Dietitian vs. Nutritionist – What’s the Difference and Does it Matter?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What’s the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian? This is a question many people are curious about, but don’t really know the answer to.

What it means to be a Dietitian

Dietitians are held to an ethical standard of care and agree to follow evidence based nutritional guidelines. Continuing education requirements challenge RDNs to stay on top of the ongoing changes in the nutrition and health fields. A dietitian is someone who has:

  • A Bachelors of Science degree in food and nutrition or a related field
  • Attended and graduated from an accredited university
  • Completed a dietetic internship of at least 1200 hours
  • Passed a national registration exam
  • Completes a minimum of 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years
  • Earned her or his credentials from the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR)

A registered dietitian will have RD (Registered Dietitian) or RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) after their name. This credential is often referred to as the highest level of nutrition counseling based on the education, experience and scope involved in earning that credential.

While qualifications to be a dietitian are clearly defined, you’ll see there are a variety of ways to define nutritionist.

What it means to be a Nutritionist

A nutritionist cannot diagnose eating disorders or help manage health problems. The amount of education required to be called a nutritionist varies from very little to a lot, however, there is no regulatory board monitoring all nutritionists. There are a few different ways to be a nutritionist, such as:

  • Nutritionist Certificate: Minimum of 3 online classes in nutrition. High school diploma or equivalent required. This is a certificate, but not a certification
  • Certified Nutritional Consultant (CNC): Has passed an open-book exam administered by the American Association of Nutritional Consultants
  • Certified Nutritionist (CN): Has completion of either a two year associate degree program or a distance learning program and completed a supervised exam
  • Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN): Has a bachelor’s or master’s degree, a 900 hour internship, passed the exam by the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board and maintains continuing education

All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. Only nutritionists that become registered with The Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) are officially and legally allowed to represent themselves as dietitians. Based on your needs to work with a professional for nutrition therapy, you may need to specifically seek out a dietitian who has medical nutrition therapy experience.

Tip: With the information above in mind, do some homework before deciding who will best fit your needs, be it a dietitian or a nutritionist. Ask questions to make sure they have the training and experience to safely and adequately counsel you.

You can learn more about registered dietitian requirements by visiting the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.