What is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)?


“Don’t eat beets and carrots. They’re loaded with sugar.”

“My aunt takes cinnamon every day. It is very good for diabetes.”

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes, you will encounter many well-intentioned people with a handful of diabetes management tips. If you consult Dr. Google and type diabetes diet, you will find low-carb diets, low-calorie diets and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diets. If you find yourself in a sea of advice, it is time to schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).

What is an RDN?

A registered dietitian nutritionist helps patients create personalized dietary and achieve health goals such as weight loss and diabetes management. In the U.S., a registered dietitian nutritionist has earned a baccalaureate degree, has completed an internship, passed a registration exam and obtained state licensure or certification. The majority of RDNs have earned Master’s and doctorate degrees. So how can these health professionals help you? They can help you lower your blood glucose.

  • Medical nutrition therapy provided by an RDN can lower A1C by approximately 1 percent to 2 percent (- 0.5 percent to -2.6 percent) depending on the type and duration of diabetes.
  • RDN intervention played a key role in the prevention and delay of type 2 diabetes. The incidence of diabetes decreased 58 percent as a result of diet and physical activity compared with 31 percent only using metformin. And the effects lasted a long time. Even after 10 years, participants maintained lower rates of diabetes onset.

An RDN can teach you what to eat when you live with diabetes and much more! Here’s what my patients have told me:

  • “I can still eat rice?” exclaimed Elena, a woman recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I was told that I should not eat rice or anything white. I stopped eating bread, rice and pasta.” Elena learned about different types of carbohydrates and their nutrient density. While both white rice and brown rice are sources of carbohydrates, brown rice has a higher nutritional value. Whole grains such as oats, brown rice and whole grain pasta have fiber which helps slow digestion and has less impact on blood sugar.
  • “I don’t like cottage cheese.” An RDN can help you be more food inclusive instead of food exclusive. The RDN can help you select alternate foods and develop a meal plan.
  • “My blood sugar is like a roller coaster; it is high and then low.” complains Jennifer, a person with type 1 diabetes. “I don’t know what to eat!” RDNs with diabetes expertise will instruct you on how food and medication affect blood sugar control. They teach how to recognize, prevent and treat hyperglycemic and hypoglycemic episodes. They review blood glucose values, food intake and medication records for pattern management. Registered dietician nutritionists with advanced diabetes expertise will instruct you how to monitor blood glucose, interpret results to help manage carbohydrate and insulin recommendations using approved medical protocols. They identify and assess for acute and chronic diabetes complications and communicate with the healthcare team.

Questions about natural remedies to manage high blood glucose (sugar)? Before spending money on supplements that may be ineffective, an RDN will provide you with scientific evidence about the effectiveness and safety of supplements, vitamins, minerals. The RDN can also help identify food medication interactions.

RDNs with diabetes expertise help solve problems and provide guidance to handle sick days, travel and holidays. Their goal is to help individuals improve their health status and quality of life. To find a registered dietitian nutritionist with diabetes expertise, ask your medical provider or visit the American Association of Diabetes Educator website. Most insurance plans cover nutrition benefits.

WRITTEN BY Lorena Drago, MS, RDN, CDN, CDE, POSTED 02/06/19, UPDATED 12/12/22

Lorena Drago, MS, RDN, CDN, CDE is an advanced diabetes educator and nutritionist providing online diabetes and nutrition consultation. You learn more about her on her website, www.lorenadrago.com.