The titles “Registered Dietitian” and “Nutritionist” are used almost interchangeably, but the terms are far from synonymous.
A Registered Dietitian is a credentialed health professional. The title is earned after completing a Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition and Dietetics followed by a postgraduate didactic internship at an accredited hospital or university. Only after completing these programs can one sit for the Registered Dietitian Examination (RDE). Upon passing the RDE, an individual finally earns the title of Registered Dietitian (RD).
Unlike RDs who are required to fulfill rigorous academic and internship requirements, nutritionists are neither registered nor certified. What does this mean? Just about anyone with an interest in food and diet may adopt the title. The dangers to anyone seeking truly reliable nutritional guidance from a nutritionist should be quite obvious. There can be critical lapses in knowledge about a wide variety of diet-drug interactions that one should (must) avoid. These possibly serious interactions include eating foods such as aged cheeses and red wine while taking certain commonly prescribed antidepressants.
Registered Dietitians receive formal training on the effects of diet on disease, can intelligently communicate with their clients’ physicians, and request the appropriate tests and studies. For instance, when a client reports that his or her doctor’s diagnosis is anemia, an RD knows this is an indiscriminate diagnosis. Most people assume that iron is taken to treat anemia; however, the RD knows this may not be true. Rather, some types of anemia may benefit from B12 or folate supplementation. The ability to make an educated assessment is the result of the RD’s schooling as well as hands-on clinical experience in a medical facility. A nutritionist without this training could, for example, recommend servings of soy milk to someone with kidney failure—a potentially harmful combination that could result in an elevated phosphorus level and a decreased level of consciousness.
When in need of food and diet advice, do yourself a very important favor—make sure that you seek recommendations from a Registered Dietitian. The American Dietetic Association (www.eatright.org or 800-877 1600) can provide you with a list of Registered Dietitians in your area that are qualified to make appropriate diet recommendations or perform nutrient or recipe analyses.