These days just about anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist!” But what does this really mean?

There is no nationally recognized list of standards for the education, training and continuing education requirements of nutrition experts except for the registered dietitian (RD). So each state must decide what to do and many have made no decisions. To date, only the “Registered Dietitian” credential requires undergraduate or graduate education in nutritional sciences from an accredited college or university, completion of an accredited professional internship (usually 900-1000+ hours), successful completion and passing of a national registration exam – similar to that of a registered nurse (RN) – and completion of continuing professional education units every 5 years – currently set at 75 hours for registered dietitians.

So how can you protect yourself?

Check out qualifications and credentials before your first visit. Ask your doctor for a referral to see a qualified nutrition professional – someone who is a registered dietitian (RD) or at least has a graduate degree in nutrition if not a registered dietitian. And see if the professional is covered under your current health insurance plan.

Until there is a National Standard for Nutritionists training and credentials required by all states – (Congress would need to make this happen) – these are the best ways to ensure you are seeing a qualified nutrition expert and to stay out of harm’s way.