How to ID a Real Nutritionist

Happy Registered Dietitian day to all of my smart, fabulous, hard working RDN (registered dietitian nutritionist) friends and colleagues out there!  How cool is it that we have our own day?  RDNs work hard to educate the public about healthy eating, and present scientifically backed facts and advice about food and health.  Our advice might not always be all sexy and mind blowing, but it’s sound and based on research, and that’s what sets apart from many other “nutritionists”.

Today’s post is reprinted with permission from an RDN colleague, Julie Upton MS RD.  Julie is a writer, author, nutrition spokesperson and co-owner of Appetite for Health. I love her advice about how to identify a real nutritionist by the things they say.


Five Things a Dietitian Would NEVER Say  

By Julie Upton, MS, RD, of Appetite for Health


As a registered dietitian, I spend much of my day helping clear up confusion around which foods are healthy (and which are not). As more and more people hit the Internet to consume and share (via social media) food and nutrition information, misinformation is spreading faster than the latest Grumpy Cat meme: One week, maple water is the best thing for your health, the next it’s coconut oil, and now…bone broth.

So, where does all this nutrition hype come from? Many times it stems from a popular blogger, celebrity or website that highlights a new food trend. The buzz is generally based on preliminary or flimsy (poorly designed) research or simply anecdotal information.

Unfortunately, because anyone can claim they’re a “nutritionist,” this misinformation can pose a health threat. In some cases, adding trendy foods to one’s diet may elevate risk factors for chronic diseases. And eliminating entire food groups, as is often recommended without justification, can lead to nutrient deficiencies.

Here are five common phrases I’ve heard five “nutritionists” say (these are things a dietitian would never say.):

  • It works for me…so it will for you, too.

Just because the so-called expert lost a lot of weight or improved their health doesn’t mean their trick will work for you. A one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition generally works for no one. Nutrition recommendations should be individualized, based on one’s genetic makeup, age, sex, food preferences and lifestyle.

Anyone who believes that a particular type of diet would be beneficial for everyone makes no scientific sense. As a dietitian, I don’t expect an Olympic athlete or cardiac rehab patient to eat like me. Instead, I provide an personalized approach to help each client achieve his or her individual health goals.

  • I have no formal training in nutrition.

While all registered dietitians can be called nutritionists, not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. To be a registered dietitian nutritionist(RDN), you must have completed a four-year Bachelor’s degree in nutrition science and complete supervised training in an accredited program that includes clinical and community settings. In addition, all RDNs have passed the national comprehensive exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. RDNs must also complete continuing education requirements to maintain our RDN credential.

The term “nutritionist” is not accredited. In fact, it may represent someone who has taken an online certification course or it could be someone who feels entitled to call themselves a “nutritionist.” If your nutritionist isn’t qualified to work for a hospital or physician’s office, that’s cause for concern.


  •  You can’t trust the medical “establishment.”

When someone uses charged statements like “If you want the real truth…,” or “The FDA is using us as guinea pigs,” it’s most likely not credible. Trusted health organizations like the American Heart Association, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health develop nutrition recommendations based on the overwhelming peer-reviewed evidence and can, in fact, be trusted. While it’s true that as the science evolves, recommendations may be updated, what reputable health organizations are recommending are evidence-based.


  • The food industry fills our foods with toxic, addictive and cancer-causing ingredients that are essentially unregulated.

“Toxic,” “Cancer-Causing,” “Made from Petroleum.” These are terms often used by so-called nutrition experts to describe ingredients in the foods we eat every day. The statements are often misleading and an exaggerated s-t-r-e-t-c-h of the truth designed to raise fear about our food supply and the government agencies that oversee the safety of our food.

However, a real nutrition pro will focus on your personal diet, and assist you in finding the right foods—in the right amounts—to help you achieve your health goals. When you follow healthy eating principles, it’s great to be aware of what’s in your food, so that you can make informed food choices, but no one should be fearful of the U.S. food supply. For the most part, ingredients singled out by some watchdog groups are generally found in soft drinks, fast food and other foods that aren’t on most RDs’ recommended lists of foods to enjoy.

  • This (____fill in the blank recommendation) helps “brain fog,” “elevate energy,” “leaky gut, ”“adrenal fatigue,” “acid-base balance.”

Often times, I can identify a non-dietitian just by the terms they use to promote a food or their diet philosophy. They will use non-medical terms that sound intriguing but can’t be proven effective, as there Is no standard diagnosis for terms they use, like leaky gut or adrenal fatigue. In fact, these highly subjective terms are not even recognized by most qualified medical professionals.

As dietitians, we are trained to treat risk factors for chronic conditions that have been proven effective through research. These include risk factors like overweight and obesity; elevated blood glucose and insulin; high blood pressure, elevated LDL-cholesterol or C-reactive protein and other clinically measurable risk factors for diseases.


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  1. Great info! i’m a nutrition specialist with a degree in nutrition and I always have to tell people that I am not the same as a “nutritionist.” Wish there was a better term for both!

    1. Hi Lindsay and thanks for visiting. There’s definitely lots of confusion about the title “nutritionist”. Whether you have an RD, or a specialized degree in nutrition, it’s important to educate the public about who they’re getting advice from! Love your website BTW 🙂

  2. Great post! I get sooooo frustrated with the nutrition info that is spread around the Internet (from unqualified people) and social media. Grrr. Sharing this!

    1. Thanks so much Melanie! I couldn’t agree more! Thanks for sharing it 🙂

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