What Does a Dietitian Do? Clear up Nutrition Confusion!

Why should you turn to a dietitian, and what does a dietitian do? Registered dietitians are trained with a broad background in nutrition science, disease prevention, wellness, foods, and diet patterns—all with an evidence-based, personalized, practical approach. Given today’s spread of nutrition misinformation, dietitians can set you straight!

“Miracle drinks” that cure cancer peddled on Instagram. Carnivore diets that promote supreme athletic performance on Tik Tok. Influencers posing with diet supplements and powders they swear by. Nutrition misinformation just keeps getting worse, spreading to countless websites and social media accounts. Many of the health claims you see online are not backed by science, and can lead to negative health outcomes. It’s no wonder people are often confused about what healthy eating really means. According to US surgeon general Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, “Health misinformation is a serious threat to public health. It can cause confusion, sow mistrust, harm people’s health, and undermine public health efforts.” So, that’s why it’s time to stop the madness! And that’s what a registered dietitian can do for you. The best way to protect yourself from bad nutrition advice is to obtain information from accredited nutrition experts: registered dietitians.

What Is a Registered Dietitian?

First of all, let’s talk about what a registered dietitian (or registered dietitian nutritionist) really is. How to become a registered dietitian? RDs (also referred to as RDNs) not only go through extensive education to receive a BS in nutrition, they complete a supervised internship program consisting of at least 1,200 hours and pass a registration exam to be an RD. And that’s not all. Starting on January 1, 2024, RDs need a graduate degree to be eligible to take the RD exam. Practicing registered dietitians also have to complete continuing education credits to keep their credentials up to date. Registered dietitians will have these credentials after their name: RD or RDN, and sometimes LDN, which means licensed dietitian nutritionist, indicating the person has met the state’s requirements for licensure (though not all states have licensure, so not all RDs will have this credential).

Dietitians do culinary education too—I’m doing a cooking demo at a food expo here. 

What Does a Dietitian Do?

Dietitians do lots of jobs in a variety of food and nutrition settings. Many work as clinical dietitians in hospitals and health care facilities, providing medical nutrition therapy to patients to help them fight acute or chronic disease conditions. They may be calculating your parenteral nutrition feeding, educating you on a diet to manage diabetes, or helping with nutrition to recover post-surgery, for example. Dietitians also work in outpatient settings counseling clients and patients on nutrition to help prevent or manage conditions, such as celiac disease, food allergies, or kidney disease. You can also find dietitians in workplace wellness positions helping companies keep their employees healthy, research settings doing nutrition research, academia teaching in universities and colleges, public health promoting healthy diets in communities, food service planning healthful menus, non-profit organizations working on food policy issues, food industry helping to promote healthy food formulations, and media providing nutrition messages for the public. Dietitians are working in so many places offering their nutrition expertise—supermarkets, military, sports teams, gyms, cruise ships, culinary trips, farming, and beyond! From a sports dietitian to a clinical dietitian to a renal dietitian to a pediatric dietitian—there are so many dietitian specialists, too. Wherever you see food in a setting, you can generally find an opportunity for a dietitian. What’s cool is that dietitians are constantly finding new niches for their value—virtually creating dream jobs for themselves. 

Culinary education with other registered dietitians. 

To celebrate Registered Dietitian day, follow these tips to ensure that you receive nutrition guidance from a qualified professional who can help you cut through the nutrition confusion and misinformation. 

1. Be Cautious of the “Nutritionist” Label

Did you know that anyone can call themselves a nutritionist? A “nutritionist” may have received nutrition education, but there is no telling how much or to what extent because there is not a professional definition related to this term. You may find someone at the gym or an influencer on social media calling themselves a nutritionist, offering so-called “expert” advise. But they may have little real education in nutrition. That’s why you’re better off looking for a registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist (RD or RDN) so that you know you are working with a true nutrition professional.

Teaching a community cooking class in Los Angeles. 

2. Do Not Believe Everything You Hear

We live in a society that takes a snippet of information and turns it into a new belief system. Case in point: green tea extract, the supposed “weight loss miracle pill”, or coconut oil, the miracle cure for anything and everything. Avoid obtaining nutrition information from un-qualified food and nutrition bloggers or unscientific nutrition websites. This includes nutrition information from talk shows, YouTube and Tik Tok; remember, they are there to provide entertainment! The information is not always accurate. You can learn more about identifying nutrition misinformation with this fact sheet from Colorado State University. Instead, look for respected academic, organization, or government resources and websites, and RD-backed blogs and social media feeds. 

Some dietitians are called upon in the media to provide nutrition info. I’m pictured here in a Spokane television segment. 

3. Don’t Fall for Fad Diets

From keto diets to intermittent fasting to the carnivore diet, fad diets overly promoting health benefits just keep on rolling in. The majority of fad diets do not have adequate scientific research or evidence to support their claims. Before starting a new diet, visit your local RD or RDN for advice and information on what is right for you.

Visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website at www.eatright.org for scientifically proven nutrition information.

Dietitians have a constant love of learning about nutrition, including going on education events and farm tours. I’m at a California tomato harvest tour here. 

4. Let RDNs do the work

When diagnosed with an illness, disease or condition, don’t take it upon yourself to research nutrition advice on Dr. Google. Make an appointment with your local RDN for guidance. You can find a local dietitian in your area at www.eatright.org. Remember that RDNs are trained in multiple areas of nutrition, including disease management, wellness, and weight loss. You can find a RDN that specializes in what you’re looking for. It’s difficult to find the latest in science-based information on diets without this professional advice. 

Dietitians do a lot of nutrition education in the community. I’m speaking at an event in Orange County, California here. 

Our nutrition pathway is like a thumbprint; it is unique to everyone and what may work for one person may not work for another. That is why it is so important that nutritional guidance comes from an RDN! Our health is the most important attribute we own; we can’t risk getting information from someone who is not qualified. Remember these tips and contact your local registered dietitian to find a dietary pattern that works for you and your current health status. 

To learn more about what dietitians do, check out:

10 Reasons Why Dietitians are Proud on RDN Day
Happy RDN Day! Learn What Dietitians LOVE About Their Jobs

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