What exactly is an RDN, and why should I trust one?

Everybody eats. All day long, no matter what you do from sun up to sun down, at some point your body needs food and you will eat. You’ll repeat that every day for the rest of your life, and so you will naturally form opinions about your food and perhaps which ones are ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Your mother and your grandmother will tell you what to do to stay healthy; the fittest guy at the gym will swear he knows how to shred fat; catchy headlines and Google searches and talk show hosts will all offer ‘the key to weight loss!’ The enemy is fat! No, gluten! No, sugar!

I’ll give you a hint: if there was one key to overall health or weight loss, one simple meal plan to solve it all, whomever discovered it would be a trillionaire and you wouldn’t be reading this article. However, nutrition is much more complex than that. 

If you feel like there is an overwhelming amount of conflicting information out there, you’re right! That’s because there isn’t really one clearcut ‘healthy diet’ for everyone. Certain people DO need to cut out gluten, or watch how much potassium they eat, or strictly cut their sodium, or follow a medically-prescribed ketogenic diet to prevent seizures. However, deep Google dives will yield a lot of discordant information if you don’t know exactly what kind of nutrition information is a) pertinent to you, b) scientifically sound, and c) safe.

That’s why we need Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN). Most people don’t know that an RDN is different than a ‘nutritionist’ or a ‘health coach.’ I myself didn’t know the difference until I pursued this path professionally, but those three little letters — RDN — hold a lot of meaning about the quality of nutrition education and counseling my colleagues and I provide. To become an RDN, you must:

  1. Complete an undergraduate degree including about 90 semester hours (more than a standard major) of in-depth science and nutrition-focused curriculum
  2. Complete over 1200 hours of supervised professional practice internship working under dietitians in clinical settings (hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, dialysis centers), community locations (like WIC, Head Start, or Meals and Wheels programming for food security), and food service roles (implementing food safety standards and learning the managerial functions of food service directors)
  3. Pass a credentialing exam that covers principles of nutrition and food science, human anatomy and physiology, educational theory and application, counseling techniques, research techniques and interpretation, medical nutrition therapy for individuals in all stages of life and with varying diseases, employee and financial management skills, and menu creation and implementation just to name a few topics.
  4. Soon all RDNs will be required to hold Master’s degrees, though many dietitians (including myself) already hold a Master’s in areas like clinical nutrition, nutrition and food science, business, health care administration, or public health.

Other nutrition professions like ‘health coach’ or ‘nutritionist’ do not require the same degree of formal training (some have quick online courses that cover overall healthy eating without any explanation as to the scientific foundation of these principles or the medical implications). You may find some non-dietitian individuals who do have formal health education and experience, but you can’t be certain of the wealth of training your practitioner has completed unless he or she is a dietitian.

The New Jersey Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has launched a campaign to support Registered Dietitian Nutritionists as the nutrition expert– and I highly suggest you check out the launch video here!

Top 5 Food Blogs to Follow

If you eat like an RD, think like an RD, or just love food like an RD, then you need to be following these five foodie sites. There are thousands (if not more) incredible nutrition bloggers, food photographers, and media dietitians out there, but these are a few stand out options to get your nutrition fix.  Prepare yourself for some powerhouse dietitians, career inspiration for food-lovers, and a whole lot of entertainment.

Steph Langdon, WhatRDsDo.com:  This website is a platform to highlight the incredible careers of dietitians, as curated by Canadian dietitian Steph Langdon. Her mission is “to inspire people to become dietitians and inspire dietitians to aspire to achieve great things” — and she does just that with each detailed interview profiling standout RDs.

The Good Food Jobs blog, GoodFoodJobs.com/blogWhether looking for a food-first career on a rural farm or in a bustling city, GoodFoodJobs.com is the website for you, and their Gastrognomes blog component is a real hidden gem. Gastrognome, their combination of gastronomy + gnome, is defined as “a jovial individual whose main purpose on earth is to connect people who derive pleasure from good food,” and I’ve never heard a word that captures the soul of a foodie quite as well! The goal of this site is to highlight individuals who found their dream jobs through the website’s services, whether they work in agriculture, business, culinary arts, the media, nonprofits, or food production, and the profiles of these gastrognome provide fascinating inspiration.

Sally Kuzemchak, RealMomNutrition.com: This RD is one mother of a dietitian – and she has made her website a “judgment free zone” focused on nutrition in the home with an honest and realistic spin. From inspiring ‘snacktivism’ (upgrading our current junk food options) to providing the ultimate lunchbox guides, this is a great spot for parents that need support when feeding their family.

Alissa Rumsey, Alissarumsey.com:  Most of Alissa’s blog posts are dedicated to a very important facet of nutrition that stands in stark contrast to fad diet culture: her ‘ditch the diet’ mentality, which promotes intuitive eating by focusing on your own body cues. She has mastered nutrition media as a former Academy media spokesperson and frequent nutrition freelancer, so don’t be surprised if you recognize her already. Bonus: If you’re an aspiring nutrition entrepreneur, Alissa’s website is the place to go for tips on everything from social media strategy to freelancing resources.

The Sarcastic Nutritionist, Thesarcasticnutritionist.comThis one is a bit more irreverent, so get ready for sassy humor from this dietitian duo. Their line of merchandise features quips like “putting the RD in neRD” and “Calories don’t count when you drink with a dietitian.” There’s a bit of profanity to bring some punchlines home so be forewarned, but if you have an affinity for the edgy, you’ll enjoy every last item.

Bonus foodie site – Food Bites, @FoodBites on instagram: If you haven’t seen the food art on @FoodBites instagram yet, be ready to smile. Their food art takes creativity in the kitchen to the extreme!