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What is a Dietitian?

Nutrition advice is everywhere these days. Friends, family, nutritionists, dietitians, the internet, Facebook; all provide information about nutrition. If you want sound, research-based nutrition information, then a registered dietitian is the best person to talk to. But why are registered dietitians your best source of information? What makes them uniquely qualified to provide nutrition advice that considers your individual circumstances and health conditions? Read on to find out!

Registered Dietitians must meet certain requirements before they can use the term “dietitian” to describe themselves. These requirements include:

  • Receiving a bachelor’s degree and completing special, accredited nutrition courses.
  • Completing an extensive supervised practice program at a healthcare organization, foodservice program, or community agency.
  • Passing an intensive, national registration exam.
  • Becoming licensed. (This is a requirement in the state of Missouri. Only after a dietitian is licensed may they call themselves a “dietitian.”)
  • Completing 15 hours per year of continuing education to stay up-to-date on the most current research and guidelines.

What does a dietitian actually do? Registered Dietitians work in a variety of settings – from food service to management to hospital to outpatient centers. In addition, dietitians can receive advanced specialties and focus on work in a specific area, such as diabetes, cancer care, kidney disease, sports nutrition, and pediatrics. Dietitians are specially trained to help people live their best quality life via good nutrition while also considering their health conditions, lifestyle, and other factors.

The other term you may have heard describing someone who provides nutrition advice is nutritionist. The term nutritionist has no legal definition; anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Many nutritionists are well-educated, and some even hold college degrees in nutrition or have obtained special certifications in nutrition. There are no guidelines or laws governing the information provided by nutritionists, other than that they are not allowed to provide nutrition information for any health condition. Nutritionists may provide you with good general nutrition advice. If you would like more specific information about nutrition for your health conditions and considering your lifestyle, talk to a registered dietitian. You can find a dietitian near you by visiting the following website and typing in your zip code: www.eatright.org/find-an-expert

Lynn Grant R.D., L.D., CDE is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She works at Capital Region Medical Center and provides diabetes education and outpatient nutrition counseling by appointment.