietary Consultants. This Directory, which is distributed at health expositions, trade shows, and conventions throughout the country, "reads like a Who's Who in the world of modern nutrition," according to the Association.

Sassafras is also eligible to buy the Association's special malpractice insurance. If she chooses to practice her new profession, she will need it. Sassafras is a poodle. The only requirements for professional membership in the Association are supplying the name and address of the proposed member and paying $50. The fee was generously supplied by her owner, ACSH Scientific Advisor Dr. Victor Herbert.

Nutrition Credentials May Not Be What They Seem

Membership in the American Association of Nutrition and Dietary Consultants is only one of many "credentials" in the field of nutrition which appear to reflect training and experience in this field but can in fact be obtained easily by anyone.

The explosion of public interest in nutrition has been accompanied by an explosive increase in the number of people who offer nutrition advice to the public. Some of these individuals are highly qualified; others have no education in the science of nutrition. It is up to consumers to tell them apart. If you are looking for professional nutrition advice, ACSH suggests the following precautions.

1. Do not be misled by the term "nutritionist." Anyone may use it, even people whose only qualification in the field of nutrition is the fact that they eat three times a day.

2. As Sassafras could tell you (if she could talk), membership in nutrition organizations does not necessarily reflect professional expertise. A few organizations have strict membership requirements; these include the American Institute of Nutrition, the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, and the American Dietetic Association. Membership in most other nutrition organizations is open to everyone.

3. Some degrees and certificates in nutrition are granted by unaccredited colleges on the basis of sketchy, scientifically unsound training. Any diploma issued by an institution that is not accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education should be regarded with suspicion. It may not represent the completion of an adequate training program. (Lists of accredited schools can be found in reference books available in any public library.)

4. One credential which does have a standardized meaning is certification as a registered dietitian (R.D.). An R.D. must have college training and professional experience in nutrition and pass a comprehensive examination in order to be registered. Some registered dietitians provide consulting services to the public, and you can regard them as an excellent source of reliable nutrition advice.

5. Your physician is also an often-overlooked source of good nutrition advice and an appropriate person to turn to for a referral to a qualified nutritionist.

Editor's note: As this article originally went to press in 1983, ACSH learned that another member of the Herbert household, Mr. Charlie Herbert, became a professional member of a well-known nutrition organization, the International Academy of Nutritional Consultants. Charlie was a cat.