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Nutritionist vs. Dietitian - What's the Difference?

Most people don't know that a nutritionist and a dietitian are two VERY different things. Some people have never even heard of a dietitian! Knowing the difference between a nutritionist and dietitian is extremely important to ensure that you are getting your nutrition and health advice from a credible source.

Farmer's Market Bag with Kale

Who is a nutritionist?

Anyone. There are actually zero requirements to be able to call yourself a nutritionist! Someone can simply read the health column in a gossip magazine and call themselves a nutritionist. There is no specific education or licensing requirement to become a "nutritionist."

That does not mean that all nutritionists are unreliable. Some do seek out online certificates (though the credibility of some of these programs is questionable) or may even have a degree in nutrition. All in all, it is smart to be wary when taking advice from nutritionists. Do your research to see if they are truly a credible resource and have the education behind them. Sadly, there are a lot of nutritionists out there who are giving inaccurate recommendations or preaching things that have no scientific evidence to back them up, or worse, are advised against.

Who is a registered dietitian?

Registered Dietitians (RDs) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) are the true experts in of the field. They are required to complete a rigorous nutrition education plan as well as pass a national registration exam. Below are the steps required to become a registered dietitian:

  1. Receive a bachelor's degree in nutrition and dietetics from an ACEND (Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) accredited program.

  2. Complete a highly competitive ACEND accredited supervised practice program (Dietetic Internship) with rotations in at least clinical nutrition, community nutrition, and foodservice areas.

  3. Pass the Commission on Dietetic Registration's exam

  4. Gain licensure for your state of practice, if applicable

  5. Maintain continuing education

Many dietitians also have a graduate degree in nutrition or a related field. In fact, beginning in 2024, a minimum of a master's degree is required to even sit for the dietetic registration exam.

The takeaway:

All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. It scares me how many places (such as gyms, supplement stores, etc.) hire nutritionists to work with their clients rather than dietitians. The same goes for social media - some of the most successful nutrition bloggers and influencers out there are not registered dietitians. Once again, nutritionists may have a degree in nutrition, but they also might not. It's up to you to determine which resources are credible and which are not. Your health is too important to take a chance by listening to someone without the actual expertise.

For those of you who do not know, I am studying to be a Registered Dietitian. I recently received my bachelor's degree in nutrition and dietetics from The University of Texas at Austin and will be attending Texas Woman's University beginning this August to work towards my master's degree in nutrition and complete my dietetic internship. If everything goes according to plan, I will be a registered dietitian in two years!

Please feel free to reach out to me or comment below if you have any questions!



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