Does the source matter?
There are so many individuals in today's society sharing nutrition advice. It is imperative to understand who the sources are and what credentials they may have. Have you ever heard the terms "nutritionist", "dietitian", or "registered dietitian"? Were you ever aware there is a significant difference between them? Let me clear the air about the difference between them and how to know if you are receiving nutrition advice from a qualified and reputable source.
A “dietitian” or “nutritionist” can be anyone that has obtained a certificate in nutrition; these
certificates can result from any class or exposure to nutrition. There are no regulatory factors to
distinguish or monitor these references. Basically, anyone that has been exposed to nutrition in a
program can call themselves a nutritionist; no matter if that was from an introductory course on
the internet or a nutrition course at a university.
So, is being a dietitian or nutritionist different from being a Registered Dietitian (RD)?
A million times, YES! In order to be a practicing registered dietitian an individual has to complete:
The minimum of a Baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution that includes the academic
requirements (Didactic Program in Dietetics) as approved by the Accreditation Council for
Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).
A supervised practice program accredited by ACEND of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
We refer to these supervised practice programs as dietetic internships. The programs can last
anywhere from 1 to 2 years and can be combined with a master's degree.
The Registration Examination for Dietitians
Complete continuing education to ensure information and practice remains current and
With that being said, it can take up to a minimum of 5 years before an individual is able to be qualified as a registered dietitian; and that's IF they are able to complete a Baccalaureate degree in 4 years AND are able to be matched to a dietetic internship in the first round! In 2017, only 55% of applicants were matched to a dietetic internship program! If you
reminisce with an RD they will likely share that “Match Day” was one of the most
stressful days of their education- all your hard work and perseverance comes down
to one application.
Throughout the internship you learn how to apply your dietetic skills under
supervised practice. All internships are different; I was blessed to be part of the
Central Michigan University Dietetic Internship (CMUDI) program. My rotations
included: foodservice and weight management at the Saginaw VA, renal exposure
at Fresenius Dialysis, public health at Midland MSU Extension, clinical and staff
relief at Covenant Hospital, and long-term care at Hoyt Skilled Nursing Facility.
Once the internship is completed, the registration eligible individual has to pass
the registration exam. Next to “Match Day”, I would have to say this is the next
hardest part of the process!
With all that being said, there is definitely a defined difference between a dietitian/nutritionist and a registered dietitian. An RD is the only qualified nutrition professional that should be providing not only medical nutrition therapy services but also research-based counseling and guidance. Our world is full of nutrition advice, fad-diets, and temptation. You can’t afford not to take control of your health and wellness by seeking out the appropriate and educated professionals to help you meet your goals!