Nutritionists and registered dietitians are not one in the same. So, what’s the difference between the two?
“Nutritionist” can be a fairly generic title. Someone who saturates their social media feed or website with healthy recipes, for instance, could claim to be a nutritionist since they may have some general insight into healthy eating. Some states regulate the use of this title and certain colleges offer varying degrees in this field, but as a whole, the term is fairly unregulated. Only registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) are required to meet extensive schooling and required practice programs in various settings such as healthcare facilities that truly sets them apart as nutrition experts.
In our final post for National Nutrition Month, learn more about this profession and how the RDNs at Nutrition On Demand can meet your personal and professional goals.
Education is paramount
RDNs need at least a bachelor’s degree through an accredited university or college with a program approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics. Schooling is heavily science-based—required courses include biology, anatomy, physiology, and multiple chemistry courses—but students study a variety of other subjects, such as sociology and culinary arts. It’s estimated that more than half of RDNs have earned a graduate degree. (Acquiring a graduate degree will be a requirement for new RDNs by 2024.)
Also required are 200 hours of supervised practice at healthcare facilities, community agencies, and food service corporations. Students must pass a national exam upon completion of a dietetic internship (i.e., the supervised practice), and RDNs are required to fine tune their knowledge via continuing education requirements throughout their career.
Variety and versatility
With a degree and RDN credential, dietitians practice in a variety of areas including but not limited to:
- Hospitals, clinics, and healthcare facilities, where they administer medical nutrition therapy as part of a comprehensive healthcare team
- Sports settings, such as staff RDN for professional athletic teams
- Community and public health settings, where they teach a variety of neighborhood residents the ins and outs of proper nutrition habits
- Food and nutrition-related businesses and industries
- Food and nutrition research for food or pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, universities, or other settings
- Private practice
- Communications, marketing, policy, and strategic counsel, as is the case with Nutrition On Demand staff
To further their specialty in many of these fields, RDNs may earn certifications to make them more specialized in certain areas, such as pediatric, renal, or oncology nutrition.
Help us help you
One benefit (and there are many) of working with an RDN is the personalized attention you get to address your unique needs. Having trouble managing your weight? Need help with someone who is experiencing disordered eating? Do you have or want help preventing a chronic disease, such as high cholesterol or diabetes, and want to learn eating tactics to keep these conditions in check? An RDN will work with you on these issues and provide personalized nutrition advice and menu planning. Working one-on-one with consumers isn’t the only option. Food and nutrition-related businesses and industries also have an array of roles that RDNs can lend their expertise. These include (but aren’t limited to) public relations, communications, product development, marketing, consumer affairs, and consulting services.
If convinced that an RDN is right for you or your organization, consider the staff at Nutrition On Demand. The majority of the team are RDNs with diverse backgrounds in public health and dietetics. All of them have advanced degrees. The team is available for consulting services that are the antithesis of cookie-cutter approaches to address your nutrition needs and benefit public health. Contact them today.
—Fred Durso, Jr., is a Nutrition On Demand intern currently pursuing a master’s degree in food and nutrition and the necessary requirements to become a registered dietitian nutritionist. Prior to heading back to school, he spent more than a decade as a journalist/communications specialist.
Some of the information used in this post was culled from the “Careers in Dietetics” fact sheet by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.