The Registered Dietitians Evolution

The importance of the Dietitian has been evolving over the past few decades, much the same way the field of nutrition has been progressing.  Nutrition is not a concrete science in so many ways.  Not only is everyone’s body very different, but research is still uncovering new things about how nutrients work within our body.

At the forefront of this adventure sits the Registered Dietitian… or so we thought.  These days there is a lot of competition for the role of nutrition expert.  The public is so hungry for advice on how to improve their health that they will listen to just about anyone who claims to be an expert on nutrition, regardless of their credentials.  Everyone wants to write a book, everyone has a different diet or food restriction that they want to sell you, and everyone wants to cash in on the public’s obesity epidemic.

Dietitians set themselves apart from others with this title and where you find them.  Dietitians certainly can practice just about anywhere (i.e. writing books, private practice, at the gym, etc.) but as of right now they are the only nutrition professional you will find working in a hospital.  Some insurance companies only authorize medical nutrition therapy that is delivered by a dietitian, but this may change in the future as more Certified Nutrition Specialists (CNS) and Certified Clinical Nutritionists (CCN) enter the scene.

Registered Dietitians are Nutritionists

The title “Nutritionist” sounds less invasive and torturous than dietitian, but there seems to be some gray area developing where highly qualified nutritionists are competing against those who possess less knowledge about the science of nutrition.  A dietitian has to endure at least a Bachelor of Science program, followed by an internship of up to 1200 hours (many internships are coupled with a Master of Science program) to become eligible to take the registration exams.  They must also obtain continuing education credits (averaging 15 hours per year) to maintain our credentials.  Peers in related science/healthcare fields who go on to become Certified Nutrition Specialists (CNS) and Certified Clinical Nutritionists (CCN) have similar requirements to obtain and maintain their credentials.  They may have obtained a degree in another field of science and have chosen to pursue a graduate program in nutrition before completing similar internship requirements, and finally passing certification exams. However, it is only the Registered Dietitian that many insurance companies recognize, including Medicare’s new proposed guidelines.

Education & Training

Does this extensive training and education compare to a nutritionist who may or may not have taken a weekend course to earn a certificate?  One such course described the skills you obtain with the certificate as “teaching clients to read and compare nutrition labels, instructions for effectively obtaining diet history and using it to facilitate goal setting, and preparing simple and healthy meals”.  While this is an important piece of teaching a client/patient, there is so much more to the field of nutrition that just simply cannot be covered in a few hours.  The biology, chemistry and biochemistry of our bodies and how it handles nutrients is impressive and extensive.  This is not to discredit the desire of individuals to help others who are drowning in a sea of poor diet advice, but how is one to explain the intricate workings of food in our bodies to their clients if they do not have a solid understanding of this complex process?

Experience and education makes Registered Dietitians, and Certified Nutritionists experts in the field of nutrition, but deep down they are all just passionate about food and helping people.