Registered dietitian nutritionists (RDN)* are qualified food and nutrition professionals, with the training to translate nutritional science into not only practical habits and changes for you but to provide quality nutrition care in the clinical setting. Some states require a nutritionist to be licensed, and licensure requires certain credentials – typically RDN. Why would states require that? Because RDNs go through a rigorous, standardized process to receive their credential:
If you see someone with the sign “Nutritionist” on their door, but not “RDN” after their name, what’s the difference? Technically, in states that do not require licensure, anyone can open their doors for business and say they provide nutrition counseling. Some of them may have a bachelor’s degree in biology or even nutrition, or maybe a masters or doctoral degree. They may know the science behind nutrition, but can they help you?
As part of the dietetic bachelors program, supervised practice, and standardized exam, RDNs receive extensive counseling training and experience in addition to gaining exposure to a wide variety of nutrition arenas. They bring to you specialty and expertise in the setting of a broad health perspective. They have concrete experience interacting with other health practitioners and can provide insurance-billable services in certain cases.
Well, if a nutritionist has an education background in nutrition and took a class about counseling, why shouldn’t I choose them?
RDNs are held to a professional standard by their national association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They must maintain their credential, which requires them to keep up to date on the newest nutrition research and practices. They are obligated to follow a code of ethics and professionalism. Nutritionists, without credentials, lack a governing body that requires this.
You’re just throwing a bunch of words at me. Why should I care?
Some natural food and health stores offer nutrition counseling. And some supplement salespersons (inappropriately) provide nutrition counseling. If they don’t have a sturdy knowledge of nutrition, they might not know that vitamin A supplements can lead to toxicity in your body. This can destroy your liver, and cause birth defects if you were to become pregnant.
Why do I bring that up? Because vitamin A supplements are often recommended by inexperienced salespersons as an alternative to acne medications, such as Accutane, which also contain vitamin A. Excessive consumption of these items (exacerbated if a multivitamin is also taken daily), can lead to chronic liver disease at a young age.
Another problem? Many of these supplements are minimally regulated – so what you see is not necessarily what you’re buying. But we’ll talk about that more another time.
What do you think? Share your thoughts.
Note: Certified Nutrition Specialists (CNS) are qualified nutrition professionals, just like Registered Dietitians. They undergo rigorous education training as well as supervised practice. They are held to standards by their own separate certification board and must re-certify each five years, as well. "Nutritionists" referred to in this post refer to practitioners who do not hold either a CNS or RD/RDN certification.
*Registered dietitians carry the credential "RD". This past year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics came out with the option for RDs to carry the credential "RDN" - registered dietitian nutritionists. The credentials are the same.