Dietitian versus Nutritionist

What's the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist? 

What's a Dietitian?

Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) are synonymous titles that are legally protected by the Commission on Dietitian Registration (CDR), which is the credentialing agency of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) in the United States of America.

An RD/RDN is a food and nutrition expert who has met academic and professional requirement set forth by the Commission on Dietitian Registration in the United States of America. These requirements include the following:

  • Obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in coursework approved by Commission on Dietitian Registration.
    • Examples of Coursework include: biology, chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, physiology, physics, psychology/sociology, food science, nutritional science, medical nutrition therapy, and food service management.
    • By the year 2024 all incoming RD/RDN’s will be required to hold a Master’s Degree.
  • Completed a supervised accredited dietetic internship with a minimum of 1200 per ACEND standards.
  • Passed a national examination administered by the CDR.
  • Completed continuing professional education requirements to maintain registration with CDR on an ongoing basis.

RD/RDN’s may need to hold additional license to practice as a Licensed Dietitian (LD)/ Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (LDN) in their respective states.

What's a Nutritionist?

There are no qualifications required to be a nutritionist. It is merely a self-proclaimed title. Unfortunately, this means that anyone can call themselves a nutritionist including:

  • Fitness guru selling you meal plans
  • Health Care Providers: dentist, nurse, physician, or therapist
  • Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) 
  • Individual who took a random 120-hour course on nutrition online
  • Individual with a Doctorate degree in Nutritional Sciences

The term nutritionist is not a legally protected title, which means that anyone with an interest in nutrition to having an advanced degree in nutrition can proclaim they are a nutritionist.

There is no minimal qualification, accreditation, or continued professional educational requirements for individuals that proclaim themselves to be a nutritionist.

What's the takeaway?

All dietitians are nutritionist but not all nutritionists are dietitians. Unfortunately, there’s confusion about what it means to be a dietitian versus a nutritionist. And this places the well-being of individuals at risk of harm.

It’s important that you understand the credentials of the health care providers that you work with to ensure that you are getting the upmost quality of care based on evidence-based research to manage your well-being.

Dietitians are the qualified health care professionals held to a professional and ethical standard to assess, diagnose, and treat dietary and nutritional concerns of individuals to optimize your well-being.  

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Feriha Bilgen, MPH, RD, LD
Feriha Bilgen, MPH, RD, LD | Specializing in Gluten-Related Disorders