Medicine and healthcare have a lot of confusing terms and nutrition and dietetics is no exception. Various words are used to describe similar activities but often have very different qualifications.
Registered dietitian nutritionists (sometimes called a RDN or a RD) provide medical nutrition therapy to people. There’s another confusing term, “medical nutrition therapy”! This simply means evaluation of a person’s food intake and eating habits and advising them on how to improve this. People may have certain health conditions or just want to reach certain health goals. Having an expert partner guiding your food and eating decisions improves your chance of success!
RDNs practice in various settings, such as in hospitals, nursing homes or a private practices. Their expertise is also important to providing nutritional education and expertise to schools, food-related businesses, or public health offices.
Registered dietitians are legally recognized as experts in nutrition due to their education and credentials. They are highly educated in the field of nutrition and dietetics (the science of food, nutrition, and their impact on human health). They are required to do the following to achieve this special certification:
5-6 years of science-heavy education from an accredited college program.
Approximately 1200 hours of supervised practice or training in various settings.
Board-certification is a special test that medical professionals take to certify their expertise. You may have heard this word used when describing a doctor’s qualifications. The same applies to the dietitian credentials, which require national board certification as a food and nutrition expert. To earn the credentials of Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), a person needs to complete the criteria set forth by governing bodies like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In addition, they must complete 75 hours of continuing education within a 5-year period to maintain these credentials, which helps them keep up with the ever-evolving field. This validates the dietitian’s qualifications to manage nutrition therapy across a span of acute and chronic conditions. Holding them to this high standard is beneficial to the people that they advise.
You may hear the word “nutritionist” to describe someone who gives advice about food and nutrition. This encompasses individuals with a broad range of credentials and training in nutrition. Nutritionists’ qualifications and experience can be more variable. Nutritionists have no defined education, in fact, anyone can classify themselves as a nutritionist. In the U.S., no degrees or credentials are required to be a nutritionist. You simply need an interest in the field.
Recognizing the rigorous training that is required for an RDN, insurance providers, including commercial insurers and Medicare, often pay for visits to RDNs for specific health conditions.
Benefits of a Registered Dietitian
A registered dietitian can help you improve your overall health by setting goals and creating plans specific to your health needs. Working with a professional partner to achieve your goals of feeling better, having more energy, and reducing your risk of future health problems, is a great investment in your life.
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