A nutritionist is a health specialist who devotes their professional life to food and nutritional science, preventive nutrition, diseases related to nutrient deficiencies, and the use of nutrient manipulation to enhance the clinical response to human diseases. A dietitian is a legally protected term regulated by the American Dietetic Association (ADA). All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.
There are three informal categories of nutritionists ‘on the street,’ so to speak:
(2) Other health or fitness professionals, who have strong education in the health sciences and nutrition sciences, but know their limitations and advise with disclaimers.
(3) Non-science, non-professionals who give advice on nutrition and nutritional products and tend to make claims that are not proven.
Keep in mind, dietitians and nutritionists (with lesser qualifications) advise people on dietary matters relating to health, well-being and optimal nutrition every day — one-on-one, in classes and through the news media. Nutritionists have varying levels of education from someone with little or no education to an individual who has obtained a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree. This is because the term “nutritionist” is not a legally protected term in most parts of the world. As a result, the term “nutritionist” is subject to several interpretations. Many nutritionists appear on television, in newspapers and magazines, and write nutritional books, which may or may not have any real information of proven value regarding diet, disease support, disease prevention, health and wellness, body composition enhancement or performance enhancement.
Dietitians have an extremely broad-based knowledge of diet, disease and human health, but may sometimes not be as helpful to athletes, compared to health or fitness professionals who are closely studying the effects of certain food and supplement practices with physical training. However, if you ask a dietitian to help you with a particular subject and focus on your goals, the dietitian would be able to pick up on the topic and excel any other nutritionist’s capabilities.
A dietitian (sometimes spelled dietician) is the expert in food and nutrition. Dietitians help promote good health through proper eating. They also supervise the preparation and service of food, develop modified diets, participate in research, and educate individuals and groups on good nutritional habits. The goals of the dietitian are to obtain, prepare, and serve flavorsome, attractive, and nutritious food to individuals, medical patients, family members, employees (in workplace cafeterias) and students (in school cafeterias).
In the United States, legally recognized nutrition professionals include the registered dietitian (RD) and the dietetic technician, registered (DTR). These terms, as well as simply dietitian, are legally protected terms regulated by the American Dietetic Association (ADA). Some RDs or DTRs call themselves nutritionists. However, the term nutritionist is not regulated, as dietitian is. People, such as chiropractors, personal trainers and nutritional product sales people may call themselves nutritionists without the educational and professional requirements of registered dietitians. Dietetic technicians are not the same as dietitians in terms of responsibilities and qualifications. Different professional terms are used in other countries.
In the U.S., dietitians are registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration (the certifying agency of the ADA) and are only able to use the label “Registered Dietitian” when they have met strict, specific educational and professional prerequisites and passed a national registration examination.
A dietitian’s education in health science involves significant scientific based knowledge in anatomy, chemistry, biochemistry, biology, physiology, nutrition, medical science. Strong foundations in advanced scientific knowledge and an internship, counseling skills and an understanding of aspects of psychology enable a Registered Dietitian to assess, analyze, intervene, and educate a individuals in relation to diet and disease.
There following are common academic plans to becoming a fully qualified registrable dietitian:
A bachelor of science degree and a postgraduate diploma in Dietetics, or
A bachelor of science degree and a master’s degree in Dietetics
Besides academic education, registered dietitians must complete up to a year long dietetic internship of at least 900 hours through an accredited program before they can sit for the registration examination. The dietetic internship requires the intern to complete several areas of competency including rotations in clinical, community, long-term care nutrition as well as food service, public health and a variety of other worksites.
Once the degree is earned, the internship completed, and registration examination passed, the individual can now use the nationally recognized legal term, Registered Dietitian, and is able to work in a variety of professional settings. Most states require additional licensure to work in most settings. To maintain, the RD credential, professionals must participate in and earn continuing education units 75 hours every 5 years.
Types of dietitians
The majority of dietitians are clinical, or therapeutic, dietitians. Clinical Dietitians or Consultant Dietitians often help with sports teams, especially professional sports teams. Dietitians hired by sports teams help setup pre-game meal policies for optimal energy and performances during games. Dietitians also help educate and motivate players and their families toward the best meals and supplements for optimal health and player performances and the wellness of the player’s family. The following is a list of types of dietitian careers:
Business & Media Dietitians
Business & Media dietitians serve as resource people for the media. Dietitians’ expertise in nutrition is often taped for TV, radio, and newspapers — either as an expert guest opinion, regular columnist or guest, or for resource, restaurant, or recipe development and critique. Dietitians have served as show hosts on major television stations and as drive-time radio news anchors. Dietitians write books, appear on television cooking channels, and author corporate newsletters on nutrition and wellness. They also work as sales representatives for food manufacturing companies that provide nutritional supplements and tube feeding supplies.
Clinical dietitians work in hospitals and other health care facilities to provide medical nutrition therapy to patients according to the disease processes, provide individual dietary consultations to patients and their family members and also conduct group educations for other health workers, patients and the public. They coordinate both medical records and nutritional needs to asess the patients and make a plan based on their findings. Some clinical dietitians have dual responsibilities with medical nutrition therapy and in foodservice, described below. In addition, clinical dietitians in smaller facilities also provide or create outpatient education programs. They work as a team with the physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, speech therapists, social workers and nurses to provide care to the patients.
Clinical dietitians review medical charts and meet with patients patients’ families. They w
ork with other health care professionals and community groups to provide nourishment, nutritional programs and instructional presentations to benefit people of all ages, and with a variety of health conditions. This is accomplished by developing individual plans to meet nutritional needs. These plans include nourishment plans or diet plans, patient and family education with normal eating, tube feedings (called enteral nutrition, which helps normalize body protein levels, restore immune function and promote weight gain), intravenous feedings (called parenteral nutrition) such as total parenteral nutrition (TPN, which provides the entire nutrient needs of the patient via intravenous infusion) or peripheral parenteral nutrition (PPN, which provides nutrients via I.V., but in a lower concentration). Clinical dietitians provide individual and group educational programs for patients and family members about their nutrition and health.
Consultant dietitians work under private practice. They contract independently to provide nutrition services and educational programs to individuals, sports teams, nursing homes, and in health care facilities. As recent studies have shown the importance of diet in both preventing and managing disease, many US states have moved towards covering medical nutrition therapy under the Medicaid/Medicare making consulting a much more lucrative option for dietitians due to insurance reimbursement.
Community dietitians work with wellness programs and international health organizations. These dietitians apply and distribute knowledge about food and nutrition to specific life-styles and geographic areas. They coordinate nutritional programs in public health agencies, daycare centers, health clubs, and recreational camps and resorts. Some community dietitians carry out clinical based patient care in the form of home visits for patients who are too physically ill to attend consultation in health facilities.
Foodservice dietitians or managers are responsible for large-scale food planning and service. They coordinate, assess and plan foodservice processes in health care facilities, school food service programs, prisons, cafeterias and restaurants. These dietitians will also perform audits of their departments, train other food service workers and use marketing skills to launch new menus and various programs within their institution. They direct and manage the operational and nutrition services staffs such as kitchen staffs, delivery staffs and dietary assistants or diet aides.
Gerontological dietitians are specialist in nutrition and aging. They are Board certified in Gerontological Nutrition with the American Dietetic Association. They work in government agencies in aging policy, and in a regulatory capacity in the oversight of nursing homes and community-based care facilities. They work as Consultants in Nursing Homes, and in higher education in the field of Gerontology (the study of Aging.)
Research dietitians are mostly involved with dietary related research in the clinical aspect of nutrition in disease states, public aspect on primary, secondary and sometimes tertiary health prevention and foodservice aspect in issues involving the food prepared for patients. Many registered dietitians also work with the biochemical aspects of nutrient interaction within the body. Research Dietitians normally work in a hospital or university research facilities. It should be noted that some Clinical dietitian’s roles also involve research other than the normal clinical workload. Quality improvement in dietetics services is also one area of research.