The Most Common Question I get asked as a Registered Dietitian


The following is a guest post from dietetic intern-turned-RD, Mary Mosquera:

As a Registered Dietitian (RD)*, I spend a lot of time talking to people about food and their health in general. As our society becomes more and more interested in health, more and more people are seeking out answers to their nutrition concerns. And with all of the confusing messages out there… I get a lot of questions!

Before I became an RD, I thought the most common questions people would ask me would be related to food and nutrition. And while people do, of course, ask me about those things, almost everyone who finds out I’m an RD asks me this question too:

“What’s the difference between a Registered Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

Let me break it down for you.

“Nutritionist” is a very vague title that is not regulated or protected by law. This means that technically, anyone can call themselves a Nutritionist. Yes, anyone… even your cat. While some self-proclaimed Nutritionists might be highly qualified (and might even be Registered Dietitians themselves) – the term “Nutritionist” does not guarantee that they have completed credible and rigorous practical professional training. Therefore, they may not qualify to diagnose and treat diseases with dietary interventions. People who claim the title of Nutritionist may have only taken a very basic nutrition course online, completed a health-coaching program, or may even be self-taught.

This is why you should be very careful when choosing a health professional to work with regarding anything nutrition related, because someone calling themselves a Nutritionist may not actually have the expertise you think they do!

“RD (i.e., Registered Dietitian),” on the other hand, is a term that is highly regulated and clearly defined. An RD is required to complete a 4-year Bachelor Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics (or a 3-year Science Degree followed by a Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics.) This coursework is then followed by a rigorous 1200-hour internship, where interns complete practical training in clinical nutrition, community nutrition and foodservice settings. After the internship is complete, candidates then must pass the national registration exam to officially claim the title of Registered Dietitian.

As a result of the extensive education and training, RDs are qualified to translate nutrition science into practical applications to promote health and wellbeing among the general public, people with special dietary needs, and those with chronic illnesses that require dietary treatment (think diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, eating disorders, etc). RDs can work in a multitude of settings, such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, non-profits, or private practice.

When you see someone with the RD credential, you can be assured that they will be able to provide you with safe, reliable, and effective information and treatment.

As someone who has gone through the training, I feel confident saying that if you have a question or need support regarding your personal food and nutrition, seeking the assistance of an RD will ensure you’re receiving optimal, evidence-based care. Our science-based education, combined with practical experience, make us a powerhouse of quality nutrition knowledge that you just can’t get anywhere else!

*Note: the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recently updated the RD credential from RD to RDN (Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist). Both credentials means the same thing and are both valid.

Mary is a Registered Dietitian who lives in Freeport, New York. She graduated from THE Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics (Go Bucks!) and completed her Dietetic Internship through Bradley University. Mary works as a Clinical Dietitian at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens, providing nutrition care to patients of all ages and backgrounds. When she’s not working, Mary enjoys salsa dancing, yoga, playing ukulele, and eating peanut butter straight outta the jar :)

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