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How to Find a Celiac Disease Dietitian / Nutritionist

For Patients Who Are Gluten-Free, Nutritionist Counseling Is Essential

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Updated April 27, 2009

People with celiac disease face complicated nutritional challenges, even if they are following the gluten-free diet. First, they must recover (as much as possible) from the nutrient malabsorption that occurred while they were still eating gluten, which might have caused anemia, low bone mineral density and osteoporosis, vitamin deficiencies, and other problems. As if that weren’t enough, unlike gluten-containing products in the supermarket, few commercial gluten-free products are enriched or fortified with extra vitamins, making it difficult for people with celiac disease to get enough vitamins in their diet.

Gluten-free products are often low in B vitamins, calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fiber. In fact, research has shown that people with celiac disease are at risk for several side effects of the gluten-free diet, including an increased incidence of obesity.

Why a Dietitian Is Important for Your Health

Because of all these nutritional risks, the American Celiac Disease Alliance, the Digestive Disease National Coalition, the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America, and many individual doctors recommend that a registered dietitian should be part of the health care team that monitors the patient’s nutritional status and compliance with the diet.

Furthermore, studies show that for some people with celiac disease, a major reason why they can’t stay gluten-free is that they don’t understand the diet. Wouldn’t it be a relief to get some help from a professional?

What’s the Difference between a Nutritionist and a Dietitian, and Which Should I See?

In the U.S., people with any disease, including celiac disease, who need nutritional counseling should consult a Registered Dietitian (also called an RD). RDs have completed academic and experience requirements established by the American Dietetic Association’s Commission on Dietetic Registration, including a minimum of a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university and an accredited pre-professional experience program. RDs must also pass a rigorous professional exam and participate in ongoing accredited continuing education programs to maintain their credentials.

Some RDs hold advanced degrees and additional certifications in specialized areas of practice. Of relevance to people with celiac disease, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness certifies registered dietitians as part of its Gluten-Free Resources, Education and Training (GREAT) program. GREAT for Dietitians is a Continuing Professional Education (CPE) Accredited provider with the Commission on Dietetic Registration. (There are also GREAT certification programs for chefs, cafeteria workers and other hospitality industry professionals.)

Unlike the credential RD, there is no national standard and credential associated with the titles of “dietitian” (without the word “registered”) or “nutritionist” and no guarantee that the person using those titles has had any formal education in food and nutrition. Sometimes a Registered Dietitian is also given the title of “Nutritionist” (for example, in public health, clinical specialties, and educational institutions). Sometimes, however, these titles are used by people no formal training. Unless a nutritionist has the initials “RD” after his or her name, you must carefully verify the person's qualifications.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, 48 states have laws governing dietetics, 35 states require that practitioners be licensed and 12 require that they also be certified by the state, independent of certification by any professional organizations. Be sure that your nutrition professional has met the requirements for the state (or country) where he or she practices.

Where Do I Find a Registered Dietitian?

In the U.S., you can visit the American Dietetic Association’s Find a Nutrition Professional site to find a dietitian near you. Of course, you can also ask your doctor, or members of your celiac disease support group, if they can recommend a nutrition professional.

In Australia, visit myDR.com.au; in Canada, Dietitians of Canada; in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Dietitians Associated Limited; in Ireland, the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute; in New Zealand, the New Zealand Dietetic Association; in the UK, Nutri-People or the British Nutrition Foundation.

Next: Will My Insurance Pay for Medical Nutrition Therapy?

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