Nutritionist vs Dietitian: Which is Right For You?
There are countless diet options, each of which boasts compelling health benefits for different types of people. But how do you know which diet is right for you?
Without proper guidance, the world of nutrition can be a little overwhelming. That’s why many people seek advice from a health professional, like a dietitian or a nutritionist when it comes to healthy eating tips. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they’re not the same. Dietitians and nutritionists possess varying degrees of training, credentials and expertise.
To understand which nutrition expert is right for your health and can aid in your self care routine, keep reading.
Dietitian vs Nutritionist
So what’s the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?
Put simply, every dietitian is a nutritionist, but not every nutritionist is a dietitian. Let’s examine why this is.
What is a Dietitian?
A dietitian is a board-certified expert in dietetics (the study of diet and its impact on health) and nutrition. Using their nutrition expertise, dietitians help people improve their health and wellness. For instance, they might advise an athlete on how to eat for optimal performance or provide someone with weight management tips. A registered dietitian can also plan and implement a nutrition plan to treat or mitigate a medical condition.
To do this work, dietitians must go through extensive education, training and certification, including:
- Earning a bachelor’s degree – All dietitians must possess a bachelor’s degree that’s accredited by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This 4-year degree will focus on nutrition science, which encompasses nutrition, biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology.
- Undergoing supervised practice – Next, a dietitian must fulfill a certain number of hours of supervised training at an accredited workplace. This real-world practice helps them learn the nuances of the field. This way, they’ll be adequately prepared to run their own practice later on.
- Passing the national exam – To prove that they’re ready to practice, dietitians must pass the Commission on Dietetic Registration exam.
- Getting certified – After completing this exam, dietitians must register with the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Once registered, they can officially call themselves a registered dietitian (RD).
- Keeping up with continuing education requirements – Finally, all registered dietitians must stay up to date on the latest nutritional science. To do so, they must complete continuing education credits to keep their certification active.
As you can see, becoming a registered dietitian is no small feat. Most notably, dietitians are required by law to use evidence-based information in their practice. They can’t simply offer anecdotal advice.
What Are the Different Types of Dietitians?
Dietitians have four main realms that they work within:
- Clinical – Many dietitians work in healthcare settings, like hospitals, long-term care facilities, nursing homes and clinics. They construct diet plans for patients who are sick, have a chronic disease, or are recovering from eating disorders.
- Community education – In addition to one-on-one counseling, some dietitians educate the public. Some may come to schools or local communities to host nutrition courses. These dietitians can also hold positions at government agencies focused on public health.
- Food service management – Dietitians often advise the food industry on how to develop healthier products. Along the same lines, they ensure that cafeterias at schools, hospitals and other organizations meet food safety guidelines.
- Research – Research is a crucial part of the dietetic industry. Some dietitians devote their careers to conducting this research. Through their studies, they uncover new and valuable nutrition information. These dietitians may also teach in academia later on or share their findings with media outlets.
Backed by their impressive qualifications, dietitians can provide valuable nutrition services to individuals, communities, companies, organizations and the population at large.
How Does Dietitian Nutritional Counseling Work?
If you seek out a dietitian’s services to assist with your health goals, they will:
- Assess your diet – During one-on-one diet counseling, your dietitian will evaluate your current diet, factoring in any medications and supplements that you take. Then they will ask you about your food preferences, medical conditions and health goals.
- Provide nutrition advice – From there, dietitians will counsel you on how to achieve your goals. Whether you’re eager to learn how to increase energy levels, manage your weight, or improve a medical condition, a dietitian will guide you every step of the way. They’ll know whether probiotics and other supplements are right for you. Most importantly, they will explain the relevant nutrition science behind their recommendations.
- Treating diagnosed illnesses – Depending on the medical condition at hand, a dietitian will adjust their nutritional counseling accordingly. For instance, if you've been diagnosed with celiac disease, your dietitian will help you adjust your diet to eliminate any source of gluten and make sure your diet is varied enough to get all the nutrients you need.
With the close guidance of a dietitian, you can achieve your health goals once and for all.
What is a Nutritionist?
Now that you know what dietitians are all about, you’re probably wondering what sets them apart from nutritionists.
In each country, the specific differentiation varies. In the United States, a nutritionist is anyone who offers nutritional advice as a professional service, regardless of their specifications.
In addition to offering diet advice, many nutritionists also educate the public about health. However, depending on the state, not all nutritionists are qualified to offer medical nutrition therapy. Some states allow nutritionists to perform these services, but prevent them from seeking reimbursement through insurance.
Nutritionist vs Dietitian: Important Distinctions
Unlike a registered dietitian, a nutritionist doesn’t necessarily possess any specific:
However, that’s not to say that all nutritionists are unqualified!
Many nutritionists possess excellent nutrition education and some notable credentials—just not the specific ones required to be a registered dietitian.
The Varying Degrees of Nutritionist Credentials
Nutritionists can possess any of the following types of credentials:
- Registered Dietitian (RD) – Since all dietitians are also nutritionists, registered dietitians technically fall into the nutritionist category too.
- Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) – Nutritionists can also complete a certification to become a Certified Nutrition Specialist. To qualify for this certification, applicants need to possess a master’s degree in nutrition and complete 1,000 hours of experience before taking the certification exam. They must also keep up with continuing education courses, just like registered dietitians.
In the following states, CNSs and RDs have the same state license, which is called a Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (LDN) license1:
- Registered Nutrition Dietetic Technician (RNDT) – The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers registration to nutritionists interested in becoming registered nutrition dietetic technicians. These professionals need an associate’s degree. By completing this registration, they take on the RNDT title, enabling them to work alongside registered dietitians.
- No degree – In many states, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Thus, you may come across uncredentialed nutritionists who have self-studied by reading books or basing their advice on personal experience. Even if they have some anecdotal success as a health coach, they may not be well-versed in the latest food science.
As you can see, the nutritionist title is broad and the expertise found within the profession varies greatly. As a result, it’s important to vet your potential nutritionist carefully. If they lack adequate credentials, they could provide you with inaccurate and harmful nutritional counseling.
Where do Nutritionists Work?
Depending on their degree of education and credentials, nutritionists can be found in the following workplaces:
- Healthcare facilities
- Nursing homes
- Sports organizations
- Government health departments
- Private facilities
- Research settings
Which is Better: Nutritionist or Dietitian?
Now that you understand what sets dietitians apart from nutritionists, you may be wondering which type of professional is a better resource for your health.
Generally speaking, a registered dietitian is your safest bet, due to their verified expertise. However, if you live in a state that legally requires certified nutritionists to get licensed or if you make sure your nutritionist is a CNS, then they are also a good choice.
The only time to be wary is if you come across a nutritionist without any valid credentials or accredited education.
Partner Your Health With Probiotics
When it comes to your health, you deserve the very best guidance you can get. Making an appointment with a nutritionist or dietitian gives you a wonderful nutrition partner by your side, it’s easier to accomplish your health goals.
If you’re interested in improving your health, ask your dietitian or nutritionist about probiotics. Probiotics may aid digestion, nutrient absorption, mood regulation, immune health and much more2. If your nutrition coach gives you the go-ahead, try out our patented probiotics.
NutritionED.org “Dietitian vs Nutritionist”, https://www.nutritioned.org/dietitian-vs-nutritionist.html
- Hemarajata, Peera, and James Versalovic. “Effects of probiotics on gut microbiota: mechanisms of intestinal immunomodulation and neuromodulation.” Therapeutic advances in gastroenterology vol. 6,1 (2013): 39-51. doi:10.1177/1756283X12459294
- Borgeraas, H et al. “Effects of probiotics on body weight, body mass index, fat mass and fat percentage in subjects with overweight or obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity vol. 19,2 (2018): 219-232. doi:10.1111/obr.12626