Nutritionist vs. Dietitian: Knowing the Difference

Mar
09

Nutritionist vs. Dietitian: Knowing the Difference

March is National Nutrition Month and today is National Registered Dietitian Day! This brings up an important topic within the field of nutrition: what is the difference between a nutritionist vs dietitian?

Dietitian sitting at a desk counseling a patient. There are nutrition handouts, medications, healthy foods such as fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes on the table.

If you’ve just been diagnosed with a chronic disease, be it heart disease, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, your doctor may have referred you to see a nutrition professional. Analyzing and discussing your diet with a trustworthy healthcare provider is key to successful disease management. 

The terminology can get confusing when talking about nutrition. Many do not know the difference between a nutritionist and a Registered Dietitian (RD). Don’t worry, even doctors get confused sometimes! 

To avoid any uncertainty of who you should be seeking out for nutrition and diet advice, let’s break down the difference between a nutritionist vs dietitian. 

Dietitian Breakdown

What do dietitians do?

Dietitians practice dietetics, which, by definition, is “the branch of knowledge concerned with the diet and its effects on health, especially with the practical application of a scientific understanding of nutrition”. 

This may look like:

  • Providing nutrition counseling to patients with a variety of chronic diseases
  • Calculating tube feed recommendations for patients 
  • Ensuring food safety protocols are in place in a foodservice system setting
  • Analyzing nutrient breakdown in foods
  • Plus so much more!

You can find dietitians working in community health programs, hospitals, foodservice, and in private practice

What training do dietitians have?

There are a few different paths dietitians can take to earn their title, but they all cover the same bases.

All dietitians must hold at least a Bachelor’s degree (beginning in 2024 a Master’s degree will be required) and complete a program accredited by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Coursework includes chemistry, human metabolism, food science, physiology, statistics, and more. 

Next, dietitians must complete 1200 hours of supervised practice in a variety of nutrition settings through an accredited internship program. 

Lastly, dietitians must pass a national board exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). 

Dietitians are also required to complete 75 hours of continuing education every five years in order to maintain their license. This helps to ensure that RDs are up-to-date on the latest research and methods of practice. 

Can a dietitian help me with my disease management?

Absolutely!

Heart shaped bowl filled with different colored fruits and vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes, pomegranate, apples, oranges) next to a stethoscope and a clipboard

Dietitians are specially trained to know the cause and effects of diet on a variety of chronic diseases. We can also identify food/nutrient and drug interactions to avoid any complications. This is otherwise known as medical nutrition therapy (MNT).

Practicing MNT is a medically recognized method of therapy, which is what allows dietitians to bill health insurance for MNT services. Having the ability to accept insurance is one of the biggest differences between a nutritionist vs dietitian. 

What is a board-certified dietitian?

While all dietitians are Registered Dietitians with the CDR, not all choose to become board-certified specialists

Board certifications are optional for those specializing in certain areas such as:

  • Geriatrics
  • Pediatrics
  • Oncology
  • Obesity and Weight Management
  • Sports
  • Renal

When working with a board-certified RD, you know you are receiving top-quality care. Board certification requires two years of work history as an RD, a minimum of 2,000 hours working with the population of focus, and a specialized board examination. 

As a Board Certified Specialist in Renal (Kidney) Nutrition, you can feel assured you are in good hands when we work together.

Board Certified Specialist in Renal Nutrition credly badge issued by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Skilled in Acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease, counseling, dialysis, diet supplements, evidence based practice, hemodialysis, etc.

Nutritionist Breakdown

What do nutritionists do?

Nutritionists provide diet and nutrition counseling. You may find nutritionists working in a variety of settings, including private practice, fitness centers, and weight loss centers such as Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig.

What training do nutritionists have?

The term “Nutritionist” is not a protected title within the United States and therefore encompasses those with varying education and certification. 


You can expect one to have anywhere from a GED to a graduate degree using the title nutritionist. There are no education or credentialing requirements for an individual to refer to themselves as a nutritionist. It can very easily be a self-proclaimed title depending on which state you live in.

Can a nutritionist help me with my disease management?

The answer is: it depends. 

Receiving false or inappropriate nutrition counseling can be damaging to your health and may even worsen your condition. Since nutritionists may or may not have professional nutrition science education, it may not be wise to get guidance from one. 

Unlike dietitians, nutritionists are not approved to practice medical nutrition therapy and it is considered illegal for them to do so. 

However, some dietitians prefer to use the title nutritionist vs dietitian as it is more easily understood and recognized by the general population. To put it simply, all dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.

If you can’t tell, look around on the provider’s website to see if they list their credentials anywhere. If not, it is always okay to inquire directly. 

Bottom Line

If you are needing guidance on how and what to eat while living with a chronic disease, seeing a dietitian is the safest way to get trustworthy information. Dietitians hold a legally protected title that displays their rigorous education and training within the field, while nutritionists do not have any requirements. 

At Healthy Mission Dietitian, I specialize in helping those with chronic kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, weight management, and food sensitivities. You can always count on getting reliable nutrition information on the blog, so subscribe, share, and be sure to check back in for our monthly posts!

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What surprised you most in this article? Let me know in the comments below!

Note: At this time, we are able to provide telehealth services to those outside of the state of California. However, we may not be able to do that for all states in the U.S.A. Please contact us to find out if we would be able to help! If we are unable to work with you, you can find a dietitian near you using this link. Reach out to us on our contact page if you have any questions or concerns! 

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