Basic guide: What do dietitians & nutritionists do?
Put simply, both dietitians and nutritionists are experts in food and nutrition.
They advise people on what to eat in order to lead a healthy lifestyle or achieve a specific health-related goal.
Duties of dietitians and nutritionists
Dietitians and nutritionists typically do the following:
Assess patients’ and clients’ health needs and diet
Counsel patients on nutrition issues and healthy eating habits
Develop meal plans, taking both cost and clients’ preferences into account
Evaluate the effects of meal plans and change the plans as needed
Promote better nutrition by speaking to groups about diet, nutrition, and the relationship between good eating habits and preventing or managing specific diseases
Keep up with the latest nutritional science research
Write reports to document patient progress
Dietitians and nutritionists evaluate the health of their clients. Based on their findings, dietitians and nutritionists advise clients on which foods to eat—and those foods to avoid—to improve their health.
Some dietitians and nutritionists provide customized information for specific individuals. For example, a dietitian or nutritionist might teach a client with high blood pressure how to use less salt when preparing meals. Others work with groups of people who have similar needs.
For example, a dietitian or nutritionist might plan a diet with limited fat and sugar to help patients lose weight. They may work with other healthcare professionals to coordinate patient care.
Dietitians and nutritionists who are self-employed may meet with patients, or they may work as consultants for a variety of organizations. They may need to spend time on marketing and other business-related tasks, such as scheduling appointments and preparing informational materials for clients.
Although many dietitians and nutritionists do similar tasks, there are several specialties within the occupations. The following are examples of types of dietitians and nutritionists:
Clinical dietitians and nutritionists provide medical nutrition therapy. They work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics, private practice, and other institutions. They create nutritional programs based on the health needs of patients or residents and counsel patients on how to lead a healthier lifestyle. Clinical dietitians and nutritionists may further specialize, such as working only with patients with kidney diseases or those with diabetes.
Community dietitians and nutritionists develop programs and counsel the public on topics related to food and nutrition. They often work with specific groups of people, such as adolescents or the elderly. They work in public health clinics, government and nonprofit agencies, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and other settings.
Management dietitians plan meal programs. They work in food service settings such as cafeterias, hospitals, prisons, and schools. They may be responsible for buying food and for carrying out other business-related tasks such as budgeting. Management dietitians may oversee kitchen staff or other dietitians.