registered dietitian vs. nutritionist

Pick your favorite digital news source and search for an article about nutrition. Chances are you'll find hundreds of blog or news articles written by nutritionists, trainers, life coaches, and also Registered Dietitians (sometimes called Registered Dietitian Nutritionists). All these folks claim expertise in food and nutrition. So why is the title of "Registered Dietitian" - with the credentials of RD or RDN - so important?  For very important reasons, it turns out.  Let's dish...

Fact: anyone can call themselves a "nutritionist."  Try it - turn to the person next to you and tell her you're nutritionist. Any probing questions about your level of expertise? No? That's not surprising. Easy access to hoards of information online means almost anyone who loses weight successfully or develops an opinion on dieting can share it with the world as an "expert." 

What about those well-respected academics and PhD's who've studied nutrition and biochemistry for decades, and who aren't dietitians? "Aren't they nutrition experts?" you ask. Why yes, yes they are experts in nutrition science. But counseling individuals about what to eat and why takes specialized training beyond intense education in nutrition science. A dietitian confidently straddles the line between academic and healthcare professional (and other roles, to boot, but we'll discuss later).

It says a lot that the RD/RDN credential is required for nutritionists who work in healthcare and public healthMost insurance companies (including Medicaid and Medicare) will only reimburse nutrition counseling services provided by a dietitian.  And yet, dietitians face a challenge that other healthcare professionals don't: the public doesn't immediately think of them as experts in the nutrition field. Most folks don't know the depth of education, training, oversight that dietitians have to treat their clients.   

Seeing a dietitian is about more than getting nutrition advice. An RD/RDN can clinically assess your current health status - often teaming up with other credentialed health professionals - to help you make dietary decisions based on your needs, not the latest fadDietitians have to wade through a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation to make sure you get safe, evidence-based counseling, and they're held accountable for it to their state licensing board, the government, and you!  
Here's a few more reasons why seeing a dietitian is a good idea
  • A dietitian will not only base their nutrition therapy on the evidence, he can back it up with a science-based degree. At the very least, being an RD/RDN requires a 4-year undergraduate degree in nutrition and dietetics. Many RDs/RDNs now have Masters degrees. All dietitians take coursework in biology, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and genetics, as well as classes in behavior change theory and practice, sociology, psychology, agriculture policy, and food safety. 
  • A dietitian must follow a strict code of ethics, go through an extremely competitive, accredited, year-long internship after their degree (less than 50% of applicants get in), and pass a rigorous credentialing exam at the national level. 
  • RDs/RDNs also have to keep up their credential with continuing education, and have federal and state oversight of their nutrition profession. 
  • Like other healthcare professionals, RDs/RDNs can specialize in a field in which they have niche knowledge such as medical nutrition therapy, community nutrition, or food service. Several RDs also work in emerging fields like nutrigenomics, behavior change communications, and healthcare IT.  


I'd like to be your nutritionist and  Registered Dietitian.  Let me help you find your best health with common sense, current research, best practices in the nutrition and health industry, and some good, old-fashioned humor.  Let's go beyond diets, calorie counting, and weight loss tricks.  Together, we'll focus on big-picture, evidence-based nutrition therapy that is sustainable and practical, tailored to you and your environment.

I want you to stay on the path to vitality long after we part ways, so you can be hale and healthy, permanently.

- hildreth england
   owner, sersano nutrition