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Who are Registered Dietitians and Nutrition Scientists?

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With all the nutrition information available today how do you know what to believe? Who should you trust as the authority on nutrition and health? The answer is…. A Registered Dietitian (RD) and Nutrition Scientist.

Nutrition Scientists hold a Masters or PhD degree in nutrition and science from accredited colleges and universities which focus on nutrition research and education as opposed to clinical or patient focused care. They are well educated and trained and provide accurate and reliable nutrition information to the public.

What is an RD? Simply put, RDs, or dietitians, are experts in nutrition and what the human body needs to be healthy. What sets a dietitian apart as an expert is the education and experience required prior to taking a registration exam. It should be noted that while dietitians are in actuality nutritionists; not all nutritionists are dietitians. To differentiate, look for the lettered credentials. If a name is not followed by the credentials RD or LDN, you can not be certain of the individual’s education and experience, and therefore the accuracy of the information they provide.

  • Registered Dietitians are the clinically educated and trained nutrition experts. In many states, anybody can call himself or herself a nutritionist. This title requires no education or training.
  • Registered Dietitians are experts in nutrition with college course requirements in the underlying scientific principles of nutrition, biochemistry, microbiology and physiology. The education process includes research training in the scientific method and evidence based nutrition information. RDs are educated and trained to translate scientific, nutrition principles into clinical and patient focused care.
  • Registered Dietitians have been trained to perform medical nutrition therapy which includes patient assessment and development of nutrition care plans specific to varied nutrition-related diseases.
  • What sets a Registered Dietitian apart as an expert and practitioner in nutrition is the education, experience and testing required prior to being credentialed. This includes:
    1. A minimum of an undergraduate degree (B.A. or B.S.) in Nutrition Science from an accredited college or university;
    2. Many RDs also hold higher degrees (Masters or PhDs) in Nutrition Science or related fields;
    3. Completion of a mandatory internship (typically 9 to 12 months) in which practical experience is obtained in a clinical setting at an accredited health care institution; After passage of a national comprehensive registration exam given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration; they are considered a credentialed professional, a Registered Dietitian (RD). In addition to the RD credential, most states have a licensure law which also provides a LD or LDN (licensed dietitian nutritionist) credential (the lettering varies by state).
    4. In order to maintain this credentialing there must be completion of regular approved (by the Commission of Dietetic Registration) continuing education courses over the lifetime of practice in the field.
    5. If a name is not followed by the credentials RD, you need to be aware of the individual’s education and experience, as well as the accuracy of the information they provide.
    6. Beware of other “nutritionists” who have no or little educational background or training in nutrition or science who advance themselves as experts in nutrition.

More on Registered Dietitian’s Area of Practice

It is also important to note that dietitians specialize in different areas of dietetics. No one dietitian would consider themselves an expert in ALL areas of nutrition. Here are some of the areas in which a dietitian might specialize:

Foodservice Cancer Food Allergies
Pediatrics Renal Disease Research
Adolescents Cardiac Disease Public Health
Geriatrics Transplants Food Science
Weight management Nutrition Support Media
Preventative Health Eating Disorders Corporate Wellness
Diabetes Sports Nutrition  

Some dietitians work in hospitals as an “inpatient” or “clinical” dietitian, or as a foodservice director; others work in an outpatient setting. Outpatient dietitians may work in a hospital, clinic, long-term care facility, doctor’s office, public health foundation, research facility, school/university, community center or in a private practice. This information should help you find the best professional to meet your and your children’s needs. To a find a Registered Dietitian in your area go to www.eatright.org and click on “find a nutrition professional”.

Flavia Herzog, MA, RD is a Registered Dietitian specializing in pediatric weight management and eating disorders as an associate with Nutrition Profiles; as well as coordinating two USDA funded Nutrition Education grants through Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


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