A Registered Dietitian (RD/RDN) has been trained and educated to be an expert in the field of nutrition. They have completed coursework in the following areas: food and nutrition sciences, medical nutrition therapy, chemistry, biochemistry, organic chemistry, physiology, psychology, sociology and microbiology. They must then complete a 1200 hour dietetic internship in which they are supervised by dietitians in various fields of practice, including, but not limited to, hospitals, long term care facilities, health departments, school nutrition departments and outpatient facilities. After completion of the internship, they must them pass a National Board Exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Finally they must complete continuing education in order to maintain their credentials.
You may be wondering, I have heard about nutritionists? How is a dietitian different than a nutritionist?
A dietitian requires the aforementioned training, education, and practice that is guided by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. In comparison, in the USA a nutritionist has not received any accredited training and there are no guidelines for being a nutritionist* (this differs from other countries that have specific regulations). I feel that this is important to share because there are a slew of diets and supplement driven programs in the market today that are not backed by scientific evidence. While they all aim at helping the public get healthy, there is a lot of false information and education being distributed to the public, which could pose potential danger and harm to an individual with specific medical conditions. A dietitian has been trained to use evidence based information in educating clients, and can help to navigate the overwhelming amount of nutrition material that is presented in the media.
*There are some exceptions-some health departments and medical centers will use the term Nutritionist as a job title. In almost all cases, one must be a Registered Dietitian in order to hold these positions. Confusing, I know.