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Nutritional counseling to the rescue
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"You can avoid most of the bad ones simply by avoiding people who sell products," he says. "The selling of products is an extremely bad sign. There are probably a million people out there selling dietary supplements. There's much more money in selling supplements than in selling time."

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Fees vary widely
Depending on location, specialization and client needs, nutritional counseling fees can run anywhere from $50 to $125 per hour. Ann L. Manby, N.M.D., a naturopath at LifeBalance Systems in Tempe, Ariz., says she asks $200 per hour, while the nutritionist in her practice, Mark A. Sura, gets $100 per hour.

"We did a survey on prices," Manby says, "and we are average. On the whole, we found that practitioners in high-cost areas such as California are generally more expensive."

Costs can be an indicator of a practitioner's legitimacy, says Barrett. If you're led to spend from $300 to $400 per visit, Manby says you can bet there's something wrong.

Nutritional counseling is covered by some insurance plans, usually under specifically defined circumstances. Nutritionists say they counsel clients to check with their health insurers.

An unhealthy diet of misinformation
From talk shows to hot lines to book club selections, there's no shortage of misinformation and advice when it comes to nutrition. Professional nutritionists say those recommendations masquerading as nutritional gospel are part of the problem.

"Most Americans think they're trying to eat better, but in fact they're not at all successful," says Lisa Delaney, registered and licensed dietitian and founder of Healthwise, a Florida-based nutritional counseling service. "Statistics show we're eating more horribly as the years go on. More and more of us are dying from diseases that are totally preventable, through diet and exercise."

Manby agrees, "The vast majority of Americans get their nutritional information from their neighbor, their aunt, the newspaper or magazines," she says.

It's not as if all those svelte models testifying to enormous success on various diets are lying, she says, but "different people do well on different diets because of individual biochemical differences. The biggest problem is not knowing where to get the right information or find out what plan is right for each individual's needs. That's where the need for guidance comes in."

Digesting the facts
Legitimate nutritionists, the experts say, don't tout miracle diets or one-size-fits-all solutions. What they do offer is education on facts, such as eating habits, nutrients, allergies and weight loss. And they work with individuals to develop dietary patterns that suit the client's lifestyle and needs.

At Healthwise, says Delaney, "we use a nondiet approach. We emphasize practical and realistic ways to find a balance in your eating habits by understanding how the body works."

The bottom -- as well as the middle -- line is that no two bodies are exactly the same, so no two people are likely to get precisely the same recipe for whatever ails them. Delivering personalized service, Delaney says, can lead nutritionists into their clients' pantries and social lives. Healthwise offers family counseling on menu planning and does both one-on-one and group counseling.

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