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Dietitian VS Nutritionist: 5 Amazing Differences

Pia VermaakPia Vermaak  February 9, 2023

Dietitian VS Nutritionist, this is what you should know! You may have heard the terms “nutritionist” and “dietitian” and are confused about what they mean. In this article, we’ll compare and contrast the roles of dietitians and nutritionists, as well as the educational requirements for each. 

The Role of a Dietitian vs. Nutritionist 

Dietitian vs Nutritionistpexels-gustavo-fring-5622196-1024x683-3106486: The United States and many other countries employ board-certified specialists in food and nutrition, known as registered dietitians, rather than nutritionists. They have completed extensive post-secondary education in dietetics and nutrition, focusing on the relationship between diet and health.

When comparing registered dietitians to nutritionists, it’s important to note that the former undergo extensive training to acquire the knowledge and abilities required to provide clients with individualized nutritional counseling and medical nutrition therapy based on the latest scientific evidence. They can work in various settings, such as inpatient and outpatient clinics, universities, and community clinics.

How a Dietitian vs. Nutritionist Can Help With Your Health Issues

pexels-yaroslav-shuraev-8844382-200x300-3663717Dietitians are trained to oversee the nutritional management of patients with both short-term and long-term illnesses. Most of the conditions they see in practice are influenced by the clinic.

It means they can help a client deal with dietary issues brought on by cancer or cancer treatment and prevent the onset of diabetes. Patients who are clinically malnourished and those who need nutrition through feeding tubes are among those who receive care in hospitals.

Patients undergoing bariatric (weight loss) surgery or those with kidney disease often require the services of a dietitian because they have unique dietary needs and restrictions.

Dietitians who treat eating disorders as a specialty typically have more education or training in the field. With the help of other medical professionals and psychotherapists, they work together to aid patients in their recovery from these illnesses.

Binge eating, purging, and anorexia nervosa (prolonged starvation) are all examples of eating disorders (bulimia). Professional sports nutritionists are trained to optimize an athlete’s diet for peak performance. Sports teams may hire dieticians, dance studios, physiotherapy clinics, and fitness centers.

Obtaining a License: Dietitian vs. Nutritionist

Unlike nutritionists, registered dietitians must pass a national board exam to practice the field professionally. Most states do not require dietitians licenses, but 13 do, including Nebraska, Alabama, and Rhode Island. The remaining states either have no regulations for this sector or provide optional state certification.

Like other professionals in this rapidly evolving field, dietitians must maintain their competence through ongoing training and education. Passing a test in the relevant area of law may be a further requirement for obtaining a license. It is carried out to ensure that dietitians follow a set of ethics that protects the general populace.

Nutritionist vs. Dietitian: Who Does What?

Dietitian vs Nutritionist: Rather than nutritionists, the United States, and many other countries rely on registered dietitians who are board-certified experts in food and nutrition. They have graduated from an accredited university focusing on the link between food and health and have worked as professionals in dietetics and nutrition.

Registered dietitians, unlike nutritionists, are educated and trained to provide clients with evidence-based, individualized nutritional counseling and medical nutrition therapy. They are flexible enough to work in various environments, including hospitals, universities, and community health centers.

Mandatory Educational Prerequisites – Dietitian vs. Nutritionist

pexels-yaroslav-shuraev-8844576-1024x683-2185511To become an RD or RDN, one must complete the necessary coursework and pass a certification exam administered by a governing body.

In some countries, one can also become a “registered nutritionist,” a title synonymous with “registered dietitian” and requires official recognition.

These organizations are in charge of policing the dietetics business in their respective countries. To avoid any confusion, RD and RDN certifications are equivalent. In contrast, “RDN” is a more recent designation. It makes no difference which credential a dietitian chooses to use.

To become a registered dietitian rather than a nutritionist, one must complete a bachelor’s degree program at an accredited college or university.

Courses in microbiology, biology, organic and inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, anatomy, and physiology, as well as nutrition-specific classes, are usually required for this, as is an undergraduate science degree. Beginning in 2024, all dietetics students in the United States will need a master’s degree to take the RD board exam.

Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: To become a registered dietitian in the United States, as opposed to a nutritionist, students must complete a rigorous academic program and an internship that has been reviewed and approved by the Accreditation Council assigned to them. 

Internships for obtaining the credentials of a registered dietitian or nutritionist may be similar in other countries. Apprenticeships usually consist of 900-1,200 unpaid supervised practice hours across the four domains of practice, with additional in-depth projects and case studies outside those hours.

Registered Dietitian Vs. Nutritionist: Internships for registered dietitians and nutritionists culminate in final exams covering similar ground to the board certification examination. After meeting these requirements, they are eligible to take the board exam. After taking and passing the national board exam in dietetics, an individual can apply for registration as a dietitian.

The Role of a Nutritionist – Dietitian vs. Nutritionist

pexels-yaroslav-shuraev-8844891-1024x683-8806104Registered Dietitian Vs. Nutritionist: Some people in some countries may rebrand themselves as “nutritionists” rather than “dietitians,” although their education and training are essentially identical to those of dietitians.

People in the United States who have completed specialized training in nutrition and earned relevant credentials are sometimes called “nutritionists.” In over a dozen US states, calling oneself a “nutritionist” is a legally protected title that requires specific education and experience. Moreover, accredited certificates confer designations like “Certified Nutrition Specialist” (CNS). Most states recognize these credentials as a prerequisite for practicing medical nutrition therapy and other aspects of nutrition care.

In many states (including Alaska, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania), both RDs and CNSs receive the same state license: a Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (LDN) license.

Registered Dietitian Vs. Nutritionist: In places where the term “nutritionist” is not governed, anyone interested in food and health can call themselves one. Those interested in nutrition should start a blog or consult with clients.

Unfortunately, following their advice could be harmful because many nutritionists need more education and experience to provide medical nutrition therapy or nutrition counseling. Before consulting with a nutritionist, you should research whether or not the practice is regulated in your state.

A Dietitian’s and a Nutritionist’s Distinctions in Terms of Training and Credentialing

pexels-yaroslav-shuraev-8844906-200x300-3999390In those parts of the United States that haven’t yet passed legislation defining the term “nutritionist,” there aren’t any formal requirements for becoming a nutritionist or using that title in the business. You need only have curiosity about the topic.

The CNS or RD credential may be necessary for states where certification or licensure is needed. CNSs are medical doctors and registered nurses who have completed additional coursework, logged clinical hours under the supervision and scored high enough on a Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists exam to earn this credential.

Differences Between Dietitians and Nutritionists in Treating Common Health Problems Addressed by Cnss

Registered Dietitian Vs. Nutritionist: A Certified Nutrition Specialist or a licensed nutritionist can also help with any condition that an RD would treat. Multiple states have passed laws governing the use of “Licensed Nutritionist” and the more generic “nutritionist.” CNSs have the legal right to provide medical care in most US states.

Certified Nutrition Specialists (CNSs) offer similar advice to registered dietitian nutritionists (RDs) in that they advocate for using nutritional therapy in conjunction with conventional medical care. Community health workers (CNSs) may lead local campaigns to raise awareness about the significance of healthy eating habits.

However, those without formal training in nutrition are free to experiment with methods outside the scope of mainstream medicine. Some of these methods may have solid scientific support, while others may need more.

Giving nutritional advice, even to the sick, can be risk-free if the advisor has the proper training and knowledge. So, if you’re considering hiring a nutritionist, it’s a good idea to find out if they’re Certified Nutrition Specialists (CNS) or have some other certification or license.

The Takeaway: Registered Dietitian Vs Nutritionist

Professionals in dietetics and clinical nutrition have completed extensive educational programs leading to board certification. Like CNSs, dietitians and nutritionists may need to meet additional standards to obtain a license to practice in their respective jurisdictions.

Registered Dietitian Vs. Nutritionist: Even though distinguishing between an “RD” and a “CNS” can be difficult, both designations indicate that the experts who use them have earned advanced degrees in nutrition. Some are geared toward assisting people with specific conditions, such as children, athletes, cancer patients, or those struggling with food issues. Dietitians and CNSs can put their skills to use in a wide variety of settings, such as hospitals, universities, and the food service industry. However, “nutritionist” is regulated differently in different US states. Therefore, in several states, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist.


Pia Vermaak

Pia Vermaak 

Pia Vermaak is the owner of the leading digital marketing and content writing company, MotherTyper. Her skill sets include degrees/certificates in beauty, psychology, business, and writing! MotherTyper has writers from all over the world with different races, genders, and backgrounds, ensuring the perfect piece is written, researched, and presented to you!