I hear these questions a lot.
My friends and family along with anyone who finds out I am a dietitian. When I taught undergraduate courses, students asked these questions plus many, many more!
Why does this matter?
There are so many people working in the nutrition field. Some have certifications and credentials that mean something, and some have little backing behind that certification/credential.
A registered dietitian (RD) can also call themselves a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). RD/RDN are credentials that mean A LOT:
1. A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from an accredited university
a. This will change in 2024 to a minimum of a master’s degree
2. Completion of at least 1,200 hours of supervised practice in nutrition
3. Successfully passing a national exam
4. Completion of 75 continuing education hours every 5 years to maintain registration
On the other hand, basically anyone can call themselves a “Nutritionist” or a variation of the term (Holistic Nutritionist). These certifications require at a minimum: no education standards, no supervised practice hours, no national exams, and no required continuing education. Some of the nutritionist certifications require more, but not anywhere close to the level required for an RD/RDN. The title nutritionist without the registered dietitian portion is not regulated.
Technically, Google could be a nutritionist (and is often many people’s go-to nutritionist).
Someone can be extremely knowledgeable on nutrition and not be a registered dietitian, but I know so many more that are uneducated and providing nutrition advice that could be very dangerous to someone’s life.
The best way to ensure you are working with someone trustworthy is to look for the RD/RDN credential.
You want someone that understands: anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, nutrition absorption, how disease affects these mechanisms, behavior change and counseling, food science and what ingredients do in each recipe, therapeutic diets, IV and tube feedings and so much more!
You need the person giving nutrition advice to understand how your medications, medical conditions, and history all interact.
In many states, it is illegal to give nutrition advice unless a registered dietitian (RD/RDN) or other qualified nutrition professional. Only RD/RDN’s and physicians can give medical nutrition therapy (nutrition treatment for specific disease states like diabetes or heart disease).