Hello! Today I wanted to touch on the differences between a Nutritionist vs. Registered Dietitian. Contrary to popular belief, there are major differences between the two.
US law does not protect the title “Nutritionist”. That means that anyone can declare themselves to be a nutritionist without any required studies or credentialing. They typically do not have any professional training, and therefore should not diagnose or treat any type of illness. Now, all Nutritionists are not created equally. There are Nutritionist Certification programs out there. These programs, though, are not regulated on what information is required to be known by the nutritionist. There is a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) program that requires applicants to have an advanced degree, some practical experience, and to pass a certification exam. The title of CNS is protected. In order to use that title, all requirements must be completed.
Also, Other health professionals may practice clinical nutrition after completing additional course work like Medical Doctors, Chiropractors, Physician Assistants, etc. But, that does not mean that all have completed additional nutrition education.
Nutritionists typically teach clients about general nutrition and provide guidance on food choices. Information will vary between Nutritionists.
The title of Dietitian is protected by US law.This means only people who have completed the required coursework, supervised practice, and passed the credentialing exam may refer to themselves as a Dietitian.
Requirements to become a Dietitian are as follows:
- Earn a Bachelor’s degree, at minimum, from an accredited University or College with coursework that has been approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education.
- Coursework, of course, includes nutrition, metabolism, and food service systems. In addition, though, are biochemistry, psychology, physiology, pharmacology, and kinesiology.
- Next, complete 1200 hours of a supervised internship from an accredited program or preceptors
- Then, pass a nationally accredited exam for registration administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
- Maintain active registration and licensing by completing continuing education.
- Finally, be licensed in your state, if that state requires that.
The way to spot if a health professional is a dietitian is to look for the RD or RDN credential after their name. RD stands for Registered Dietitian and RDN stands for Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Now, there is no difference in required coursework and credentialing between the two qualifications. It is really up to the dietitian to decide which they would prefer to use. Dietitians are moving toward the RDN credential.
Dietitians are more consistent with recommendations because of the tight regulations on what is required to become one, as a general rule.
Now that you know the differences, you will be able to make an informed decision about who you chose to get your health advice from. Please keep in mind, just because someone appears healthy or has been able to lose weight on whatever plan they are doing, this does NOT qualify them to give you advice about your health or prescribe a diet for you to follow. It can be very dangerous and counter intuitive to your health if the person assigning you a diet or making recommendations are not educated on the pre-requisites and effects that different diets could possibly have.
I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I graduated from the University of Montevallo with a Bachelors degree in Nutrition and Wellness with a focus on Dietetics. Our University had a didactic program. So, in order to obtain my degree, I had to complete my internships. Colleges and Universities that do not have a didactic program will award the degree after coursework is complete and then it is up to the student to enter a program or to find their own accredited preceptors to complete their internship hours. My internships spread across the three types of dietitian specialties: Clinical, Food Service Management, and Community Nutrition. I interned at a hospital for clinical rotations, a school system and a different hospital for my food service management rotations, and finally at WIC and Child Rehabilitation Services for my community nutrition rounds.
After completing my supervised practice internships, I graduated in December of 2016. This means I can now take the Registered Dietitian Exam. I then began a job as a licensed Dietitian until it was time for my exam. I studied into the night FOR MONTHS, like literally four months, and passed my exam on April Fools Day of 2017 (no joke). Since passing, I have been working as a clinical dietitian. I advise people on prescribed diets related to their specific conditions, order and manage alternate nutrition like tube feedings and TPN, diagnose and treat malnutrition, and work with food service to ensure my patients get food that help their health.
Did you learn anything new about Dietitians and Nutritionists. Please leave any questions, comments, or concerns below.