Do You Need a Dietitian?

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on April 11, 2012 · 0 comments

I’m a registered dietitian (RD) with a master’s degree and a state license/certification (CDN) and I’m one of close to 70,000 professionals who belong to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Why is this important and what does it matter to you? What exactly do dietitians do?

Let’s start with me. By providing my credentials and background I provide you with credibility and reliability when you read one of my regular features. I’ve been trained to understand and interpret nutrition science into practical information you can use to make your life healthier. Because you are aware of my background and credentials you can trust the information I provide as accurate and up-to-date. I use my training and background as a nutrition educator and journalist. But that is just one way that dietitians help the public every day.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics began as American Dietetics Association in 1917 and changed its name in 2012 to reflect the changes in the field and science over the last 100 years. The group was formed to help the US government conserve food and improve public health and nutrition during World War I. Since then it has grown into the foremost professional source of nutrition information in the US with affiliated groups internationally. No one is more on the cutting edge of nutrition science then these professionals.

How can you tape into this resource? You already have by reading regular features on The Nutrition Experts. You can access more information by going to the academy’s website at Not only will you find an enormous amount of information about health, food, and nutrition you can also access a national referral system to find a dietitian in your area. Simply click on the website feature, Find a Nutrition Professional.

This national referral service helps you locate registered dietitians in your area. A registered dietitian is a health professional who has completed a four year approved, undergraduate degree in science, nutrition and clinical practice. They then complete an accredited, supervised, clinical experience – a hands-on, practical internship. And, finally they must pass a national registration exam. But, they still aren’t done. Every registered dietitian must complete 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years to maintain their credentials. Are you impressed? You should be. These are very thoroughly trained, up-to-date professionals with a wealth of experience and knowledge. In addition, nearly half of all registered dietitians hold advanced academic degrees and many have received certifications in specialized areas such as weight maintenance, pediatrics, or diabetes education.

Depending on their work setting, dietitians may also be referred to as nutritionists. This is common in public health settings, business positions or public relations jobs. As a savvy health consumer, you should know that the title registered dietitian has been legally defined. That is not the case with the title nutritionist. The credentials RD after a nutritionist name is an indicator of their background and training, just the way MD assures you of your doctor’s credentials.

Practicing dietitians are everywhere. Hospitals and health care facilities, like nursing homes, are traditional work locations but today the scope of work is broader. You may see them on TV food or health programs, or read columns, like this one. Your doctor’s medical practice may have a nutrition counselor available to help patients manage weight, allergies, heart disease, diabetes, GI problems, or any other health conditions where food and nutrition plays an important role in treatment and prevention. Some dietitians work in research or teach at colleges and universities. Others work in federal or local government. Some help run feeding assistance programs and still others are serving in every branch of the armed forces feeding our troops.

Need food and nutrition information? Rely on dietitians, they are great resources.

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