The terms “nutritionist” and “dietitian” are related to professionals who give advice about nutrition but are two distinctly different professions. The most basic difference involves accreditation. In order to be a dietitian, you need to meet stricter educational requirements, whereas a nutritionist may possibly be someone with limited education who gives themselves the title. Here are some other key differences between the two titles.
While some nutritionists do have college degrees, others may have only taken a short nutrition course. The term, however, does not have the same legal protection given to the dietitian position. Some of the coursework that qualifies a student to become a nutritionist include Human Nutrition, Food and Nutrition, Food Science and Food Technology. Bachelor’s Degrees in these majors can qualify an individual for jobs such as:
- Food Journalists
- Dietitian Assistants
- Public Health Researchers
- Food Scientists for food manufacturers or retail outlets
A registered dietitian (RD) is a health professional that has earned either a 4 year Bachelor Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics or a 3 year Science Degree then a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics with practical training. The term “dietitian,” which is also spelled “dietitian” in certain regions, is protected by law in Canada, The United States, Australia, The United Kingdom, South Africa and other countries. The work can be done in hospitals, schools or other public places and involves a wide scope of activities such as:
- working with patients who need special diets
- informing the public about nutritional studies
- educating health care professionals about nutrition
- studying and improving nutrition treatments
- diagnosing diseases and allergies related to nutrition
Similarities and Differences
While all dietitians are considered nutritionists, not all nutritionists are considered dietitcians. Not all states have the same requirements for nutritionists whereas a registered dietitian is certified by the Commission on Dietetic Registration of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). Even though it’s possible to become a nutritionist with no degree at all in some states, all registered dietitians have at least an undergraduate degree, commonly in nutrition.
Both nutritionists and dietitians typically analyze how food affects body chemistry. RDs are more likely to earn higher salaries and be featured by national media outlets but they will also have higher student loans on average.
Since there are many authors who call themselves nutritionists and may not be qualified to give expert advice, it’s important to be cautious about anyone who does not have an extensive educational background in nutrition. While nutritionists are not held accountable for their advice and usually give medical disclaimers, registered dietitians belonging to professional associations are held legally accountable for their advice.
Some nutritionists are not certified, but in order to use the term Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN), they are required to take a six moth course and pass national exams. A Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) offers nutrition therapy and must have at least a Master’s Degree in Nutrition or related field.
About half of all registered dietitians have advanced degrees. AND emphasizes that only registered dietitians are qualified experts on nutrition. Due to these distinctions, dietitians are considered much more credible than nutritionists in the medical community.
Well Known Registered Dietitians
- Joy Bauer, MS, RD, CDN, NBC’s Today Show
- Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, Author of The Flexitarian Diet
- David Grotto, RD, LDN, Spokesman for Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Leah McGrath, RD, Ingles Markets (Ask Leah), WNC Parent Magazine
- Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, WebMD Columnist
- Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, LD, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist
- Debbie Benner, MA, RD, CSR, Clinical Support at DaVita Inc VP
- Ashley Koff, RD, Ashley Koff Approved, The Dr. Oz Show
- Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD, Author