The survey of 200 US-based dietitians was conducted by the Spring, TX-based consulting firm. The principals of the firm, Scott Steinford and Len Monheit, are also the driving force behind several single ingredient associations: The Natural Astaxanthin Association (NAXA), the CoQ10 Association, the International Prebiotics Association, the Vitamin K2 Association and the Global Curcumin Association.
A history of putting food first
The main finding comes as something of a surprise. Dietary supplement industry stakeholders have long observed that dietitians as a group have traditionally adhered to a food first policy, and view supplements as something of a poor solution to problems that should be corrected via better dietary choices.
The official position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics seems to blur the line between supplementation and drug therapies. The current position paper says micronutrient supplements may be recommended when requirements are not being met through the diet. But the policy also has this to say: “[T]he routine and indiscriminate use of micronutrient supplements for the prevention of chronic disease is not recommended, given the lack of available scientific evidence.”
Younger dietitians helping to drive change
Monheit said that the survey was deliberately designed to include a wide range of ages among practitioners. While the survey was not designed to parse out answers by age group, he said that including younger dietitians, who might not yet be in influential positions within the official organizations but might be more open to a holistic view of supplementation and its role in the diet, may have helped push the results in a more favorable direction from the industry’s point of view.
“We are excited about this result,” Monheit told NutraIngredients-USA. “While the formal statement might be that you should be able to get everything you need for your diet, there is a younger demographic that is more open to a holistic conversation about supplements.”
Among the survey’s specific findings:
- More than 50% of dietitians said they are taking supplements themselves on a regular basis and 76% take supplements at least 4 times per week
- 67% recommend a mix of food and supplements
- Of the ‘food and supplements’ group, 76% recommended a supplement to 40% or more of their patients.
Among the specific recommendations that dietitians are making, the survey found:
- 46% mentioned meal replacement and/or protein
- 37% listed Vitamin D
- 47% mentioned multivitamin or MVI (multivitamin injection)
- 9 out of 10 dietitians are recommending prebiotics to at least some of their patients.
More education work to do
The extensive survey also looked into dietitians’ familiarity with dietary supplement ingredients and the science behind them. The survey found that dietitians are quite familiar with Vitamin D, fish oil, probiotics and prebiotics. They know less about curcumin/turmeric, Vitamin K2, CoQ10 and astaxanthin.
Monheit said the results show that there is still work to do to educate dietitians about the science behind some of these ingredients. While a fair number of dietitians—even those lean toward food-based solutions—are recommending Vitamin D, fish oil, probiotics and prebiotics to their patients, few are recommending the other four ingredient categories included in the survey.
Monheit said there is a clear need for more education of this important influencer group. But he said the survey’s findings are encouraging in that there appears to be more openness to hearing about these other, less well established supplement categories.
“We need to be having increased conversations with dietitians about the good science behind the ingredients in the supplement space,” he said.
For more information on the survey and the ingredient associations that are coordinated through Trust Transparency Center, contact the organization here.