I am often reminded what a poor job RDs do at marketing themselves. While I have been a RD for 12+ years, and know what I do, many people don’t know what sets a RD apart from any other person providing “expert” nutrition advice. Part of the confusion is with the many labels people use to describe themselves. Let's be honest, many people say they are experts in nutrition. People get nutrition advice from personal trainers, fitness instructors, doctors, or even chiropractors. What is also confusing is that people use the word nutritionist, but there is no nationally recognized credential for a nutritionist. This means there is not a specific standard of practice a "nutritionist" has to follow, and no required minimum amount of education. Registered dietitians are the only nutrition experts that have completed rigorous requirements recognized nationally by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). All registered dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians.
So, let me clarify a few things. A registered dietitian is a medical professional with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or dietetics, completion of an internship, and passing the national registration exam . Requirements for this degree include classes in science, health, and statistics, including anatomy and physiology, nutritional biochemistry, human metabolism and medical nutrition therapy. RDs have completed rotations in clinical nutrition, community, and food service management. RDs are licensed or certified in the state in which they practice and have a specific scope of practice they must follow.
Registered Dietitians have to meet a minimum standard of practice in terms of skill, knowledge, and continuing education. As medical professionals we exam clients' and patients' lab work, medical history, medications, nutrient needs, potential deficiencies (through signs and symptoms), food sensitivities and allergies. RDs can also specialize. Many RDs work with specific conditions (diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease, kidney disease, COPD, sports nutrition), and many do private counseling for general health, eating disorders, and functional nutrition. We have a scope of practice. We are not the fitness trainer at the gym telling people how to diet to lose weight. We help people with their health goals using best demonstrated practices, scientific research, clinical skills, and education. So, what do RD’s do? We help people feel and function at their best using scientific based evidence and a love of helping others.