can you trust your nutritionist?

Jessica Penner, RDSmarten Up3 Comments

can you trust your nutritionist

There are a lot of people out there willing to offer nutrition advice, and not all of them are actually qualified to do so.  

But it’s very easy to tell whether your nutritionist is qualified, just look for those two magic letters after their name… R. D.  

That’s all the information you need.  It indicates you’ve found a Registered Dietitian.

I’m sure you’re thinking “yeah right Jessica Penner, RD, aren’t you a tad biased?”  Probably.  But read on and decide for yourself.  

Here’s the process to become a Registered Dietitian:

  1. Enroll in a university to establish a minimum GPA (grade point average)
  2. Get accepted to a four year nutrition/dietetics program
  3. Complete your degree in nutrition/dietetics, with courses in topics like:
    • anatomy and physiology (understanding how the body works)
    • chemistry and biochemistry (understanding food components and metabolic processes/reactions)
    • nutrition through the lifecycle (nutrients of concern for different stages of life)
    • nutrition for diseases states (understanding how what we eat can contribute to disease and vice versa)
    • food technology (the science behind how food is made)
  4. Get accepted in a highly competitive dietetic internship program (only 20 students accepted in all of Manitoba, for example)
  5. Complete 10 month internship program
  6. Pass the 6 hour national licensing exam

Congrats, you’re a Registered Dietitian!  Oh, you think you’re done now? Nope!

Now you must submit records to show the measures you’ve taken to pursue professional development (ie. stay current on nutrition knowledge), every year, for as long as you remain an RD.

Contrast this to the process to become a nutritionist:

  1. Call yourself a nutritionist

Have you read any of my other articles?  If so, you know enough about nutrition to call yourself a nutritionist.  Oh, you haven’t read anything else yet?  That’s ok, you can still call yourself a nutritionist.

Get the picture?  Anybody can call themselves a nutritionist.  

Now, there are some very well educated non-RDs out there who have four year dietetic degrees.  They could even have Masters or PhD level education from reputable institutions.  They may have been denied a spot in the competitive RD internship program, or they may have chosen not to pursue becoming an RD, because they don’t feel their career path requires it.

These nutritionists are educated enough to give reliable nutrition advice.  So if your nutritionist isn’t an RD, it may not be a problem, just check to see that they have at least a four year degree, making sure to delve into their education history so that you know that the institution they graduated from is properly accredited.  

Or, just find an RD to help.  We’re more than willing.

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3 Comments on “can you trust your nutritionist?”

  1. Hi Jessica,
    I agree with you that not everyone who calls themselves a “nutritionist” is bona fide. However, I disagree with your statement that “to become a nutritionist: 1. Call yourself a nutritionist.”

    Holistic Nutritionists who have graduated from a reputable college (and taken nutrition, anatomy, chemistry, physiology and everything you mention in #3 above) are also very qualified to provide good nutrition information. They may look at food and health from a slightly different angle (like the difference between GP doctors and Naturopathic doctors), but they are qualified and capable of giving good nutrition information. Holistic Nutritionists look at the whole person (mind, body, spirit) because everything affects everything else.

    As you mention, no matter who you talk to, it’s important to know what their education/training/experience is and that they haven’t just read a few books and declare themselves a ‘nutritionist’.

    Thanks for your blog!

    1. Hi Karen,
      Thank you for taking the time to read and connect! Yes, there are definitely nutritionists who have completed certification. I am not entirely familiar with the programs that exist for such. I have been trying to think of a good analogy for the situation. The best I have come up with is that of therapists and psychologists. All psychologists are therapists but not all therapists are psychologists. With a psychologist, you can be assured of a certain level of education and training while the same can not be said of a therapist. Not to say that therapists don’t have their place.There are some really great therapists out there who do wonderful work! But they may not have the knowledge or training to address some needs or situations. I hope that makes sense.

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