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What Is a Renal Nutritionist?

A renal nutritionist is a registered dietitian who specializes in helping people with chronic kidney disease achieve a healthy, kidney-friendly diet.

If you live with chronic kidney disease, you might consider working with a renal nutritionist to help you reach your health and wellness goals. A renal nutritionist is a nutrition professional who helps individuals with chronic kidney disease by guiding them to understand how diet affects kidney function and the body as a whole. 

It can be challenging to know what foods best serve your body if you’re living with chronic kidney disease, and there is a lot of incorrect information online regarding optimal health practices. A renal nutritionist can help you understand what foods are best for your body, and they can create a meal plan that promotes kidney health. If your doctor has told you that you would benefit from eating a renal diet or if you have chronic kidney disease, continue reading to learn more about the role of a renal nutritionist in helping people with renal issues.

All About Renal Nutritionists

In addition to helping people with kidney concerns learn about the best foods for renal health, a renal nutritionist can create a personalized meal plan specific to the client or patient. Renal dietitians and nutritionists help people who would benefit from eating a renal diet, including individuals on dialysis and those who have had a kidney transplant and want to keep their new organ healthy and functioning well. 

Renal dietitians have extensive training and expertise in the best nutrition for a kidney-friendly diet. If they are registered dietitians, renal nutritionists will have earned a bachelor’s or master’s degree to inform their understanding of the best foods to eat for a renal diet. A nutritionist who specializes in helping people eat a renal diet has specific training on which foods are the most nutritious for someone with kidney disease or kidney-related health concerns. Renal nutritionists are nutrition experts with additional training and qualifications in kidney health. A renal dietitian can help dialysis patients, kidney patients, and anyone wanting to learn more about kidney-friendly foods to lower the chance of kidney failure.  

Some people incorrectly assume that dietitians only help clients with weight loss, but in reality, they do much more. There are many different types of dietitians and nutritionists, including those focused on weight loss or those who help people with specific health needs, like kidney disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Dietitians help people in many ways, including providing their clients with information on making healthy nutrition choices and creating individualized meal plans.

What does a renal nutritionist do?

A renal nutritionist can help you learn about the benefits of eating a renal diet, and they can create a meal plan that will promote kidney health. A renal nutritionist will consider your health goals and lifestyle as they develop a specific nutrition plan for you. If your doctor has encouraged you to eat a renal diet, a renal dietitian or nutritionist will teach you about the best foods for your body. You’ll be able to use this information throughout your life, even if you only meet with a nutritionist for a limited time. 

A renal nutritionist can help you improve your kidney health in other ways, too. Besides teaching you about the best diet for kidney health, a renal nutritionist can help you choose the best supplements for your kidneys, ensure that you are getting enough hydration, and support you as you work towards your health objectives.

What is the difference between a renal nutritionist vs. a renal dietitian?

While the terms renal dietitian and renal nutritionist are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between the two. Both renal dietitians and renal nutritionists teach their clients about the most nutritious foods for kidney health, help them achieve their wellness objectives with one-on-one consultations, and design individualized kidney-friendly meal plans. The main difference is that to be called a renal dietitian, an individual must complete the education, training, and examination requirements to become a registered dietitian. 

These requirements vary slightly from state to state but always involve at least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, a dietetic internship, and completion of the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) exam. The term “nutritionist” is used more generally and does not have specific requirements, so not everyone who calls them a nutritionist is necessarily a registered dietitian.

As a board-certified professional, a renal dietitian is more likely to have experience helping their clients with medications, treatments, and medical nutrition therapy. However, nutritionists and dietitians can both offer expert advice on renal nutrition, kidney health, and the best ways for their clients to meet their health goals. 

What are the credentials of a renal nutritionist?

Renal nutritionists have the vital task of helping people achieve optimal health for their kidneys, so they must complete a certain amount of education and training before taking on this role. Before searching for a “nutritionist near me,” take some time to understand the credentials that a fully qualified renal nutritionist should have.

Education and training in line with state guidelines

Each state has somewhat different professional and educational requirements that nutritionists, specifically registered dietitians, are expected to complete. Because nutritionists make recommendations about health, they must complete extensive training. This is achieved by earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nutrition science, dietetics, or a closely related subject. Registered dietitians must also complete a certain number of hours (this varies from state to state) in a professional setting and successfully pass the CDR exam. Each state has different requirements for how frequently dietitians must renew their registration and how many units of continuing professional education they must complete.

A strong foundation of nutrition knowledge

To stay up-to-date in their profession, nutritionists must constantly build upon their nutrition knowledge. Before specializing in renal health, a nutritionist needs a strong foundation in anatomy, physiology, exercise science, and other dietetics-related subjects. A solid understanding of the basics is essential before they can complete further training in renal nutrition and other aspects of kidney health to earn credentials as a renal specialist. Most renal nutritionists have completed a master’s degree in addition to their bachelor’s degree and dietetic internship.

An in-depth understanding of the kidneys

An aspiring renal nutritionist needs to develop an in-depth understanding of the renal system and how to achieve optimal kidney health. Renal nutritionists must go beyond the minimum educational requirements because their clients will need specific help relating to their kidneys. Someone suffering from kidney disease will require a renal nutritionist who is well-trained, knowledgeable and has experience assisting clients with similar challenges. Healthy, functioning kidneys are vital to your overall health, so finding a confident and accomplished renal nutritionist is essential to achieving optimal wellness.

What are the benefits of working with a renal nutritionist?

You might ask yourself if working with a renal nutritionist is worth the time, effort, and money. Here are a few examples of the many benefits of working with a renal nutritionist. 

A personalized plan

When you work with a renal nutritionist, they will design a personalized health and food plan specifically for you. They will consider your lifestyle, current eating habits, medical history, and health goals in developing your program. No amount of online research will replace the personalized plan that a renal nutritionist can create for you. This plan will give you access to new recipes, meal preparation techniques, and strategies for achieving your wellness goals. In most cases, your renal nutritionist will meet with you in one-on-one consultations to discuss what parts of the plan are working and what needs tweaking. Over time, the program will become second nature as you learn from your nutritionist, share feedback, and fine-tune their suggestions.

Peace of mind

Struggling to maintain your kidney health can be scary. It can be particularly alarming if you don’t know which steps to take to improve your kidney function. Working with a highly educated nutrition expert with an in-depth knowledge of how the kidneys work and how to achieve optimal kidney health can give you the peace of mind you deserve. A renal nutritionist will help you determine which foods you should eat for healthy kidneys by creating a custom nutrition plan. They may also be able to discuss your labs or blood work with you and offer insights on treatments your doctor has recommended.

Nutrition skills that will last a lifetime

Your renal nutritionist will provide insights into your health and how to achieve healthy kidneys at each consultation. This information will serve you well in the long run as you work toward attaining healthy kidneys. Renal nutritionists can also help by teaching you about the best foods for healthy kidneys and ways to reduce the risk of developing diseases.

Am I a good candidate to work with a renal nutritionist?

If you’re unsure whether you should work with a renal nutritionist, it’s at least worth considering this option. There are many benefits to working with a renal nutritionist, and you should always prioritize your health. Here are a few examples of why someone might work with a renal nutritionist. 

Your doctor recommends improving your kidney health

If your doctor has recommended that you focus on improving the health of your kidneys, you should start now. If you delay, you could be putting yourself at risk of developing serious conditions such as chronic kidney disease. Your kidneys are essential to your overall health, so you should take your doctor’s recommendations seriously. Even if your doctor has suggested that a renal diet could be beneficial in the future, you should begin the steps to find a renal nutritionist now. In most cases, prevention is much easier than treatment, so start sooner rather than later. By eating right and maintaining healthy kidneys, you’ll also improve other aspects of your overall health.

You’d like to learn about renal diets

A renal diet can help you achieve healthy kidneys by maintaining appropriate levels of electrolytes, minerals, and fluid in your body. Because the kidneys work as filters for your body, a renal diet can keep your kidneys working properly to rid the body of waste products and toxic substances while returning essential micronutrients into the bloodstream. A renal diet will limit the amount of waste that enters your body, thus helping your kidneys as they work to rid your body of toxins and waste. 

If you’re unsure how to begin a renal diet, a nutritionist specializing in renal diets can help. They can create a kidney-friendly meal plan and explain how your nutrition choices affect your kidney health.

You have been diagnosed with kidney disease

If you have chronic kidney disease or a related medical condition, finding a professional who can help you eat healthily is essential. A nutritionist specializing in renal diets will work with you and your healthcare team to help you protect your kidneys. A renal nutritionist can ensure you’re making the best food choices for your body as you manage dialysis or other treatments. By focusing on helping your kidneys do their job, your renal nutritionist will support you in living a healthy life.

Still not sure? Read more about what a renal nutritionist does here.

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About the author

Nicolette Star Maggiolo, RD, LDN
I'm a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist with education from Boston University and clinical training from both Brigham & Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. I specialize in helping the military and non-military individuals embrace nutrition as a partner in both their mental and physical health.

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