I just read a great article in U.S. News & World Report pointing out the differences between nutritionists and registered dietitians. There is an overuse of the term nutritionist, and, as a registered dietitian, you can bet I have a specific point of view on this topic.
Getting nutritional advice can be tricky, and I am bothered by the fact that many food companies and media outlets use nutritionist interchangeably with registered dietitian.
The definition of a registered dietitian is a professional who has completed at least four years of an undergraduate degree in nutritional sciences, an internship, and a national accreditation exam that is administered by the American Dietetic Association. Hospitals and other institutions are required by law to hire registered dietitians, because of this accreditation.
On the other hand, anyone can call himself a “nutritionist.” There is no national governing body that sets qualifications for those who call themselves nutritionists.
However, a certified nutrition specialist, or someone who has an advanced degree in nutrition or similar subject and has met the requirements set by the American College of Nutrition, can be a good source of nutritional advice. Just like a dietitian, they must participate in continuing education to maintain this title.
There is a place for nutritionists, diet coaches, and the like, but be sure to check an expert's credentials to ensure they are qualified to give accurate advice. Research, however, proves the importance of RDs. In fact, a small 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that frequent meetings with an RD significantly improved weight-loss efforts, even when compared to frequent weigh-ins.
All RDs have serious training, and the RDs I know are no-nonsense professionals who take what they do seriously. In fact, our fatal flaw is that we are, well, a little too intense about all things food-related. Oh, and we don’t lure you in with claims of “quick and easy weight loss,” give you any “fat-torching secrets,” or promote the supplements du jour. We just go with what the current science of the day says. Period.
But lucky for you, we also like sharing our knowledge with anyone wanting to learn about healthy eating. If you're looking for someone to help you alter your diet or lose weight, I would suggest finding an RD who is right for you at the American Dietetic Association’s website.