By Justinne Lou Go, RND
I AM so excited for this month because, if you didn’t know, it’s Nutrition Month in the Philippines! So, for the whole month, I’m going to be putting the spotlight on nutrition and my beloved profession as I’ve observed that many people still don’t seem to have much idea about what Nutritionist-Dietitians really do and what true nutrition is really about.
Based on personal encounters and experience, when people find out that I’m a Nutritionist-Dietitian, I get remarks such as “Oh, so you cook well!” or “So, do you count calories whenever you eat?” And many tend to become more conscious about their food choices when one is dining with them. Most people seem to have an impression that nutritionists are either good cooks or that we are all about calorie counting. However, there’s more to Nutritionist-Dietitians than what you probably perceive.
If there is much confusion on nutrition these days, there is even more oblivion on what Nutritionist-Dietitians really are. Just from the title itself, people can’t tell which is which, whether there is a difference between a nutritionist from a dietitian. Most of the time, people are only familiar with either one of titles and they’re not even sure of the meaning. And yes, there is a distinct difference between the two.
Only until recently, the title “nutritionist” has not been regulated in the United States and across many other countries for the longest time. This is the reason why anybody could claim to be a nutritionist without even having undergone formal education and training on this field. And I believe this is what spawned the fad diet industry that has been misleading the public over the years, with diet book authors who are not actually dietitians. Although many of the fad diet founders and authors are medical doctors, the fact is that medical doctors only spend a few hours on the nutrition subject throughout their academic life and they would even admit this. I am not saying this to discount the authority of doctors in the medical field, but they are just not the right professionals to approach for dietary advice. To this day, all the nutrition misinformation that has been spread by unqualified authors is among the greatest dilemmas that Nutritionist-Dietitians have to deal with and try to reverse when meeting clients who have bought into the false information.
In the United States, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND, formerly the American Dietetic Association) is the regulating body for the nutrition and dietetics profession. Before the title “nutritionist” was finally regulated, a licensed dietitian had the initials “RD” after his surname, representing the professional title of Registered Dietitian. With the regulation of the nutritionist title, this was added to the professional title, which is now Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN).
Previously, a nutritionist is one who claims to be a nutrition expert usually from self-study or through a certification course that may not be accredited by the official regulating body (AND). For one to be an RDN, one must have passed a board exam and completed at least one year of intensive training in the field.
The Philippines takes after the requirements of the AND. However, we are fortunate to have both nutrition and dietetics integrated into the curriculum of the baccalaureate degree even before the “nutritionist” title was regulated in the U.S. It is a four-year course requiring graduates to pass a licensure exam to be able to obtain the professional title of Registered Nutritionist-Dietitian (RND) after their surname.
Basically, the main difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian is the scope and degree of their training. A nutritionist is one who advises people on their food behavior and can guide people with general nutrition principles. On the other hand, a dietitian is someone who has obtained a baccalaureate degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, has accomplished intensive training in the field for at least a year, specifically in three areas — the foodservice setting, clinical setting (hospitals), and public health/community setting—and has passed the board exam. Thus, a dietitian can prescribe disease-specific nutrition management across all age groups.
So, although Nutritionist and Dietitian are used interchangeably in the Philippines, this is not appropriate in many countries abroad. All dietitians are nutritionists but not all nutritionists are dietitians.
It’s good to know the difference because it guides you in choosing your sources for nutrition and health information. So, next time someone gives you nutrition or diet advice, check on their credentials whether they have actually finished a degree in nutrition and dietetics and ask about their experience in the field. For health concerns related to nutrition, it would be best to approach a Registered Nutritionist-Dietitian (RND). My next article will talk about common health concerns you would be advised to see an RND for, including health issues that may not seem to be related to nutrition but actually are.