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What Is a Gut Health Nutritionist?

First things first: what is "gut health?" Gut health refers specifically to the balance of bacteria in the large intestine. For a gut to be considered healthy, the large intestine should contain a balance of "good" and "bad" bacteria, also known as gut flora. Both good and bad bacteria serve different purposes. While the good bacteria feed on fiber, the harmful bacteria consume simple sugars, which produce compounds like vitamin K and biotin. 
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The intricate community of bacteria in your intestines breaks down food. This broken-down food releases chemicals that keep your bowels moving regularly, strengthen your immunity, regulate your body weight, blood sugar, and fats, and alleviate inflammation. Gut health can also influence your mood, thinking, and memory. 

While many supplements and products on the market purportedly promote a healthy gut, another approach can help you achieve optimal gut wellness: consulting with a gut health nutritionist

Why work with a gut health nutritionist?

Struggling with digestion and stomach discomfort can significantly impact your quality of life. Digestive issues don't just have a negative nutritional impact – they can also affect your social life and emotional wellbeing. Gut health affects everything, from your digestion to your immune system to your mental health. 

A nutritionist can help you gradually heal your gut microbiome, alleviate your symptoms, and improve the quality of your everyday life. A gut health specialist can help relieve your discomfort by figuring out your unique digestive puzzle and creating a balanced diet plan specifically designed for you. This highly customized dietary plan will ensure that you don't have to abstain from the foods you love unless it's necessary for your health. 

Everyone's gut health journey is different and depends on the severity of an individual's digestive issues. During your initial consultation with a gut health nutritionist, you will get a better idea of what your approach will look like moving forward. Unless you have already been diagnosed with a specific digestive disorder, you and your nutritionist will discuss whether further tests are required to diagnose any potential underlying health issues. You will also discuss whether enlisting the help of other health care practitioners is necessary based on your medical condition. For instance, your nutritionist may recommend that you begin seeing a therapist who can help you work through anxiety, stress, or depression. 

Once your nutritionist determines the nature of your digestive issues, they can begin to teach you the basics of your new diet. The gut health specialist will walk you through what you can eat and the type and amount of fiber you should incorporate into your meals. They will also explain the brain-gut connection and how your gut impacts your mental health.

What does a gut health nutritionist do?

The most important job of a gut health nutritionist is to equip you with the tools you need to navigate your digestive health. This includes clarifying what, when, and how much to eat to stay on top of your condition. Your nutritionist will also correct any misleading or inaccurate information you may have read online about your digestive disorder. As you learn more about digestive health, you will feel more empowered to shop for groceries, prepare meals you enjoy, and dine out at restaurants. 

In addition to providing nutrition education, your nutritionist will also help you build a nutrition plan. When it comes to gut health, there is no one-size-fits-all diet recommendation. A gut health nutritionist will provide you with tips to navigate your digestion. That does not mean they will force you to follow a restrictive diet plan that takes the joy out of eating. Instead, you and your nutritionist will collaborate and create a healthy approach to food that makes you feel good inside and out.

Interested in learning more about the role of a gut health nutritionist? Read more here.

What is the difference between a gut health nutritionist vs. a gut health dietitian? 

Gut health nutritionists and gut health dietitians are both nutrition experts. Both healthcare professionals specialize in how food, fluids, and supplements impact gut health. While registered nutritionists and dietitians may perform similar tasks, these titles are not interchangeable. The primary difference between gut health nutritionists and dietitians relates to their credentials. 

To gain a registered dietitian certification, an individual must receive a bachelor's or master's degree with coursework approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics. The dietitian must also complete a certain number of supervised internship hours before passing a national exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). 

While the path to becoming a registered dietitian is very streamlined, the use of the "nutritionist" title is not closely regulated. Many nutritionists hold advanced degrees and have passed nutritionist certification boards, while others may have no professional training. Thus, all registered dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. 

What are the credentials of a gut health nutritionist?

A Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) is the most advanced certification for personalized nutrition practitioners. For someone to be considered a CNS, they must complete the steps outlined below. 

Education

Any individual with a nutrition degree can hold the title of a nutritionist. This includes a bachelor's degree in nutrition, a master's in nutrition, or a master's in public health with a concentration in nutrition. 

However, a certified nutritional specialist (CNS) must hold either a master of science or a doctoral degree in a field related to clinical nutrition. In addition to their degree, the dietitian must also complete at least 35 hours of relevant coursework related to the practice of personalized nutrition. To become gut health nutritionists, individuals typically complete additional coursework, qualifications, or certifications to gain expertise and knowledge of the specialty.

Supervised Experience

Dietitians and nutritionists in training must complete a designated number of hours of supervised experience. Individuals must complete at least 1,000 hours of supervised experience before taking the CDR exam. Trainee nutritionists typically complete their clinical internship hours at an accredited healthcare facility, community agency, or food service corporation. 

Exam

Lastly, an individual must pass the Certification Examinations for Nutrition Specialists to become a registered CNS. Only those who have passed the exam and completed the practical requirements can add the letters CNS to their title. 

What are the benefits of working with a gut health nutritionist? 

If you have been struggling with your digestion, working with a gut health nutritionist has the potential to change your life. Here are some of the many benefits of working with a gut health nutritionist

Incorporate Fiber and Prebiotic Foods into Your Diet

Adopting a diet plan that incorporates your body's fiber needs is a great way to promote the growth of good gut bacteria. As a general rule of thumb, men should try to consume 38 grams of fiber daily, while women should aim for approximately 25 grams daily; however, this also depends on an individual's height and weight. To reach those thresholds, a gut health nutritionist can help you get a feel for the types and amounts of fiber-rich foods you should be eating. High-fiber foods include pears, raspberries, avocados, and whole-grain bread. 

Prebiotic foods also help promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Examples of prebiotic foods include apples, bananas, oats, and artichokes. 

Bust Diet and Nutrition Myths

Before searching for a "nutritionist near me," you most likely learned everything you know about gut health online. While some of the information you learned might be true, other alleged facts could be way off-base. A nutritionist can help you set the record straight and clarify any confusion surrounding common gut health myths. For instance, one common misconception is that you must follow a restrictive diet for good gut health. In fact, incorporating a wide variety of gut-friendly foods into your diet is more important than excluding foods. 

Help You De-Stress 

As a result of the gut-brain axis, chronic stress can significantly impact your gut, as well as your overall health and wellbeing. That's why taking care of your mental health is just as important as focusing on your diet. A nutritionist can recommend de-stressing tactics such as meditation, gentle exercises, and more. 

Am I a good candidate to work with a gut health nutritionist? 

If you are experiencing issues with your digestion, there's a good chance you could benefit from consulting a gut health nutritionist. If you fall into any of the following categories, you should strongly consider working with a gut health nutritionist. 

Gluten sensitivity

Gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity overlaps with celiac disease but is a less severe condition. Even though it may be less serious than celiac, gluten intolerance is one of many food sensitivities that can cause considerable discomfort and should not be left untreated. A nutritionist can help diagnose this problem and suggest lifestyle changes to alleviate your symptoms. Gluten sensitivity symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, bloating, fatigue, nausea, and headaches. 

To diagnose gluten intolerance, nutritionists will usually analyze a blood sample. Individuals with celiac disease or wheat allergies typically have specific antibodies in their blood samples.

Crohn's disease

Crohn's disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Individuals with Crohn's have inflamed digestive tracts, which can cause diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, malnutrition, and abdominal pain. This severe digestive disease is not only painful and debilitating, but it can also lead to life-threatening complications if not closely monitored and managed. That's why people with Crohn's need to work with a nutritionist. The same is true of individuals with irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut syndrome.

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Crohn's, but lifestyle changes and therapies can improve symptoms and even heal inflammation.

There is also no single test to diagnose Crohn's disease. Nutritionists will typically use several tests to help confirm a Crohn's diagnosis, including blood tests and stool samples. 

Acid reflux/GERD

While it's common for everyone to experience acid reflux every once in a while, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is mild acid reflux that occurs at least twice a week or moderate to severe acid reflux that occurs at least once a week. Common symptoms of GERD include a burning sensation in your chest, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, a sensation of a lump in your throat, and a regurgitation of food or sour liquid. GERD can be aggravated by smoking, eating fatty or fried foods, drinking certain beverages, and taking certain medications. 

In severe cases, some people might need to take prescription medications or undergo surgery to relieve symptoms. Thankfully, many cases of GERD can be managed with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. A nutritionist can work with you to develop a plan to improve your symptoms.

Still not sure? Read more about what a gut health nutritionist does here. 

Gut Health Nutritionists are on standby to meet you! Get matched with a gut health nutritionist – take the quiz.

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About the author

Nicolette Star Maggiolo, RD, LDN
I'm a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist with education from Boston University and clinical training from both Brigham & Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. I specialize in helping the military and non-military individuals embrace nutrition as a partner in both their mental and physical health.

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