Do you need a Dietitian or a nutritionist? You may have heard the terms Dietitian, nutritionist, Registered Dietitian, nutrition counselor or food scientist. These terms can be confusing, and if you’re looking to improve your health through nutrition, it can be hard to understand the distinctions. To help clear up some of the confusion, we answer some frequently asked questions about nutritional professionals.
What is a Dietitian? A Dietitian is a healthcare provider who’s trained to help promote health and prevent or treat diseases through food and nutrition. A Registered Dietitian translates the science of nutrition into practical solutions for healthy living. Dietitians have the credential of RD (Registered Dietitian) or RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist). Earning that title entails a lot of work and study! They need to have a bachelor’s degree and complete the Didactic Program in Dietetics approved by Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics. They also need to complete a 1,200 hour supervised internship and pass the certifying exam given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. In addition, to keep their certification current, RDs must fulfill annual continuing education requirements.
What about other nutrition professionals? While the designation of “Dietitian” is regulated, refers to an RD and involves specific requirements, the term “nutritionist” is more fluid. Healthcare providers can call themselves nutritionists without having specific certifications. However, nutritionists who have an advanced degree along with practical experience can take a certifying exam to gain the designation of CNS, or Certified Nutrition Specialist. A nutrition counselor or dietetic counselor is often a Registered Dietitian, but not always, so it’s important to ask. A food scientist uses chemistry, biology and other sciences to study the basic elements of foods, analyzing the nutritional content of food, discover new food sources and research to make food safe and healthy. Some Dietitians do go into this field as an advance degree and generally work in the area of food production, manufacture or research. Also, many healthcare providers, such as doctors, osteopaths, or physician assistants may include clinical nutrition into their practice after completing education in food and nutrition science.
What kinds of things can a Dietitian do? Depending on the setting, a Dietitian can:
- Review your health and nutrition history to help you make personalized and positive lifestyle changes.
- Assess your medical history and determine your nutritional needs.
- Educate and advise you about healthful eating, recipes, menu planning and set realistic and safe eating plan that you can stick with and enjoy.
- Help you understand your condition and how the food you choose may affect it. Plus, teach you strategies about identifying foods to avoid and help you find substitutions to keep your diet balanced and tasty.
- Help clients with medical nutrition therapies, such as dietary supplementation, feeding tube nutrition and IV nutrition.
- Work with your medical team and family members as necessary, including ordering and interpreting lab tests related to your nutritional status
- Help athletes develop nutritional strategies to enhance their health and performance
- Supervise food service operations in healthcare facilities, hospitals, schools and daycare centers
Can Dietitians become certified in dietetic subspecialties? Yes! Some areas of specialty areas require additional training, education or experience by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Those areas include gerontological (aging) nutrition, oncology, pediatrics, renal (kidney) nutrition and sports dietetics.
Who can benefit from working with a Dietitian? There is literally no limit to who can be helped by an experience Dietitian. From infants to the elderly, people of all ages have specific nutritional needs that can be optimally managed with the help of a Dietitian. In addition, a Dietitian can provide nutritional support for people with a wide variety of diseases and health conditions. And if you’re looking to lose or maintain your weight, optimize your health during a pregnancy or have been admitted to a hospital or long-term care facility, you can also benefit from the services of a Dietitian.
What, exactly can a Dietitian treat? Good nutrition is an important component for a surprising number of health conditions. A Dietitian can play a key role in the treatment and management of:
- Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure
- Diabetes and insulin resistance
- Minimizing the side effects and maintaining weight during cancer treatment
- Food allergies and food intolerances
- Eating disorders
- Renal disorders, such as kidney disease, kidney failure and kidney stones
- Gastrointestinal problems, including IBS, colitis, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and acid reflux (GERD)
- Liver disease, such as hepatitis, fatty liver, cirrhosis and liver failure
- Muscle, bone and joint problems. This may include gout, osteoporosis and slow-healing injuries
- Weight issues; underweight, overweight and recalibrating nutrition after weight loss surgery
Will my insurance pay for the services of a Dietitian? Many health insurance plans do cover the services of a Registered Dietitian. However some insurance plans may not. It’s important to check with your insurance provider to see if they cover dietetic services. In addition, Medicare will pay for a Dietitian’s services for the management of Type 2 diabetes and renal (kidney) disease.
What should I know about choosing a Dietitian? Ask questions! Make sure you know about your Dietitian’s education, training, experience and licensing. Determine if the Dietitian you’re considering is experienced in treating the condition or health concern that you have. And look at the details. At Nutrition Consultants on Demand, we believe that not only is it important to have the education, experience and RD credentials, but we’re also committed to your success. We offer you convenient appointment times, take into account your cultural preferences, provide education and the support you need to make your plan work. If you’d like to know more about how our Dietitians can help you, contact us today.
We are a team of registered dietitians helping patients who suffer from chronic conditions, and active people who want to improve athletic performance, by translating the science of nutrition into actual steps they can take to make healthy lifestyle changes.