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What is a Dietitian?

In the United States and many other countries a dietitian is a board certified nutrition expert They are highly educated in the field of nutrition and dietetics — the science of food nutrition and their impact on human health.

A dietitian is a qualified healthcare professional who specializes in the field of nutrition and dietetics. Their main role is to provide advice and guidance on matters related to food and nutrition, helping individuals make healthier and more informed dietary choices to improve their overall health and well-being.

The responsibilities of a dietitian may include:

  • Assessing individual dietary needs: Dietitians evaluate a person's current dietary habits, medical history, and lifestyle to determine their specific nutritional requirements.

  • Developing personalized meal plans: Based on their assessments, dietitians create customized meal plans that address the individual's unique needs, taking into account any health conditions or dietary restrictions.

  • Educating and counseling: Dietitians provide education and counseling to their clients, explaining the importance of balanced nutrition and the impact of certain foods on health.

  • Weight management: They assist people in achieving their weight goals through appropriate diet planning and monitoring.

  • Specialized nutrition support: Dietitians may work with patients who have specific medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, food allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, or other health concerns that require specialized nutrition management.

  • Food service management: In settings like hospitals, schools, or long-term care facilities, dietitians may be involved in planning and supervising food service operations to ensure that the meals provided are nutritious and meet specific dietary requirements.

  • Conducting research: Some dietitians may engage in scientific research related to nutrition and food science, contributing to the development of evidence-based dietary guidelines and recommendations.

It's important to note that the term "dietitian" is a protected title, and individuals must meet specific educational and professional requirements to become a registered dietitian (RD) or a dietitian nutritionist, depending on the country they practice in. The qualifications and certifications vary from one region to another, but the common goal is to ensure that dietitians have the necessary expertise to provide safe and effective nutrition advice to the public.


To become a dietitian requires national certification.

The thirteen states that require dietitians to be licensed include Rhode Island Alabama and Nebraska while the remaining states either don’t regulate this profession or provide state certification or optional licensing.

The process of licensing sometimes has additional requirements like passing a jurisprudence exam This is meant to ensure that dietitians practice under a code of conduct to protect public safety.

The dietitian must also keep up with their professional development by completing continuing education credits These credits help the dietitian stay up-to-date in the ever-changing field of nutrition.

Degrees and credentials required

In the United States states that do not regulate the term “no degrees or credentials are required to be a nutritionist” You simply need an interest in the field.

In states that require licensure the certification or license may be required

Those with CNS credentials are health professionals like nurses or doctors who have earned advanced degrees and passed a test overseen by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists.

Types of dietitians

There are four main domains of practice for dietitians: clinical food service management community and research.

  • Clinical dietitians work in an inpatient hospital setting while out-patient dietitians may also work in a hospital or clinic but they work with people who aren’t admitted to inpatient care and are usually less ill.

  • Both inpatient and outpatient dietitians provide support to the medical team to treat many acute and chronic illnesses. Dietitians in long-term care facilities may also supervise the nutrition of people with serious conditions that require ongoing care.

  • They follow standards of practice and detail a person’s medical history including lab work and weight history This allows them to assess acute needs and prioritize life-threatening conditions.

  • Inpatient and outpatient dietitians also provide nutrition education to people with specialized needs such as those newly out of surgery in cancer treatment or diagnosed with chronic illnesses like diabetes or kidney disease.

  • In the outpatient setting they give more in-depth counseling about nutrition They work towards a nutrition-oriented goal.

  • Dietitians may also work in other settings such as research hospitals universities or food service management

  • They can advocate for public policies and provide expertise in the community setting such as school districts or public health organizations like Women Infants and Children (WIC).

  • Food service management dietitians oversee the production of nutritionally adequate food that meets food safety guidelines such as a school district or military base.

  • A community dietitian can help design and implement programs aimed at populations instead of individuals They can also advocate for public policies with a focus on nutrition food and health issues

  • Researchers typically work in research hospitals, universities or nutrition-focused organizations. They are part of a research team that carries out nutrition-focused interventions.

  • Once dietitians have earned their credentials they can go on to specialize in a particular subcategory For example if they want to become a pediatric dietitian they would go on to specialize in pediatrics

  • Nutritional counselors may also run private practices to provide services like nutritional counseling.

  • They may also teach in an academic or research institution or write about nutrition-related topics Others may work as health and nutrition experts in media or as public speakers.

Conditions dietitians treat

Dietitians have the training and experience to manage nutrition therapy across a span of acute and chronic conditions The type of conditions they treat depends most on the setting of their practice.

  • They can treat nutrition problems that may arise from cancer or its treatment. They can also work with a client to prevent the onset of diabetes.

  • In hospitals they treat a range of people including those who are clinically malnourished and those who require nutrients via feeding tubes.

  • Nutritional experts also treat those undergoing bariatric surgery or with kidney issues People undergoing these procedures can have many nutritional restrictions and require individualized care to fully meet their bodies’ needs

  • Psychologists, dietitians and doctors have trained to treat eating disorders. They work with a team of therapists and physicians to help individuals recover from these disorders.

  • Eating disorders include eating too little or too much. They include anorexia bulimia and chronic starvation.

  • Sports dietitians specialize in optimizing nutrition for enhanced performance in athletes These dietitians may work in gyms or physical therapy clinics as well as with a sports team or dance company.

  • In some countries people may translate their title as “nutritionist” rather than “dietitian” though their educational background is similar to that of a dietitian

  • The title “nutritionist” can be used to refer to people with a broad range of credentials and training in nutrition.

  • In many states individuals must meet certain qualifications before they can call themselves a nutritionist These qualifications include an accredited certification such as Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) (8).

  • Those who receive these certifications have the authority to practice medicine

  • Many states such as Alaska Florida Illinois Maryland Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have RDs and CNSs who are licensed by the state. Some states call this a Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (LDN) license.

  • A nutritionist is anyone who has an interest in diet and nutrition who may work with clients.

  • Although unlicensed nutritionists typically lack the training needed to provide medical nutrition therapy and nutritional counseling following their advice could be considered harmful.

  • Before you go to a nutritionist check whether your state requires that the nutritionist must be licensed.

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