Nutritionist vs Registered Dietitian: What’s the Difference?

A dietitian can be a nutritionist, but a nutritionist isn’t necessarily a dietitian. What the what? Although most people use the terms interchangeably, there is actually a big difference between the two.

The short answer: A dietitian has to meet specific standards in education and supervised training, as well as pass a national registration exam. And a nutritionist…just has to call herself a nutritionist.

More specifically, a registered dietitian (RD) must have at least a bachelor’s degree with coursework that has been approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the agency which oversees and confers professional credentials in the U.S. After completing the required coursework โ€” which includes classes in food science and nutrition, biochemistry, physiology, medical nutrition therapy, and many, many more โ€” students must complete 1200 hours of supervised practice from an accredited dietetic internship program. After the completion of the internship, students are eligible to take the registration exam and, after passing, use the title “registered dietitian.” In order to keep their credentials, dietitians must also keep up with continuing education requirements, so they stay up to date with the newest nutrition information.

In contrast, there is no regulating board for nutritionists, which means anyone can claim the title at any time. This isn’t to say that there aren’t nutritionists out there who are highly educated, experienced and keeping up with the latest developments in food and nutrition โ€” there is just no way to know for sure without asking some very specific questions and hoping you can trust all the answers.

Obviously, as someone studying to be a dietitian, I am biased toward RDs. There is a reason I am going through the multi-year process of becoming a registered dietitian rather than a choosing a short nutrition training program and starting work immediately. Part of it is the greater number of job opportunities available, but I also admire the amount of learning and training RDs go through before beginning their practice. I don’t just want to be someone who knows a lot about nutrition, I want to be an expert.

You can trust that a dietitian will be a nutrition expert. That’s the biggest difference.

More Information:
โ€ข Qualifications of a Registered Dietitian at the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics



  1. #
    Joanna — October 8, 2012 at 7:23 am

    1200 hours is a lot.

  2. #
    johnbartram — April 9, 2013 at 1:37 am

    Nice Article Regard Nutritionist vs Registered Dietitian. Both are different term. According to me Registered Dietitians use their knowledge and skills in food and nutrition to promote good health.

  3. #
    Alankru — September 6, 2013 at 9:16 am

    This article is pretty spot on but it’s generic when discussing the side of Nutritionists. I really like Alan Aragorn’s 3 part series on Becoming a CISSN (Certified with International Society of Sports Nutrition) because that degree requires a 4 year background b.s. in sciences or a whole slew of prereqs, and these certified Nutritionists are accredited and just as qualified as Dietitians to discuss meal plans, if not more for athletes (unless youre getting a CSSD with the RD). Part of the reason I’m opting for CISSN instead of RD after my Nutrition degree is so I can focus on the niche of sports nutrition and training. If you know your stuff, you know your stuff ๐Ÿ˜€

  4. #
    Shannon — October 11, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    I am studying to be a health and wellness coach which when I graduate I will have an associates degree in science. I will be able to be a board certified holistic nutritionist. I believe I will still be able to help people with their nutrition. For me I don’t like following FDA guide lines because I do not believe they are right. Great website and recipes! Good luck with your goals and education.

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