Knowing the Difference: Registered Dietitian vs Nutritionist

One of the main questions I am asked when I introduce myself as a Registered Dietitian is, “What is really the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?” In my opinion, EVERYTHING!

The difference between a dietitian and nutritionist lies in the depth, scope, length, and type of education and training. ANYONE can call themselves a nutritionist. The title “nutritionist” isn’t regulated so anyone can call himself or herself a nutritionist with absolutely NO form of training or education.

The title of a “Registered Dietitian” requires:

1) A MINIMUM of a four-year college degree from an accredited university’s program that includes specific course work in human physiology, nutrition science, and several other sciences.

2) Completion of an Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ASCEND).

3) 1200 hours of supervised practice.

4) Passing a comprehensive exam.

5) Completing ongoing continuing education.

If you’re interested in consulting with an RD, make sure that he or she specializes in your needs. If you’re interested in consulting with a nutritionist who is not an RD, ask specifics about his or her training. There are several online websites where you can just take a $75 exam and can consider yourself a nutritionist in a specialized field. Many personal trainers for example consider themselves nutritionist as well and tend to give nutrition coaching with no background knowledge. There are broad differences among the various types of non-RD certifications. Be sure to ask questions. Does this person have a degree? What exactly is the degree? Where is it from? What type of classes were required? How long did it take? Are they certified? If so, research the certifying agency.

There are so many “nutrition experts” out there with lots of nutrition information and advice to give. Be careful who you choose to get your information from. That’s why the formal education and training is so important. I have seen several individuals not only harmed by nutritional counseling given by individuals with no background knowledge in the field, but also just spending hundreds of dollars and seeing no results.

Keep in mind, nutrition is like any other profession. An individual who has completed several years of schooling and training knows more than a person who hasn’t completed any. Before you choose to put your health into someone else’s hands, make sure you feel confident in their background knowledge and qualifications.

Here is a quick overview about the difference between a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist:


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