March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
The majority of registered dietitian nutritionists work in the treatment and prevention of disease — administering nutrition therapy as part of medical teams — often in hospitals, HMOs, private practice or other health care facilities. In addition, many RDNs work in community and public health settings and academia and research, with a growing number working with food and nutrition industry and business, journalism, sports nutrition, corporate wellness programs and other non-traditional work settings.
In other words, RDNs contribute their food and nutrition expertise in a wide variety of settings throughout the community. Here's how:
As part of the health care team, RDNs working in the hospital setting educate patients about nutrition, administer medical nutrition therapy, provide nutrition support and evaluate critical care. They may also manage the foodservice operations in these settings, overseeing everything from food purchasing and preparation to managing staff.
Learning the importance of good nutrition early on is key for lifelong health. RDNs often work as school foodservice directors, or work closely with the director, to create healthy menus and help administrators create and revise wellness policies. They also teach classes and develop nutrition education programming for students and faculty.
Community and Public Health Centers
RDNs can be found at community health centers and public health settings teaching, monitoring and advising the public and helping improve their quality of life through healthy eating habits. They also work at Head Start and Early Childhood Education Programs guiding childhood nutrition programs.
Believe it or not, Medicare regulations actually mandate that nursing homes employ a registered dietitian nutritionist. As such, RDNs are key members of the care team, evaluating the overall menu and catering to the diets of high-risk residents.
Registered dietitian nutritionists looking for a captive audience often find just that while working at fitness centers, where they educate clients about the connection between food, fitness and health. Many also are certified in fitness or own their own fitness center. Beyond the gym, RDNs are often hired to work with professional sports teams on menu planning, weight management, performance enhancement, recovery and medical nutrition therapy to complement athletes' training.
Food and Nutrition-Related Business
In food and nutrition-related businesses and industries, RDNs work in communications, consumer affairs, public relations, marketing, product development or consulting with chefs in restaurants and culinary schools. Supermarkets employ RDNs to provide in-store nutrition counseling and answer customers' dietary questions.
RDNs with a classroom calling often teach physician's assistants, nurses, dietetics students, dentists and others the sophisticated science of food and nutrition.
Whether at food or pharmaceutical companies, universities or hospitals, RDNs who choose to go into the research field will find themselves directing or conducting experiments to answer critical nutrition questions and find alternative foods or nutrition recommendations for the public.
Private Practice and Consulting
Many RDNs are drawn to the field as a way to be their own boss. Working under contract with health care or food companies or in their own business, RDNs may provide services to foodservice or restaurant managers, food vendors and distributors, athletes, long term care residents or company employees. Private practice RDNs provide individual client counseling, too, and may work with physician offices providing medical nutrition therapy.
RDNs bring a scientific and practical understanding of food and nutrition to the culinary landscape, making them extremely well-equipped to take on the challenge of training to become a chef or cook. Many world renowned chefs, recognizing the need to understand how the food they cook affects their customers, seek out nutrition education and eventually combine their passions as RDNs.
RDNs are often called on by major media outlets as expert sources on food and nutrition and may be asked to serve as spokespeople for the Academy, acting as the face of the association. They also may be asked to serve as contributing editors for print and online publications, and some are journalists themselves. Plus, hundreds of RDNs are published book authors.
Integrative and Functional Medicine
RDNs with an interest in an integrated and personalized approach to nutrition, health and healing may be interested in the field of Integrative and Functional Medical Nutrition Therapy. The philosophy centers on a holistic "food as medicine" approach to wellness, and is based in the integrative medicine model, centered on whole-food therapies, targeted supplements and mind-body modalities.
RDNs are heavily involved in the field of nutrition informatics, working to enhance the retrieval, organization, storage and optimum use of information, data and knowledge for food and nutrition-related problem solving and decision making.