A Registered Dietitian (RD), also known as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), is a healthcare professional that is an expert in food and nutrition. Dietitians may work in a variety of settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, health clinics, universities, research facilities or private practice. Many dietitians have specific focuses or specialties such as diabetes, kidney disease and dialysis, sports nutrition, tube feeds and parenteral nutrition (IV nutrition), oncology, pediatrics, food service management and public health.
All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. Dietitians have to meet academic and professional requirements set by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The term “nutritionist” is not regulated, so anyone can refer to themselves as one. A nutritionist may or may not have in-depth knowledge and experience in the field. Be cautious when taking advice from a nutritionist, especially if they are trying to sell you products such as supplements or meal replacements.
You may see a dietitian for a wide variety of reasons. It could be for weight loss, management of a chronic disease such as diabetes, or to improve sports performance. Unless your insurance company requires a referral (which is becoming less and less common), you can always look into scheduling an appointment on your own. You do not have to wait for a referral or “permission” from your doctor to do this.
For someone to become a dietitian, they must complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree through a program that is approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Starting in 2024, a master’s degree will be required as well. They must also complete an approved internship that is a minimum of 1200 hours. After these requirements are met, they must pass a national examination. To keep the credential, dietitians must complete 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years.