If you are looking for nutrition advice, you might see the terms nutritionist, Registered Dietitian (RD), or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and wonder what the difference between the three is. While all can give nutrition advice, Registered Dietitians are considered the experts in food and nutrition. In 2013, the Commission on Dietetic Registration added the option for Dietitians to use the RDN credentials to make it easier for the public to understand Dietitians’ role in nutrition.

Depending on the state, nutritionist is a term that is not regulated. Some states may have licensed nutritionists. However, qualifications for this title vary greatly from none to having a degree in nutrition or public health. In most cases, most people can call themselves a nutritionist without proper education on the science behind nutrition.

Registered Dietitians can legally prescribe medical nutrition therapy to patients based on their medical history, current medications, food allergies, and food preferences. Medical nutrition therapy is applied to conditions such as heart disease, cancer, kidney disease, and eating disorders, as well as many other medical conditions. Registered Dietitians use their knowledge of science and nutrition when creating personal therapeutic nutrition plans for patients.

Process of Becoming an RD
To become an RD, one must complete a degree in nutrition. Throughout their studies, nutrition students will study biology, chemistry, physiology, anatomy, psychology, nutrition science, and clinical nutrition, among many other topics.

Following graduation, future RD’s must complete a post-graduate internship to obtain experience working in the field of nutrition and dietetics. This internship is a minimum of 1200 hours, often completed over the course of a year or more. Interns will complete practice in areas such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, pediatric hospitals, and schools under the supervision of current RD’s.

National Exam
After completion of their internship, future Dietitians must take a national exam to become officially Registered Dietitians. Once this exam is completed and passed, interns can officially call themselves a Registered Dietitian!

Hopefully these definitions of the terms nutritionist, Registered Dietitian (RD), or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) are helpful. Nutrition and healthy food patterns are an essential part of life as a human being. They can also represent an area where we experience challenges. Water’s Edge Counseling & Healing Center has a nutrition team that works specifically with you to meet nutritional goals and progress to recovery wherever you’re at.

Maggie Suarez, RD, LD