Dietitian vs Nutritionist: What’s the Difference?
We’ve all heard the titles dietitians and nutritionists but, a lot of us do not know the difference or if there even is a difference. It is common for people to use the titles dietitian and nutritionist interchangeably but, they are not the same thing. Every Registered Dietitian is a nutritionist but, not every nutritionist is a registered dietitian.
What is a Registered Dietitian?
The title Registered Dietitian is a protected title in the United States meaning that only those who qualify can call themselves a dietitian or Registered Dietitian. Registered Dietitians are food and nutrition experts. To become a dietitian, one must receive a four-year bachelor’s degree with specific course work accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). Course work includes anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, counseling, business, statistics, food science and culinary arts. Besides receiving a bachelor’s degree, a dietitian must obtain their master’s or doctoral degree. During this time, the student spends over 1200 hours of supervised practice within clinical, private practice and food service sites.
Once the bachelor's and master’s degree as well as supervised practice hours are completed, a dietitian is allowed to sit for the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) Exam. The future dietitian must pass this exam to become a Registered Dietitian.
To maintain the credential as a Registered Dietitian, the dietitian must complete continuing professional education requirements on an ongoing basis. Thus, dietitians are always up to date on evolving nutritional sciences, new diets, diseases/conditions, medications, counseling styles, etc.
When a dietitian practices, they are able apply medical nutrition therapy (MNT). AND defines medical nutrition therapy as “nutritional diagnostics, therapy and counseling services for the purpose of disease management which are furnished by a registered dietitian.” MNT allows dietitians to help treat all diseases, conditions and eating behaviors. Only registered dietitians can practice MNT.
What is a Nutritionist?
Unfortunately, the term “nutritionist” has no defined requirements. In the U.S. anyone can call themselves a nutritionist with or without training. However, some nutritionists do have training but cannot provide MNT nor are allowed to make a nutritional diagnosis. A nutritionist can only educate general nutrition; thus, they are not allowed to treat diseases or conditions such as eating disorders, GI disorders, obesity, hormonal imbalances, CVD, etc. And, unlike dietitians, nutritionists are not required to complete continuing professional education.
How to choose between a Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist?
When seeking help about your diet and nutrition status it is important to be aware of the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist. Based on the goals you want to achieve, please choose wisely.