Everybody eats, so everybody's an expert in nutrition, right? That's what you might think by clicking through various articles and posts about health and food these days.
In fact, the true nutrition experts are registered dietitian nutritionists or registered dietitians. RDNs and RDs all have college degrees — and many have advanced degrees — and completed didactic coursework plus hundreds of hours in internship rotations (unpaid, for the most part) before sitting for and passing an exam to earn the privilege of putting those precious credentials after their names. Not only that, RDNs must complete at least 75 hours of continuing education every five years to maintain their credential.
What credentialing does a "nutritionist" need? Nothing, really. The truth is, while some states have laws on licenses for health professionals, practically anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. In many states, only licensed dietitians can administer medical nutrition therapy and have some of their services covered by insurance providers.
Where Can You Find RDNs?
Traditionally, RDNs can be found working in some kind of clinical setting, such as a hospital or outpatient clinic. They may be prescribing diets for those newly diagnosed with diabetes or celiac disease, or working alongside a cardiologist to help an at-risk patient adopt a heart-healthy diet. You may envision an RDN as the weight-loss specialist suggesting which foods to incorporate into your diet and which to save for special occasions.
Have you been to a school cafeteria lately? It may surprise you! Many school foodservice directors are registered dietitian nutritionists, and these folks do a tremendous job in feeding thousands of children, in a limited amount of time and on a limited budget. For some students, school lunch may be the most reliable, substantial meal of their day, so the foodservice director needs to make sure the lunch she serves is not only nutritious but also appealing so that it gets eaten and not tossed in the trash.
- Community Settings
Many RDNs heed a calling to help underserved and underprivileged populations. These are the RDNs running programs for WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children), SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and many more. They help individuals spend their food dollars wisely and learn basic cooking skills.
Some RDNs are chefs, working at major restaurants, spas or managing their own culinary businesses. Many have traditional culinary training in addition to their nutrition degrees.
- Research and Academia
Nutrition research is ongoing, and who better to design and conduct studies than the food and nutrition experts? Not only do RDNs work in food science, many have expertise in behavioral nutrition, economics and other fields.
Call me biased, but RDNs who work with industry are unsung heroes. Talk about affecting change! These are the folks with actual seats at the actual table, helping companies reformulate products to make them more healthful and desirable to consumers. These folks have the ear of corporate leadership, telling them what issues they need to address today given the current policy and labeling landscapes. These are RDNs who take the research conducted by their colleagues in academia, and disseminate it to their front-line RDN peers working directly with consumers.
In ever greater numbers, RDNs are being called upon to provide their expert insights to educate consumers on larger platforms. We see RDNs as commentators on news programs, writing articles in major newspapers and building audiences on social media. Heck, they're even winning reality TV shows!
Want find an RD or RDN? Use eatright.org's Find an Expert tool!
Today is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day! It's a time to celebrate the RDNs working every day to improve health and nutrition so that we can live longer and healthier lives.