Dietitian and Nutritionist — What’s the Difference?

Balancing the Scales with Proper Nutrition, Help from a Dietitian or a Nutritionist

What’s in a name? While some words are one and the same, such as ‘doctor and physician’ or ‘barista and preparer of coffee’ others are not, such as “firefighter and someone who owns a fire extinguisher” or “school bus driver and carpool parent.” The titles of Dietitian versus Nutritionist falls into the latter.

It can be speculated that both dietitians and nutritionists have a passion for nutrition and strive to help people achieve their health related goals through a healthy balanced food intake. The difference between the two professions lies in the education and credentialing.

To get technical, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (or “RDN,” which is commonly called a ‘dietitian’) is a food and nutrition expert who has met academic and professional requirements which include: a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition, completing an extensive supervised internship that typically lasts at least one year, passing a national examination and regularly completing continuing professional educational requirements to maintain their registration.

A nutritionist on the other hand is less protected under the law, and they are often free from government regulation. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist and set up shop to dish out nutrition advice. Some state regulations require nutritionists to obtain an occupational license, while others allow individuals to practice as nutritionists without any education, training or work experience.

Basically, if you are getting advice from a dietitian, you know that they are held to certain professional standards through a regulatory agency. If you are speaking with a nutritionist that may not necessarily be the case. It’s important to not only trust the person you are seeing for nutrition advice, but to also make sure they know what they’re talking about. Check their credentials; ask what they studied in school and how long they’ve been practicing in their field.

Just remember — the study of nutrition is a specialized science. These days, there isn’t a lack of nutrition information available to us at all times. From advice from our friends and coworkers to the six o’clock news headlines, nutrition tips and guidance are not hard to come by. Sound nutrition advice on the other hand, can be!

Before you put your trust in any healthcare professional’s hands, do your research! Make sure you feel confident in their education and training and comfortable in their approach to counseling. If you want to take a step towards changing your current nutrition routine – seeking professional guidance is a great first step!

Looking to find a registered dietitian nutritionist to help you with your wellness goals? CLICK HERE to visit the The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Web site to search their online database.

Additional Resources from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

About the Author:

Cassie I. Story, RDN, is a dietitian who has been working with bariatric patients for the past 11 years. She also has her own food blog, www.WLSDailyPlate.com, to help inspire healthy eating following bariatric surgery. She enjoys cooking, hiking and spending time with her two daughters in Arizona.


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