What Exactly is a Dietitian?

We frequently rely on insight from professionals who are experts on food-related topics. These experts help answer questions about all things food – how it’s produced, why farmers use specific practices and technology, and what’s healthy. One such expert we call on for food facts is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). We have several RDNs in our database who can speak to a number of issues. But what exactly is a dietitian? We asked Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD to explain why this profession is so critical when it comes to finding out about food.

Carolyn O’Neil, RD: “Registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) are advocates for advancing the nutritional status of Americans and people around the world. We provide sound nutritional advice, whether it’s for weight loss, managing chronic diseases, or navigating food allergies or intolerances. So what makes us experts?

Registered dietitian nutritionists meet stringent academic and professional requirements, including earning at least a bachelor’s degree, completing a supervised practice program and passing a registration examination. RDNs must also complete continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration. More than half of all RDNs have also earned master’s degrees or higher.

“It’s no secret that the nutritional health of our nation is of peak concern,” said registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Tamara Melton. “That’s why it’s important to take a moment to remind consumers where they can go to seek expert clarification in the muddy sea of nutrition advice – the registered dietitian nutritionist.”

Nutritionist vs Dietitian

“Virtually anyone can call him or herself a ‘nutritionist,'” Melton said. “In these cases, consumers don’t know if the individual has five minutes or five years of experience – or any training at all. But when you consult a registered dietitian nutritionist, you can know you are receiving advice from an educated, trained and trusted expert.”

The majority of RDNs work in the treatment and prevention of disease (administering medical nutrition therapy, as part of medical teams), often in hospitals, HMOs, public health clinics, nursing homes or other health care facilities. Additionally, RDNs work throughout the community in schools, fitness centers, food management, food industry, universities, research and private practice.

“Consumers and health professional alike can seek the expert guidance of an RDN virtually anywhere and anytime food plays a role” Melton said. “From football fields to crop fields, school cafeterias to home kitchens, grocery store aisles to the halls of Congress, RDNs are working to help all Americans improve their health, prevent and manage disease and achieve and maintain a healthy weight, all through the power of food and nutrition.”

If you need a pro to help you remember what you should be eating for good health and great taste, I suggest working with a registered dietitian. You’ve got a hair dresser, right? Favorite nail place? Dental hygienist? Maybe even a personal trainer? How about adding an RDN to your health and beauty team?

To learn more about what a registered dietitian nutritionist can do for you and find an RDN in your area, visit