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Sep 29, 2023

What is a Registered Dietitian?

Building a healthy relationship with food is important at all stages of life, especially from toddler to young adulthood. The internet and social media have volumes of information about nutrition. Yet, with so much information from so many sources, it can be confusing to determine who are the real experts to help parents and growing children address good eating habits.

Fortunately, the answer is simple: Registered Dietitians (RDs) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN).*

A Registered Dietitian is a person who has a degree in nutrition science that meets the requirements of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, has completed a clinical internship, and is credentialed by the Commission on Dietetic Registration by passing a rigorous examination. Once credentialed, registered dietitians use their extensive knowledge at community health centers, hospitals, schools, food service, WIC programs, and other locations.

Registered dietitians educate people about the benefits of good eating habits and address diet-related problems in various ways.

This blog looks at the role of a registered dietitian in a community health center setting and how they work with providers, families, and individuals to address health concerns, medical conditions, and education for making healthy food choices.

Is a Registered Dietitian a Doctor?

A registered dietitian is a food and nutrition expert who uses the science of nutrition to support healthy living through good eating habits. To earn the RD credential, RDs must fulfill several academic and professional requirements, including a bachelor’s degree with coursework in nutrition sciences, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology and more.

Registered Dietitians are experts in how food and nutrition relate to overall health. RDs educate and counsel people using evidence-based research and professional resources that guide our recommendations. To maintain their credential, RDs complete continuing professional education every five years that keeps them abreast of the most accurate, up to date information.

Did you know TrueCare has Registered Dietitians on staff? Ask your pediatrician about meeting with one of our RDs for any food or diet-related concerns.

There is an abundance, and quite possibly an excess, of information on the World Wide Web on food and nutrition. You can read about nutrition online, in the newspaper or in magazines, on social media, etc. It is available at your fingertips – all you have to do is search. Many health professionals claim to be nutritionists but only a Registered Dietitian can claim to be credentialed nutrition expert.

When researching nutrition, it is important to check your source – is the health provider credentialed who is offering information? Is the article or video on TikTok from a credible medical source? There are real risks to health and safety if false or bad information is communicated. Your health could be at risk and suffer if you follow advice from noncredible sources.

How Does a Dietitian Help?

When children are diagnosed with medical conditions, nutrition is a very important part of managing that condition. Many children have food allergies. In these cases, it can be hard to know which foods are best for the individual needs of a child. Other diagnoses can include Crohn’s, Celiac disease, colitis, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome, among others.

Among other diseases, diabetes requires special attention. Medical Nutrition Therapy is defined as a “nutrition-based treatment provided by a registered dietitian nutritionist.” It includes “a nutrition diagnosis as well as therapeutic and counseling services” to help manage diabetes.

Dietitians are qualified to provide Medical Nutrition Therapy to improve certain medical conditions and alter a patient’s nutrition based on medical issues or individual goals. For example, a registered dietitian can help patients learn how to read food labels and how to select foods that control carbohydrate intake to manage blood sugar (also known as blood glucose) for the diabetic patient. When families learn to choose foods that offer nutrients and help manage a medical condition, everyone has a healthier lifestyle.

What does a Registered Dietitian Do?

RDs who integrate with pediatric care also advise families on how to develop healthy eating habits, address food allergies, and prevent and treat health issues such as diabetes and obesity. Their work with patients can also be reviewed in the health record by the patient’s pediatrician.

Common nutritional concerns that RDs address include:

  • Nutrients – A balanced diet should include all essential nutrients, including protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Imbalances may cause poor physical growth, tooth decay, being underweight or overweight, obesity, constipation, or changes in bowel habits.
  • Poor Diet – Poor diets may also result in behavioral problems, delays in emotional and psychological development, insufficient sleep, and learning problems in school.

What are Common issues Registered Dietitians Help With?

  • Gluten sensitivity. Gluten-free diets may not provide all necessary nutrients. RDs analyze the child’s diet and add foods that contain the missing nutrients while remaining gluten-free.
  • Picky eaters. RDs offer tips to help kids try new foods or a variety of foods, among other parental concerns with the “picky eater phase.”
  • Unhealthy food choices at school. Many schools serve sugary, fatty foods at lunch time and school functions such as bake sales. RDs help schools develop balanced menus for students, and conduct cooking classes so parents and children can learn how to make healthy foods at home.
  • Weight control. RDs evaluate patients’ current diet and lifestyle and provide nutrition counseling and education to help them achieve weight goals. RDs also counsel patients in lifestyle and dietary changes necessary before and after bariatric surgery.
  • Food and sports. Young athletes often choose unhealthy foods or supplements thinking it will help improve their performance. RDs educate coaches and athletes on appropriate meals and snacks that keep youngsters fit.
  • Medical nutrition therapy. For patients diagnosed with a medical condition such as Type I or Type II diabetes, Crohn’s disease, colitis, hypertension, heart or renal disease, require a tube feeding, bariatric surgery, and for many other conditions, RDs can provide Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT). MNT is used to help patients optimize their health by using food and diet as part of their clinical therapy.

5 Tips for Preparing to see a Registered Dietitian

To get the best results from working with a dietitian:

  1. Keep a food journal. Track meals and snacks every day.
  2. Keep a positive attitude. Be open and honest with the dietitian about eating habits.
  3. Create a list of medications and supplements you take. Include the precise names and dosages to help your dietitian understand what plans may work best for you.
  4. Be realistic. Some dietary plans work for a while and then stop working. Others may not work at all. Be open to trying new approaches when necessary.
  5. Establish personal nutrition goals. Think about how you want to look and feel at optimal health and share your short- and long-term goals with your dietitian.

Let TrueCare Registered Dietitians Help!

The TrueCare Pediatrics Department has RDs on staff ready to help your child, adolescent, or young adult. Focused on prevention and counseling, our RDs have the training and experience to keep your children on the path to good eating and good health. They can answer all your questions as a parent and provide nutrition education. Ask your provider about our Nutrition Services at your next appointment.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – Healthful Eating Habits for Kids
KidsHealth – Healthy Eating for Parents and Kids
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Giving Children and Adolescents a Healthy Start Through Nutrition
Commission on Dietetic Registration

* The registered dietitian (RD) and registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) credentials have identical meanings. “Nutritionist” was added to RD for the purpose of encompassing a broader concept of wellness, plus the prevention and treatment of conditions. In this article, we use RD to mean both RD and RDN.

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Jessica L. Randalls, PA
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