Thursday, September 13, 2012

What is a Registered Dietitian? Is that the same as a nutritionist?

What is a Registered Dietitian?

Registered Dietitians (RDs) are food and nutrition experts who have met the following criteria to earn the RD credential:
  • Completed a minimum of a bachelor’s degree at a U.S. regionally accredited university or college and course work accredited or approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Completed a CADE-accredited supervised practice program at a health-care facility, community agency, or a foodservice corporation or combined with undergraduate or graduate studies. Typically, a practice program will run six to 12 months in length.
  • Passed a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). For more information regarding the examination, refer to CDR’s website at
  • Completed continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration.

I  completed my bachelor’s degree at Ohio University and did a combined master’s degree and internship at The Ohio State University. 

In addition, I have successfully completed the CDR’s Certificate of Training in Childhood and Adolescent Weight Management in March 2010.

Is that the same as a nutritionist?

No. Some states allow for a person to be a licensed nutritionist, but the criterion vary; DC and Maryland have a standardized process and eligibility criteria for applicants. Other states allow anyone to call themselves a nutritionist - it isn't regulated. This is the case for Ohio.

What does it mean to be a licensed dietitian?

The goal of licensure is to protect the public. Becoming registered means the the health professional has met educational standards and passed the national board exam. Becoming licensed means that the applicant can properly document their educational past as well as pass a background check. Ohio, Maryland and DC all have licensure for Registered Dietitians, Virginia is one of few states that do not.

Is my doctor, nurse, physical therapist or personal trainer a nutrition expert?

Usually no. Nurses are typically required to take one nutrition course (one, not many) and doctors may not even be required to do that. Personal trainers may have had any training in nutrition, or may have done some studies on their own time, but this isn't standardized. Because we all eat food, we can sometimes forget that providing nutrition recommendations requires training and professional judgement. Sometimes nutrition quacks can make recommendation that could cause harm.

While I can discuss what foods prevent cavities, I am not a dentist, nor does being able to talk about heart health make me a cardiologist. You, the patient or clients benefits the most when you are talking to the right health professional for the topic, and when the health professionals are working together as a team and reinforcing a consistent message.

Your health insurance may cover a visit with a registered dietitian. If you'd like to find a registered dietitian in your are, please use this link.

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