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Sound Nutrition Advice

It can be a powerful experience to be a registered dietitian (RD). People walk away from you in the grocery store before you have a chance to smile and say "hi", ask for half portions if you are behind them in the lunch line, or attempt to hide their practically empty Mt. Dew bottle when they see you walking towards them in the hallway. An RD does not have to utter a single word yet people instantly feel guilty about the slice of chocolate cake on their lunch tray.

We come in different shapes and sizes. Some of us exercise faithfully and take an assortment of vitamin supplements and others park by the back door and try to get adequate nutrition through food alone. Each RD has his/her own opinion about the Atkins diet and gastric bypass surgery, however, we all started in the same academic environment at one time.

In order to become a RD one must complete a bachelor's degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management, or a related area. Supervised experience is also part of the requirements to becoming a RD. Some academic programs combine the supervised practice experience into the bachelor's program. For example, you take classes in community nutrition and then spend 6-8 weeks in community setting such as public health. At the end of 4-5 years a bachelor's degree is earned and the supervised experience is completed as well. The other option is to receive a bachelor's degree and then be accepted into an internship program for a minimum of 900 hours. This usually runs 6-12 months if attending full time. Most of the internships are unpaid. Many facilities charge to be a part of the intern program.

Once the supervised experience is completed, the final step in the process is passing a national test. Some states require licensure, especially if working in a clinic or long term care facility. This involves paper work and payment of fees. Every 5 years a RD must complete 75 hours of continuing education to maintain registration status.

There is a wide variety of job opportunities for registered dietitians including community, clinical, research, food service and management settings. Typically, one gets a flavor of each of these during the internship. Examples in community nutrition include public health, WIC, home visits, speaking to community organizations, or involvement in after school programs. Clinical is the typical hospital or outpatient clinic dietitian (those with diabetes are likely very familiar with RD visits). Long term care (LTC) or assisted living facilities also look to hire RD's for menu planning or high risk patient management. Food service includes hospital, school, prisons, or LTC menu planning and/or management of the employees in the department.

Nutritionist is a common term throw around but this is a vague title. Basically anyone talking about nutrition related subjects could call themselves a nutritionist because it is not legally protected term. This is important to know because often in the media: Internet, newspapers and magazines alike, nutritionists are free to voice their opinion but it does not mean it is sound advice. This person could hold a masters degree in nutrition but never completed the process to becoming a RD or may be a self proclaimed expert without any formal nutrition education. A person with RD or MD behind his/her name is going to be a more reliable resource.

In the future, articles in this column will include any variety of health and nutrition related topics. Dietitians are known for talking about a single food for hours! I look forward to sharing recipes and tips but also clarifying misconceptions involving nutrition. There are constantly new studies being published and the media is not always clear on what the studies suggest. Should you eat eggs? Is chocolate really good for you? Stay tuned to find out!