By: Alix Opfer, MS RD Eligible
It is important to take a moment to define the difference between the commonly heard titles of a registered dietitian and a nutritionist. A collective misconception is that these two titles are interchangeable and synonymous. I am here to tell you that there is a large distinction between the two.
Dietitians are considered nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are considered dietitians. The largest difference lies in the length, scope, and mode of formal education and training that dietitians go through, making them qualified to work in various settings and provide a wide range of services.
Registered dietitians are considered experts in food and nutrition by advising people on what to eat in order to lead a healthy lifestyle or achieve a specific health related goal. This expertise requires years of education and training.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to become a registered dietitian, it requires:
● A bachelor’s degree with coursework approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
● Completion accredited, supervised practice hours (1,200 hours or more).
● Optional master’s degree (highly recommended).
● Pass a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration
● Earning the letters R.D. (registered dietitian) or R.D.N. (registered dietitian nutritionist)
credentials and maintaining this with continuing education courses.
What About Nutritionists?
Contrary to dietitians, a nutritionist’s profession is much less protected under law. Nutritionists that do not want to use the titles of “dietitian” or “registered dietitian” are often not regulated by the government; therefore, are able to practice under this title without any previous education, training or work experience.
The nutritionist credential is not recognized nationally and the definition/requirement varies from state to state. In some places, you can become a “certified nutritionist” or “licensed nutritionist” by meeting requirements set. However, this pathway requires much less rigorous education and training when compared to those receiving the registered dietitian designation.
With this distinction now clear, it is important to research who you are getting nutrition advice from, because you truly want the information to be from the nutrition experts (also known as registered dietitians).
The Bottom Line:
Knowing the distinction between a registered dietitian and nutritionist can help you be more aware of who you are receiving nutrition advice from. Just because someone refers to themselves as a “nutritionist,” “health coach,” or “wellness consultant” on any platform, does not mean you should let them monitor your health journey, especially without the proper education and training. Instead, seek nutrition advice from a professional with letters after their name—and know that registered dietitians have the skill and education to help you reach your goals safely and efficiently.