What’s the Difference Between a Nutritionist and a Registered Dietitian?
By Brianna Becherer, MS, RD, CPT
Have you ever had a nutrition question, googled it, and got instantly overwhelmed when you received contradicting answers? You might have considered finding a professional that has the answer to this question. You go on to find a nutrition expert and are even more confused now. Two words keep coming up. Nutritionist and dietitian. Are they the same thing? Is there a difference between the two?
In the United States, the term nutritionist is not regulated. This means that there are not educational requirements or guidelines for the term. Someone could take a nutrition class online and call themselves a nutritionist, or they could literally have zero prior knowledge about nutrition.
So, what is a registered dietitian? According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a Registered Dietitian is a food and nutrition expert who have met the following criteria to earn the RD credential:
1. Complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree at a U.S. regionally accredited university or college, and coursework through an Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), accredited Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD), or Coordinated Program in Dietetics (CP). Required coursework includes classes in food and nutrition science, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, and anatomy. For example, I received my bachelor’s in Dietetics from Missouri State University’s DPD program.
2. Complete 1,200 hours of supervised practice through an accredited unpaid Dietetic Internship. The internship must include rotations at healthcare facilities, community agencies, and food service operations. I completed my Dietetic Internship at Saint Louis University’s combined master’s program, where I received a master’s degree in Nutrition and Physical Performance.
3. Pass a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).
4. Keep up with required continuing education to stay up to date on the latest nutrition practices and research.
Registered dietitians can obtain specialized certifications through the CDR. Some certifications include pediatrics, renal, sports, oncology, nutrition support and diabetes education. The field of dietetics is very broad, allowing for a variety of employment opportunities for RD’s:
– Hospitals and health-care facilities: working as a part of the healthcare team, RD’s in these settings administering medical nutrition therapy, providing nutrition education, and managing the foodservice department.
– Sports nutrition and corporate wellness: here RD’s work to educate clients about foods connection to fitness and health.
– Private practice: opportunities from owning their own business or working under contract with healthcare or food companies.
– Community and public health settings: dietitians work to teach, monitor, and advise the public on improving quality of life through nutrition education.
– Research: for universities and hospitals investigating critical nutrition issues and finding alternative foods and nutrition recommendations.
– Universities and medical centers: teaching staff the science of food and nutrition.
– Food and nutrition-related business and industries: working in marketing, product development or consulting with the culinary team.
By now you can see there’s a big difference between a nutritionist and a registered dietitian. The RD credential requires a lot of work and education. To make sure you are receiving accurate nutrition information it is best to consult a registered dietitian.