The Nutritionist-Dietitian: Your Food Doctor

By Justinne Lou Go, RND

FOOD is communal, a universal language that brings people together regardless of race, cultural differences and social status. There are people (such as myself) who could go on talking the whole day once food is brought up in a conversation. Unfortunately, it’s quite the opposite for healthy eating information. Diet tips and advice just never seem to be definitive or conclusive enough. This is due to two major facts — first, Nutrition is a relatively young science that only began gaining more attention in the 60s and thus, is constantly evolving as more discoveries continue to unfold; second, the title “Nutritionist” was not being regulated for a long time in the past, especially in the United States whose food regulatory board has a great influence on the global level.

Nutrition professionals in the US were called “Registered Dietitians (RD),” affixed at the end of one’s name after passing the state licensure exam. Only recently, about two years ago, the professional title already included “Nutritionist” to address the nutrition misinformation pandemic that has permeated the nation. Fortunately, in the Philippines, the title for nutrition professionals has always been “Registered Nutritionist-Dietitian” indicated as “RND” in adjunct to the names of individuals who pass the national board licensure exam.

Many people—mostly fitness coaches, and even medical doctors—would claim to be nutrition experts without having gone through formal education or training and have gone on to publish books on how we should eat. This has greatly contributed to the multi-million dollar industry of fad diets and even the nutraceutical industry—ironically, at the expense of the public’s health as well as psychological well-being. If there’s one thing we shouldn’t be gullible about, it’s anything that has to do with our health.

Nutrition has a great impact on society, far reaching beyond just how we eat and what we eat. It impacts every aspect of our lives, simply because this is the core of our health. To show you how nutrition is important on the larger scale, the health status of a country is the parameter of its productivity and economic growth.

This article wishes to shed light on what it is to be a Nutritionist-Dietitian. Schools have been commemorating Nutrition Month annually for several decades now and yet many people are still clueless about the said profession—that it actually even exists.

For one to become a Nutritionist-Dietitian in the Philippines, he/she must complete a four-year academic program to earn the degree of Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics. After which, one must then pass the national licensure exam called BLEND (Board Licensure Examination for Nutritionist-Dietitians).

In the academe, the curriculum is built around the three major fields that a Nutritionist-Dietitian (ND) would commonly be immersed in—Clinical Nutrition, Foodservice, and Public Health Nutrition. Biochemistry is the backbone of the course as students and later, professionals, are expected to understand the science behind food—what goes on when food enters the body, how food affects the body. Cooking is part of the curriculum as well, though not the main skill in focus, but for students to develop meal planning skills and translate theoretical principles into actual meals that are therapeutic and nourishing to one’s body. As such, you can call us the food doctors.

Clinical Nutrition

Clinical practice is where the bulk of ND graduates end up in. This is most often in the hospital setting but it can also include private practice such as wellness clinics.

In the hospital, you will find the dietitians in the Dietary Department, also called the Food and Nutrition Services Department. The dietitians have two areas of responsibility—foodservice and clinical duties.

In foodservice duty, the dietitians create cycle menus, supervise the cooks, do inventory and purchasing of ingredients, and most importantly, screen each meal at the tray line before these will be dispatched to the patients.

In the clinical duty, dietitians are assigned to specific floors or areas where they do screening, assessment and diet counseling. In large private hospitals where international standards are being followed, dietitians are active members of the medical team for interdisciplinary and collaborative management of patients. They accompany the team during rounds for evaluation and monitoring of patients.

In private practice, NDs often cater to outpatient care or individuals with nutrition concerns — whether one has a disease or just general health concerns that do no require hospital care. This can be in a private clinic, wellness clinic or even in a coffee shop for freelance NDs, and is a more intensive management of one’s nutritional health. This is where personalized care can be well practiced as the ND and client spend more time together as they aim to achieve the client’s health goals.

Foodservice

The foodservice industry is another field where NDs thrive as they are needed for quality assurance and quality control. This is because food safety is part of the curriculum for Nutritionist-Dietitians.

In other scenarios, NDs can also be supervisors of food establishments such as fastfood companies, restaurants and catering companies.

Public Health Nutrition

Last, but not the least, NDs can serve the public in the field of Public Health Nutrition. They can work in government offices such as the Department of Health (DOH), the National Nutrition Council (NNC) or the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) as well as non-government organizations such as UNICEF, World Vision, etc.

NDs are deployed to Barangay Health Centers where they work with Barangay Nutrition Scholars and Barangay Health Workers in monitoring the nutritional health of the community, especially of children and mothers. Appropriate interventions are provided through existing governments programs or self-initiated activities such as home gardening, Mother’s class and feeding programs.

Besides these three major fields an ND can immerse in, the profession is actually a very broad specialty similar to being a doctor. An ND can specialize in a particular disease management such as diabetes, cardiovascular, cancer or renal care, to name a few. Other fields of interest can be sports nutrition, research, and the most recent, functional nutrition.

Many people have a misconception of this course/profession, often remarking, “Maayo diay ka mu luto! (So, you cook well!),” whenever they would encounter an ND student or a licensed professional. But, as you have just read, a Registered Nutritionist-Dietitian is an expert in what goes on with food once it enters the body and not just the aesthetics or technicals of how food is prepared.

So, I hope with this article, you will have gained a better understanding of what a Nutritionist-Dietitian is and in turn, learn to appreciate the profession and be able to tap into this resource appropriately.

Instagram: babeforfood

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