What is a Gut Health Dietitian Nutritionist?

What is a Gut Health Dietitian Nutritionist?

A gut health dietitian nutritionist is a type of registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) who specializes in digestive health and gastrointestinal (GI) issues like:

…from a clinical and functional nutrition standpoint.

It’s important to note that not all gut health nutritionists are registered dietitians, and not all registered dietitians are gut health nutritionists!

But one thing that most (if not all) gut health dietitians and nutritionists have in common is that we’ve learned the majority of what we know through:

  1. Going on a gut-healing journey as “wounded healers”, and/or
  2. Receiving extensive specialty training and continuing education within the scope of digestive health and functional nutrition

If you’ve landed here, chances are you’re either looking for a gut health nutritionist who can help YOU navigate gut issues, or you’re interested in becoming a gut health dietitian/nutritionist and would like to learn what this career path entails.  Either way, I’ve got you covered. Keep reading! 

Why I became a gut health dietitian nutritionist

“I want to be a gut health nutritionist!” … said no one ever!  Including me, at least not until after I got sick with gut issues – and made it out on the other side.

During my early years as a dietetic intern and then as an entry-level dietitian who worked at an eating disorder treatment center, I was plagued with IBS, heartburn, leaky gut, food allergies, food sensitivities, hormone imbalance, iron deficiency anemia, and an autoimmune disorder called Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EOE).  I was already a very healthy eater, and I exercised regularly, but that wasn’t cutting it. Something was off!

Determined to find answers and solutions beyond symptom management, I was forced to navigate my way through the complex and corrupt modern-day food industry and healthcare system – and let’s just say that was no picnic. (Feel free to read more about my healing journey here.)

Spoiler alert: with help from lots of mentors along the way, including a holistic gut health nutritionist, I made lots of diet & lifestyle changes, and have been in remission from everything since 2014!

So now, here I am –  a proud gut health dietitian nutritionist.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way!  My holistic gut-healing journey was truly a blessing in disguise – it happened FOR me.  

Now, as a gut health nutrition expert whose insights and protocols have been battle-tested first-hand,  I’ve dedicated my life to helping others to navigate the confusing, complex and messy terrain of IBS and gut health nutrition – so they won’t have to suffer like I did.  (Cause let’s be honest – mainstream culture doesn’t cater to IBS sufferers!)

Having a gut health nutritionist in your corner will save you boatloads of time, money and frustration otherwise wasted trying to figure all of this stuff out on your own.

What does a gut health RDN do? (What you can expect working with one)

When it comes to optimizing your gut health, a gut health dietitian nutritionist is a specialist who provides personalized nutrition guidance and support around what, when and how to eat and drink, what NOT to eat and drink, and which herbs/supplements to take.

We go far beyond the foundational training to acquire specialized knowledge in gut health. Gut health dietitian nutritionists possess in-depth knowledge of the digestive system, gut microbiota, and the impact of various foods on gut health.  Working with one of us can play a crucial role in your prognosis if you’re suffering from a GI disorder of any kind!

More specifically, roles of a GI dietitian/nutritionist typically include any or all of the following:

  1. Assessment and analysis
  2. Functional nutrition testing
  3. Customized meal planning
  4. Education and guidance 
  5. Identifying trigger foods
  6. Prescribing supplement protocols

Assessment and analysis

First, a GI dietitian will assess your current diet, lifestyle, and medical history to identify potential underlying symptom triggers and root causes. 

  • Based on my clinical experience, there’s usually more than one “root cause” – so it takes a bit of time to really crack your code and leave no stone unturned. Full transparency: you’re going to need more than just an initial consultation if your goal is to resolve long-standing gut issues!

We may also review nutritionally pertinent lab test reports and collaborate with other healthcare professionals as needed for a comprehensive evaluation.

Interpreting clinical lab test results

Registered dietitians have the training and expertise to interpret lab results of clinical nutrition tests accurately. We can analyze the findings in conjunction with your medical history, symptoms, and dietary patterns to create individualized treatment plans.

(FYI – If you’re working with a gut health nutritionist who isn’t a registered dietitian, the lab testing and interpretation isn’t guaranteed.)

Important to note:  on my gut-healing journey, I worked with a holistic nutritionist who is NOT a registered dietitian… because I was already a RDN by that time! 

  • Since all dietitians are trained in clinical nutrition, I knew what types of clinical tests to ask for, how to advocate for myself, and how to interpret my own clinical blood work. I just hadn’t yet received training within the scope of holistic and functional nutrition for gut health. 

Functional nutrition testing 

Holistic and functional GI dietitians often employ functional nutrition testing to further investigate potential underlying causes of your gut-related issues.

These types of lab tests are more sensitive and can help to identify food sensitivities, intestinal permeability, subclinical imbalances in gut microbiota, and other factors contributing to gut dysfunction that may be unique to you.

Some common functional nutrition tests in the scope of gut health include (but aren’t limited to):

Comprehensive stool analysis

This functional stool test goes beyond basic acute infectious pathogens to evaluate the presence of beneficial and harmful bacteria, parasites, yeast overgrowth, and markers of inflammation in the gut. 

A comprehensive stool analysis test provides us with detailed insights which help us to develop tailored interventions to rebalance your unique gut ecosystem.

Food sensitivity testing

Food sensitivities can often trigger symptoms of diarrhea in people with IBD, IBS-D, and IBS-M.  By identifying specific food sensitivities via a food sensitivity test, gut health dietitians can create personalized elimination diets which can potentially help to reduce gut inflammation and promote healing. 

Note that most food sensitivity tests aren’t helpful, accurate, or valid.  

  • As a certified LEAP therapist, I’m trained specifically in Mediator Release Testing which measures the end-point of all food sensitivity reactions: chemical mediator release. Not all gut health dietitian nutritionists are LEAP therapists!

Intestinal permeability assessment

Also known as “leaky gut” testing, this evaluates the integrity of your intestinal lining and helps identify increased permeability, which can contribute to various gut-related disorders.

  • I actually don’t usually run this test in my gut health nutrition clinic, since the results don’t impact the trajectory of my protocols either way! But some people like to run this test as a formality, to check a box, validate a suspicion or just satisfy curiosity.

Breath testing

Breath testing (for conditions such as lactose intolerance, fructose intolerance, sucrose intolerance, and SIBO) can help identify specific food intolerances and bacterial imbalances which could be underlying culprits of unwanted gut symptoms.  

  • When it comes to figuring out food intolerances, breath testing isn’t always necessary since food intolerances are relatively easy to identify when you’re keeping accurate food-symptom logs via an IBS food diary.

Identifying trigger foods

Clarity is everything!  There’s nothing worse than NOT knowing what you can eat without reacting.  (At least when you know, you can make more informed choices and react on your own terms.)

Through a combination of nutrition testing and looking for patterns in a food-symptom journal, a gut health dietitian nutritionist will help identify trigger foods that may be exacerbating gut-related symptoms like bloating, gas, heartburn, or diarrhea. 

Once you’re clear on your body’s BEST foods, you and your GI dietitian can co-create a customized eating plan to help you enjoy food again.

Customized meal planning 

Based on your individual needs, a gut health dietitian nutritionist will work with you to co-create tailored meal plans and recipes that prioritize gut-friendly foods while considering your taste preferences, cultural background, and any dietary restrictions.

Supplement recommendations

If necessary, a gut health dietitian nutritionist may suggest specific herbs, supplements, and/or functional prebiotic/probiotic foods to help optimize your gut health. 

Since one size doesn’t fit all (I believe in bio-individuality), a gut health nutritionist will guide you on appropriate dosages and potential interactions with other medications or conditions.

Coaching, education, and guidance

Call me biased… but I think gut health dietitians make wonderful coaches and educators! 😉 

We love nerding out and sharing detailed information about the gut-brain connection, the importance of a balanced gut microbiome, and how dietary changes can positively impact digestion, nutrient absorption, and overall health.

Not to mention, remember that most of us have been in the trenches first-hand, so we get it.  This stuff is HARD! Some days are easier than others.  There’s no such thing as a quick fix. You may not see results right away.  But it’s important to keep going!

Bottom line:  Your gut health nutritionist is here to guide you, support you and cheer you on – even when the going gets tough.

Types of gut health dietitians

Yup – you read that right!  There are actually dozens of different TYPES of gut health dietitians within the digestive health niche. That’s because there’s a myriad of different types of digestive health conditions below the surface-level symptoms… and they’re all impacted by food!

Celiac dietitian

Celiac disease is a type of autoimmune disorder in which your intestines have an autoimmune attack on themselves, in response to when you eat foods that contain gluten.

So, a celiac dietitian is a type of RDN who specializes in celiac disease and can help you to navigate meal planning on a gluten free diet.  (A gluten free diet is the primary intervention for managing celiac disease at this time!)

Crohn’s dietitian

Crohn’s disease, like celiac, is a sub-type of autoimmune inflammatory bowel disease.

A crohn’s dietitian is somebody who can help you to navigate which foods your body can/cannot tolerate, and meal plan in such a way that you’re able to optimize digestion, reduce inflammation and ultimately getting the nutrients you need from food (with supplements as needed).

CSID dietitian

A dietitian specializing in congenital sucrase-isomaltase deficiency (“CSID”) and acquired sucrase-isomaltase deficiency is considered a “CSID dietitian”.

(These are rare conditions in which your body is unable to break down sucrose and maltose/starch, resulting in sucrose intolerance and a starch intolerance.  It’s like having a lactose intolerance except with sugar and starch, which are in a LOT of foods!)

CSID dietitians will help you to identify through a low sucrose/low maltose elimination and reintroduction diet which foods containing sucrose and starch (and in which amounts) your body can tolerate.

A CSID dietitian can also assist with balanced meal planning, to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients from food and not experiencing unintentional weight loss.

Lastly, we may recommend supplements (such as digestive enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics) as needed.

IBS dietitian

An IBS dietitian is somebody who specializes in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).  Some of us focus on just one of the IBS sub-types (i.e. constipation, diarrhea, or mixed) while others take a more broad approach.

Speaking as an IBS dietitian (and former IBS sufferer), I also believe it’s important to understand what’s causing the IBS symptoms – since “IBS” is usually just a diagnosis your doctor gives when they can’t figure you out!

Enter: integrative and functional dietitians…

Integrative and functional dietitian

An integrative and functional dietitian nutritionist is a type of registered dietitian who has received special training in functional nutrition and integrative/functional medicine (which is actually about 90% nutrition and herbs!).

In this niche, we acknowledge the old saying that “all disease begins in the gut!” (It’s true:  the state of our gut directly impacts our immune system, mental health, cognitive function, energy, nutritional status, hormonal balance, and more – for better or worse.)

We’re all about helping you to crack your code, so you can nail down the root causes of what’s going on.

So by default, all integrative functional dietitians can also be considered gut health dietitians. 😉

Leaky gut dietitian/nutritionist

A dietitian or nutritionist who specializes in leaky gut is usually, by default, also a holistic dietitian nutritionist and/or a functional dietitian.

That’s because “leaky gut” (aka intestinal hyper-permeability) is something mostly only acknowledged in holistic and functional medicine at this time.

(The holistic nutritionist I worked with on my own gut-healing journey was the one who originally introduced me to the concept of leaky gut and how to heal it! And no – she was not a registered dietitian – but she was qualified to help me, and did.)

SIBO dietitian nutritionist

A “SIBO dietitian” is a type of registered dietitian who has been extensively trained in small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which again is most well-known among holistic, integrative and functional dietitians at this time.

SIBO is what it sounds like: an overgrowth of microbes in the intestines, which wreak havoc on gut health when left unchecked.

(Not-so-fun fact:  did you know that leaving SIBO left unchecked for too long can actually lead to leaky gut and adult-onset sucrase-isomaltase deficiency?  Scary!)

Ulcerative colitis dietitian

Ulcerative colitis is another type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) very similar to Crohn’s.

A dietitian who specializes in ulcerative colitis is going to play a very similar role to a Crohn’s dietitian, but with patients who have ulcerative colitis. (Often there’s a lot of overlap, so it’s hard to specialize in one of these types of IBD and not the other!)

Benefits of having a GI dietitian in your corner

First of all, we aren’t really what we eat – we “are” what we digest and absorb!  A healthy diet and supplement protocol is only as good as the ability of your gut to break everything down properly and absorb the vital nutrients. 

And what you’re putting in your body (what you’re eating) can essentially make-or-break the state of your digestive health.

Working alongside a gut health dietitian nutritionist can save you years of wasted time and stress trying random diets and throwing spaghetti at the wall until something sticks.  (Call me biased, but I think having clarity, peace of mind, and a clear path to follow are all PRICELESS!)

How to become a gut health dietitian

If you’re passionate about gut health and aspire to help others improve their well-being through food, here’s a general overview of the steps to become a gut health dietitian nutritionist:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in nutrition
  2. Complete a dietetic internship
  3. Pass the national RDN exam
  4. Obtain licensure
  5. Get continuing education
  6. Get experience

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Start by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, dietetics, or a related field from an accredited institution. This foundation will equip you with the fundamental knowledge of human physiology, biochemistry, and nutrition science.

Complete a Dietetic Internship

After earning your bachelor’s degree, apply and complete a 1200-hour dietetic internship program accredited by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). This internship typically lasts around 6-12 months and involves hands-on clinical experience.

Pass the national Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) Exam

Following the completion of your dietetic internship, you must pass the RD exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). This comprehensive exam evaluates your knowledge and competence in various domains of dietetics.

Obtain licensure

Licensing requirements vary by state and country. Research and comply with the specific licensing or certification requirements in your jurisdiction to practice as a gut health dietitian.

Get continuing education 

While most gut health dietitians identify as “wounded healers” in remission from various types of digestive health disorders, getting sick with chronic issues is not the most ideal way to get initiated or indoctrinated into the world of gut health nutrition.) 😉

Getting continuing education specific to functional nutrition and gut health is a great way to learn as much as possible about gut health, while also meeting requirements for maintaining your RDN credential.  (In the U.S., we need at least 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years in order to keep our license!)

Here are a few of my fave resources as a gut health dietitian who now specializes in IBS, IBD, leaky gut, SIBO, and CSID.

(Disclosure:  I’m an affiliate* for the following programs and will earn a commission on qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you!)

Get experience

Last but not least, getting experience is very important! Before starting your own private practice, I highly recommend getting experience at an established gut health nutrition clinic or functional nutrition clinic – unless you’ve been “blessed” with gut issues and walked this journey first-hand. 

(In that case, your experience will be hiring other gut health nutrition experts to help you!) 

Gut health nutritionist career opportunities

Seeing clients 1:1 in a private practice is only ONE of many ways to practice as a gut health nutritionist! 

For my fellow introverted RDN’s, there are lots of other fun and creative ways to leverage your expertise and create massive impact as a modern-day gut health nutrition pro, outside of private practice.

Here are some alternative ways to make a living as a gut health dietitian nutritionist:

  • Create and run transformative online courses and/or group programs
  • Write books
  • Start a gut health nutrition blog, podcast, or YouTube channel
  • Speak at conferences
  • Teach gut health nutrition to other practitioners
  • Create corporate wellness programs

Final thoughts 

In my experience, being a gut health nutritionist can be pretty challenging, since we tend to get lots of very clinically complex cases in my private practice- but it’s also incredibly spiritually fulfilling. (Since gut health impacts pretty much every other facet of wellbeing, it’s pretty cool to make a difference in someone’s life on such a profound level!)

As a gut health clinician, I always feel very honored when a new client invites me to be a part of their treatment team on their healing journey. I know it’s a big decision. We should never take that for granted!

From the client/patient perspective, working with a gut health dietitian nutritionist (like yours truly!) can be a transformative experience which can change the entire trajectory of your life for the better.  (Yup – most gut issues ARE very “figureoutable”, as long as you’re willing to keep an open mind and stay committed!) 

By leveraging the expertise of a digestive health nutrition expert, you can address and potentially resolve long-standing digestive issues, gain more energy and mental clarity, improve your mood, strengthen your immune system, and have a better quality of life.  

Next steps

If you feel we could work well together, and you’re looking for a holistic, root-cause approach with someone who has walked this path of gut-healing first-hand,  take the next step towards a healthier gut today. 

Apply HERE to chat with me about 1:1 services!

XO – Jenna