Dietitians and non-dietitians alike have probably seen ShopWell's announcement that we're headed to FNCE (the American Dietetic Association's Food & Nutrition Conference and Expo) to host booth #1843, which is being held in San Diego this week. But those of you who aren't in the field might be wondering: what does a dietitian do? How is a dietitian different from a nutritionist? And isn't that word spelled "dietician?"
A Dietitian's Qualifications
In order to become a Registered Dietitian (RD), a practitioner has to be authorized by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, a division of the American Dietetic Association. The qualifications for earning the title of RD include earning a bachelor's degree from an institution accredited by the ADA's Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education, completing a supervised and accredited practice program at a healthcare facility, passing a national examination, and completing continuing-education requirements to maintain that registration. And those are just the basic requirements! Over 50 percent of RDs also have a master's degree or Ph.D., and many of them also complete specialized education on topics like diabetes or pediatric nutrition.
In most states, those who call themselves "nutritionists" don't need to meet these stringent RD guidelines— in fact, some states have no guidelines at all for someone to call themselves a nutritionist, meaning almost anyone can set up shop with that title. (You can read about your state's individual guidelines here.) Some RDs call themselves "nutritionists" to make things easier for clients, but if you're looking for a guarantee that your dietitian or nutritionist has a top-notch education and qualifications, look for the title "Registered Dietitian" or RD after their name.
While all Registered Dietitians must be accredited by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, an arm of the American Dietetic Association, being a dietitian doesn't necessarily mean being a member of the ADA. Many RDs choose to join the ADA, because members get access to research and continuing education, as well as a group of like-minded professionals who can lobby on their behalf. But not all of them are members, and a lack of membership in the ADA doesn't make an RD less qualified.
RDs are often assisted by Dietetic Technicians, Registered (DTRs), who must also undergo a prescribed educational and work curriculum, but do not have to achieve the level of education and training needed by RDs.
What Do Dietitians Do?
Dietitians hold a variety of jobs, primarily focused on preventing or ameliorating diseases caused by poor nutrition. Many dietitians work in hospitals, ensuring that patients receive a proper diet for their medical conditions, while others work in private practice, helping individuals eat a better diet to stave off or help treat medical issues. Dietitians can also work in academia or research, in nursing homes, with athletes looking to improve performance, in school districts or correctional facilities, and in public-health agencies or food and nutrition charities like Meals on Wheels. (You can learn more about types of employment and employment statistics for RDs and nutritionists here.)
This ADA handout discusses ten major issues with which an RD can help, including caring for an aging parent, assisting in healthy weight loss or gain, digestive problems, pregnancy, and treating eating disorders.
How Do You Spell That?
Though many of us have learned to spell it with a "c," the official spelling of "dietitian" in the U.S., as approved by the ADA, uses a "t" instead. British, Australian, and Canadian dietitians also use this spelling.
Your Personal Dietitian
ShopWell has our very own Head Dietitian: Marci Harnischfeger MS RD. Marci earned a Master's of Science in Clinical Nutrition from NYU, and has completed all the requirements to earn the RD qualification. She studies the latest research to make sure that ShopWell provides accurate data on all the food you look up in our system. Marci also enjoys teaching and speaking publicly about nutrition to all kinds of groups, including our blog readers!
Want to learn more about the American Dietetic Association, or how to find a registered dietitian in your area? Head over to their website.