Once a year, a special day is dedicated to registered dietitian nutritionists. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (1) celebrates Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day each year on the second Wednesday in March. This year it falls on March 13th. While we need to celebrate what a registered dietitian does every day, this commemoration is a welcome step. First celebrated in 2008, it was created to increase the awareness of registered dietitian nutritionists as indispensable providers of timely, scientifically validated food & nutrition information and services.
Pretty cool, right?! A whole day dedicated just to registered dietitian nutritionists! But you might be wondering, what is a registered dietitian? What do they do? Why should you see one? And what can they help you with?
What is a Registered Dietitian?
A registered dietitian is a nutrition professional who has been trained to meet the strict educational and experiential standards set by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
In forty-seven states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, dietitians are the only nutrition professionals to be regulated by licensing laws. It is these laws that help the public identify and access qualified practitioners. Licensing laws also provide health insurance companies and state & federal governments with the assurance that these practitioners meet standards of professional competence in order to be reimbursed for providing nutrition care services.
You may find dietitians in a variety of settings, including (but not limited to) hospitals, long term care facilities, schools, community health facilities, corporate nutrition programs, the food and nutrition industry, business, sports nutrition and research.
What does a Registered Dietitian do?
Registered dietitians are health professionals qualified to assess, diagnose and treat nutritional concerns at an individual and wider public health level. This means they are the ones you can head to when you are in need of nutritional expertise that is scientifically proven to help you reach your wellness goals.
A dietitian’s job description and what they do varies depending on the setting in which they work. In general, dietitians advise and counsel others on food and nutrition. Typically, they may assess the dietary and health needs of clients, explain nutrition issues to clients, develop meal plans and gauge the effectiveness of these meal plans, promote nutrition through public speaking and community outreach, and keep up to date with the latest food and nutrition research.
Since they cover such a wide range of nutrition-based subjects, in practice, you find dietitians working in various settings with a wide range of roles:
- Assess and plan nutrition care for patients with a variety of ailments
- Counsel patients—and their families—who require special diets for their medical condition
- Ensure patient meals are prepared and delivered safely
In nursing homes
- Plan menus to provide residents with the best nutrition
- Ensure resident meals are prepared and delivered safely
In community health centers
- Assess the nutrition needs of communities
- Plan and deliver nutrition education programs
- Develop nutrition education tools
- Help communities stay healthy
In diabetes education centers
- Educate and counsel clients who are living with diabetes or trying to prevent diabetes
In people’s homes
- Counsel people who are housebound on special diets
- Help families with healthy meal planning
In the food industry
- Ensure manufacturers follow regulations around food labeling and nutrition claims
- Research and develop healthier food products
- Promote and market better food and nutrition products
- Educate consumers on food, nutrition, and health
In the pharmaceutical industry
- Plan and deliver education to doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other dietitians on new products and research
- Develop food and nutrition policies
- Provide advice on nutrition issues affecting different levels of government
- Teach nutrition to students from various programs
- Conduct research and support development of nutrition research skills
- Mentor future dietitians
- Plan and direct research projects and use results to increase knowledge of the relationship between nutrition and health, or to expand and improve nutrition programs
In sport and recreation
- Help athletes of various calibers with their nutrition to optimize their health and performance
- Counsel athletes on weight loss, hydration, eating before/during/after competitions and other nutrition concerns related to sport and physical activity
In the media
- Provide expert guest opinion in the media: in print, on television and radio, and the internet
- Contribute as a columnist for a media outlet such as a newspaper or magazine
- Act as a resource for restaurants on recipe development and critique
Why should I see a Registered Dietitian?
Michael Phelps already knows how to swim. George Clooney already knows how to act. Tom Brady already knows how to play football. Do you think they still hire coaches? Of course, they do! The tricky bit with nutrition is that we all eat…often several times a day, so we are all “experienced” at eating, and automatically have strong opinions on eating. Most of us also have a lot of experience driving cars, sometimes multiple times per day, yet we’re not as eager to hand out advice on cars.
The point here is that experience does not necessarily mean expertise. Registered Dietitians have that expertise! They have completed a university degree in foods and nutrition from an accredited institution, and they have worked 900+ hours in supervised practical training. They have passed an exam to become a registered health professional and are required to complete ongoing professional development. They are also held to a rigorous professional code of ethics! If that doesn’t scream expertise in the realm of food and nutrition, what does?
What can a Registered Dietitian help me with?
Dietitians are valuable members of your health care team and can be there to support you throughout your life. Here are just a few things that a dietitian can help you with:
- Weight loss
- Digestive issues
- Heart health
- Infant nutrition and picky eating
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Sports nutrition
- Vegetarian and vegan diets
- Navigating supplements
When you schedule a visit with a registered dietitian, the advice & information you receive is tailored to your personal needs and challenges. Dietitians have a unique skills-set to support people from different stages of life who are working towards leading a healthier lifestyle.
What questions should you ask a Registered Dietitian?
Finding a great dietitian can feel like a big task. Here are some questions to ask that can help you in the process.
- What’s your specialty and approach? Once you find a dietitian, you want to make sure that their specialties and philosophies jive with yours. Some dietitians have additional certifications in nutrition for diabetes (CNE) or are board-certified sports dietitians (CSSD). Some will write meal plans for you, while others focus on behavioral strategies rather than calorie counting.
- How much do sessions cost – and do you take insurance? Costs will vary by location, the dietitian’s experience, and their specialty. How often and how long you work with your dietitian is up to the two of you. Another factor that can make a difference in your bottom line is whether or not the dietitian accepts insurance.
- Do you offer any group programs? Some dietitians offer both in-person sessions as well as online support groups. While they may not be right for everyone, groups can be especially helpful for people who find strength in numbers. It can help to have support from people who are experiencing similar things.
Remember, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you are comfortable with the person you are working with. Your health is a priority, so it’s important to find someone you trust to help guide you on your journey.
I’d like to see a dietitian. How do I find one in my area?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has an online referral service – Find a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (2) – that allows you to search a national database to find a qualified registered dietitian nutritionist who is right for you.
The referral service allows you to search by ZIP code, and apply filters if you are looking for a dietitian with specific expertise or who speaks a certain language.
Celebrate National Nutrition Month
Join the celebration of Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day with your family, community, and schools by downloading some of the free handouts and tip sheets available on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (3) website.
Clearly, a qualified registered dietitian nutritionist can help set the pace for your fitness journey. To successfully navigate that milestone, you need to combine your dietitian’s professional expertise and your own passion for good health. Together, you can achieve your customized nutrition goals more effectively and holistically.
So, if your health and wellness is a priority for you, celebrating the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day is likely a celebration that you’d love to march to!
If you are a practitioner, consider signing up to Fullscript. If you are a patient, talk to your healthcare practitioner about Fullscript!