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Can a Dietitian or Nutritionist Help You? Answer: Yes

Exercise and Nutrition
Author name: Lee Health

Posted:

National Nutrition Month graphic

March is National Nutrition Month, and many community members may be looking for a specialist to help plan diets and meals to improve their health.

But some terms may be confusing as you try to make your way. For instance, what is the difference between a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)?

Aikaterina Galeos, RDN, a Community Outreach dietitian with Lee Health, helps us navigate the subtle but important differences between these two types of food experts, as well as answer other questions in recognition of National Nutrition Month.

Q: What is the difference between a nutritionist and an RDN?

A: In most states, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist without formal education or credentialing. In Florida, RDs and RDNs must be credentialed and licensed with the Florida Division of Medical Quality Assurance.

The key thing to remember is that every Registered Dietitian/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist is a nutritionist, but not every nutritionist is an RD/RDN.

The reason it’s important to work with a credentialed RD/RDN is to make sure you get science-based nutrition education and counseling.  

Q: So, then, what’s the difference between an RD and RDN?

A: There is no difference, really. The terms are often used interchangeably because both dietitians and nutritionists are involved in the study of food and the way our diet influences our health.

In 2013, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics added the term “Nutritionist” to the RD credential to help consumers understand that dietitians are also nutritionists. Both RDs and RDNs are experts in food and nutrition. They work in many different specialties to meet their client’s needs, but both use appropriate science-based nutrition interventions.

Q: What does science-based mean?

A: Science-based means that RDs/RDNs develop their recommendations and guidance based on the most recent scientific studies that have been peer-reviewed. The medical community uses peer review as a quality control measure to make sure the research in a published study is trustworthy, and any medical treatments it offers are safe and effective for people.

Q: What are the educational requirements to become an RD/RDN?

A: First, you need to obtain a four-year degree, which includes a specially designed, accredited nutrition curriculum. Other requirements include:

  • Completing an extensive supervised program of practice at acute care facilities, long-term care facilities, foodservice organizations, community agencies, and other healthcare sites.
  • Passing a national registration examination.
  • Maintaining state licensure, as required by the state.
  • Continuing to develop your professional expertise by completing educational courses that meet standards set by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. RDs and RDNs must complete at least 75 hours of education every five years to maintain their license.
  • About half of all RDs/RDNs hold graduate degrees, and many have certifications in specialized fields, such as sports, pediatric, renal, oncology or gerontological nutrition.

Q: How can an RD/RDN help me?

A: As members of your healthcare team, RDs/RDNs are the experts that can guide you toward a nutrition program that’s sustainable and practical.   

  • Nutrition therapy is an important part of healthcare concerns such as pregnancy, heart disease, obesity, eating disorders, digestive disorders, allergies, liver disease, and wound healing. An RD/RDN can help you understand your condition and how the foods you choose might affect it. Plus, they can work with you to create an eating plan with the nutrients needed to manage your condition.
  • RDs/RDNs also treat diabetes and kidney disease with medical nutrition therapy called MNT. MNT includes a nutrition diagnosis as well as therapeutic and counseling services to help you manage your condition.
  • Also, RDs/RDNs are the go-to experts for healthy weight loss programs or anyone involved in any level of sports. They also work in the culinary field to provide classes and lessons on how to make your best meal in your own kitchen!

Lee Health offers cooking classes virtually and in-person through our Teaching Kitchens and Healthy Life Center. Visit www.LeeHealth.org/events/ to learn more.

Q: Will insurance pay for my visits with an RDN?

A: Some private insurance may offer MNT coverage. Ask your insurance company about these benefits.  Also, Medicare Part B covers visits with an RD/RDN when referred by a physician for diabetes or kidney disease.

RDs/RDNs continue to advocate for more services to be covered, and you can too, by contacting your representatives and insurance companies.

To learn more about nutrition, health and wellness, and to find resources to get you started, please visit our Healthy Life Centers page.


Aikaterina (Kat) Galeos, RDN, CSG, has been a registered dietitian for 16 years. She holds a master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition from The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). She is a Certified Specialist in Gerontological Nutrition and a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). She manages a teaching kitchen with Lee Health Coconut Point.

“I grew up in a Greek household and learned to cook and really appreciate home cooking from my mother. I love food, cooking, yoga, running, sweating, and teaching people about nutrition, food and health.”

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