Q&A: What’s the Difference Between a Registered Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

As a nutrition student working towards becoming a registered dietitian, I get this question a lot! Dietitian, Nutritionist, and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist are titles that I’ve heard people mistakenly use interchangeably. The truth is, there is a HUGE difference between these terms. Let’s clear up the confusion.

Nutritionist is a non-accredited title that anyone can call themselves, regardless of educational background or professional training. The term is not protected by law but is often used as a title for dietitian assistants, food scientists, or students with an undergraduate degree in nutrition. Nutrition coach, nutrition counselor, and nutrition therapist are other titles that are not protected by law.

What Can They Do? Legally, they cannot diagnose or treat any nutrition-related disease.

Registered Dietitians (RDs) and Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs), on the other hand, are nationally recognized, legally protected titles accredited by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). These titles can only be used by those who have met the following requirements:

  • Completed a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, nutrition, or nutrition science by an accredited university or met the current minimum academic requirements (Dietetic Program in Dietetics)
  • Completed an accredited dietetic internship program with 1200 supervised practice hours in areas of community nutrition, medical nutrition therapy, and food service management
  • Passed the Registration Exam for Dietitians, administered by the CDR
  • Maintained certification by meeting continuing professional education requirements

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, registered dietitians have the option of also identifying themselves as Registered Dietitians Nutritionists (RDNs) in an effort to clarify that “every registered dietitian is a nutritionist but not every nutritionist is a registered dietitian.”

What Can They Do? RDs translate nutrition science into practical terms and can diagnose and treat nutrition-related diseases. They work with individuals and communities in a variety of settings: hospitals, health clinics, schools, nursing homes, food industries, fitness centers, private practice, universities, and research.

RDs are considered the most credible source of research-based nutrition information for the public. So, whether you’re looking for reliable nutrition information online or nutrition counseling in person, be sure to check those credentials!

Interested in learning more about what RDs do? Read more about it here in The Friedman Sprout, where I ask four registered dietitians to share their experiences and insight.

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