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Dietitian Training

 

What Is a Registered Dietitian?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a dietitian is “a specialist in dietetics,” which is the science or art of applying the principles of nutrition to the diet. (4) Registered dietitians are also called registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs).

What types of clients do dietitians work with? Children or adults with a wide range of health concerns might choose to visit a dietitian, whether on their own or because they were referred to one by their primary doctors. Dietitians most often tend to work with people with one or more of the following health concerns:

Obesity or overweight

Food allergies, intolerances or sensitivities

Diabetes or prediabetes

Heart problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high triglycerides

Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder

Digestive issues, including inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome

During pregnancy or for other hormone-related problems

 

Due to the type of training that most receive, below are five key underlying beliefs that many dietitians have in common — which can be problematic:

1. The USDA’s MyPlate Is an Example of a Balanced Diet

A high percentage of dietitians work in hospitals or other health care settings and are tightly regulated in terms of what type of dietary advice they should offer to clients. Most have been trained to educate their patients about eating in a way that matches the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPlate guidelines (formerly known as “The Food Pyramid”). MyPlate is definitely an improvement from previous recommendations, but it still has its criticisms. These include the fact that MyPlate doesn’t emphasize how important the quality of foods are, still recommends processed low-fat dairy, limits intake of certain healthy fats, and doesn’t drive home the need to avoid processed foods and refined grains quite enough.

2. Calorie Reduction Is Most Important for Weight Loss

While this can’t be said about every dietitian, many stress the importance of focusing on calorie reduction above all else. Some still offer their clients advice about eating low-fat foods, artificially sweetened foods and other processed diet foods in order to reduce calorie intake as much as possible in hopes of causing weight loss. (10)

Rather than solely focusing on lowering calorie intake, I recommend people put their efforts towards eating unprocessed whole foods as much as possible, even those that might be more calorie-dense, such as healthy fats. Whole foods are nutrient-dense, tend to be high in volume and fiber, and are naturally filling. Eating whole foods therefore helps regulate calorie intake, usually without the need to count calories or eat “diet foods” that have been chemically altered.

3. Everything Is OK “In Moderation”

It’s not uncommon for dietitians to tell their clients that any food is OK to have as long as it’s only eaten moderately. For example, some dietitians might recommend having fast food, diet soda, pizza, etc., about once weekly in order to satisfy cravings. While it’s not likely that having something like pizza once per week will negatively impact someone’s health, this approach might not be helpful for reducing cravings for unhealthy foods in the long term or for determining healthier ways to satisfy them.

4. Saturated Fat Is Unhealthy

The USDA and many dietitians still recommend that foods with saturated fat be limited, yet some saturated fat in the diet can actually have health benefits. For example, traditional foods that provide saturated fat — such as raw full-fat dairy products, coconut oil and grass-fed beef — contain important nutrients that help the body in various ways. Some of the benefits of saturated fatty acids include building cell membranes, helping protect bones, protecting the liver from alcohol and other toxins, helping with sex hormone production, enhancing the immune system, and retaining cognitive health.

5. Salt/Sodium Is Unhealthy

Too much sodium can definitely be a problem for people with a history of conditions like high blood pressure or edema, but it’s still important to remember that sodium is an essential mineral and we need a certain level in our diets to remain in balance. If unprocessed foods are kept to a minimum — such as canned soups or veggies, processed meats and cold cuts, and bottled condiments — then adding some real sea salt to freshly prepared foods should not be thought of as a problem.