Dietitians and nutritionists are both experts in food and diet, so you wouldn’t be alone in thinking they are the same, but the titles are not entirely interchangeable.
Let’s look at the differences between dietitians and nutritionists, what each one specializes in, and the legal requirements to call yourself one.
What is a Dietitian?
A dietitian has advanced training in the science of food, diet, and human wellness. Dietitians are often employed by hospitals, doctor’s offices, sports teams, or food and nutrition-related businesses to advise on dietary health matters. A dietitian could also run a private practice and see patients one-on-one.
To practice as a dietitian in the US, you need the credentials of a Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) as certified by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The requirements include:
a bachelor’s degree specializing in food, nutrition, and human health and biology;
a supervised internship in an accredited healthcare facility, food service corporation, or community organization;
and passing a national exam by the Commission of Dietetic Registration.
Continuing education as a RN/RDN is also required to maintain the registration.
Registered Dietitians are medical professionals who are certified to treat clinical conditions and diagnose illnesses. Their licensing is typically stricter than that of a nutritionist, and they can bill insurance for their nutritional counseling services.
What is a Nutritionist?
A nutritionist educates people about food and nutrition and helps them change behaviors around food.
Nutritionists are employed in many of the same places as dietitians, such as hospitals or care facilities where they might oversee meal and menu planning. Nutritionists can also run their own business and see clients.
Unlike a dietitian, a nutritionist cannot diagnose or treat illnesses, and they typically cannot bill insurance.
In some states, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist without any formal training or certifications, whereas you must be a Registered Dietitian to call yourself a dietitian.
A Nutritionist may also use the titles Health Coach, Wellness Coach, Nutrition Specialist, which are unprotected, or go by Registered Nutritionist, which is protected in some states.
So What’s a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist?
Registered Dietitians have the option of calling themselves a Registered Dietitians Nutritionist (RDN), so those titles mean the same thing.
This allows RDNs to emphasize that they are about overall nutrition and wellness, not just “dieting” or weight loss.
What is the Difference Between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?
In short, every Registered Dietitian can call themselves a nutritionist, but not all nutritionists are Registered Dietitians.
On average, Registered Dietitians have higher levels of education and more clinical experience than nutritionists, though some advanced nutritionist certifications do have higher education requirements.
A Registered Dietitian can diagnose and treat illnesses such as eating disorders that are outside a nutritionist’s scope of practice.
Nutritionists can provide education about nutrition and eating habits, but they are limited in what medical advice they can offer.
Both nutritionists and Registered Dietitians can help people to learn more about health and nutrition and build healthier habits around food, but only Registered Dietitians can legally provide nutrition counseling with the purpose of addressing specific medical problems.
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