A registered dietitian is shown holding a basket of vegetables and flexing his right arm.
The registered dietitian is something of a food warrior, heartily engaged in the battle against disease and illness. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

The role of the nutrition professional is ever-growing and ever-changing, which means that nutrition experts and their clients can expect to enjoy many more years of learning and discovery.

This raises a good question: Who, exactly, is a nutrition expert these days?

The registered dietitian and registered dietitian nutritionist are one and the same. They’re considered experts in the field of nutrition. (For our purposes here, we’ll stick to the term registered dietitian.)

While “nutritionist” is the commonly used title for people with a knowledge of nutrition, it’s important to clarify that all registered dietitian and registered dietitian nutritionists are in fact nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians or registered dietitian nutritionists.

A registered dietitian has a bachelor’s degree and has completed the required dietetic coursework, as well as 900 to 1,200 hours of supervised practice. The successful completion of a national exam is also required for this certification.

Medical nutrition therapy

Medical nutrition therapy is a special discipline that focuses on the health and well-being of patients within a hospital, clinic, home care or extended care setting.

In this type of setting, registered dietitians are often referred to as clinical experts, practicing medical nutrition therapy.

Registered dietitians can address several disease states and incorporate education and goal settings for patients with any number of illnesses, whether acute or chronic.

A registered dietitian in a clinical setting can help a wide variety of patients. Just a few examples:

  • A cancer patient fighting weight loss.
  • A diabetic who needs to effectively count carbs.
  • A kidney disease patient trying to balance electrolytes.
  • A cystic fibrosis patient in need of pancreatic enzyme management for nutrition absorption.

Registered dietitians work directly with the public to provide nutrition education, and they work closely with the entire medical team behind the scenes to help prevent and manage disease.


Registered dietitians will only work with evidenced-based practice.

Evidenced-based practice integrates three basic principles:

  • It relies on the best available research evidence to determine the ideal treatment. Did the treatment work? Why or why not?
  • It uses clinical expertise to rapidly identify each patient’s unique health state and diagnosis.
  • It recognizes the patient’s risks and benefits under potential interventions, while also accounting for the patient’s preferences and values.

A registered dietitian isn’t likely to recommend a fad diet or anything of the sort, as those aren’t typically part of evidenced-based practice.

Registered dietitians don’t just work in a hospital or clinical settings. They can be found in a wide array of other practice settings, including:

  • Business and media.
  • Community and public health.
  • Private practice.
  • Food service.
  • Integrative and functional medicine.
  • Military service.
  • Nutrition informatics and technology.
  • Preventative care/wellness.
  • Research.
  • School nutrition.
  • Sports nutrition.
  • Government organizations.
  • Sustainable health, including food and water systems.
  • Universities and academia.

Registered dietitians play a critical role throughout the public sector. As leading nutrition experts, they help us incorporate healthful food supplies, food choices and eating behaviors into our daily habits—all to ensure we enjoy happier, healthier lives.