Difference Between a Nutritionist and a Registered Dietitian (RD/RDN)

by | Dec 27, 2021 | Uncategorized

Updated: May 24, 2022

Many of us recognize the importance of nutrition and the role that food can play in our health. When we want to improve our health, we often look to professionals well versed in nutrition and health. So, when it comes to nutritionist vs registered dietitian, what is the difference?

When it comes to choosing the right person to help with our health goals, many of us focus on nutrition. For many of us, we feel like nutrition has unlocked newfound vitality that we otherwise would have never known.

When considering the right foods to consume on a regular basis, it is natural to wonder if you’re ‘doing it right’ with all of the conflicting information on the internet, social media, gym floors, family gatherings, and in the office. This is why it’s essential that you have a professional on your side to provide you with evidence-based information.

Naturally, a question that comes with finding a nutrition professional is: “what’s the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian?”

To understand the difference between the two, I will tell you everything you need to know about these two roles.

What is a nutritionist?

There is a massive difference between hiring a Registered Dietitian (RD/RDN) and a self-proclaimed ‘nutritionist’ (or even ‘coach’). So what can a nutritionist do?

First off, every dietitian is a nutritionist,

but not every nutritionist is a dietitian.

Let me explain.

Nutritionist vs Registered Dietitian: Education & Credentials

In the United States, ANYONE can call themselves a nutritionist or coach. There are no regulations behind that title at all. A ‘coach’ or ‘nutritionist’ can very well be somebody coaching off of their own experience, and someone who does not possess the knowledge needed to individualize your lifestyle choices. This is one of the biggest differences between a nutritionist vs registered dietitian.

In some cases, a nutritionist truly does have an education in the subject, such as a bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences or even an advanced degree. However, because this title is unregulated, it is one to exercise extreme caution with if considering hiring a nutritionist.

Additionally, nutritionists are not allowed to provide medical nutrition therapy and provide dietary advice for medical diseases. Because of the lack of training, they can cause serious harm to those with medical conditions.

However, I know plenty of nutritionists who are knowledgeable and refer to a dietitian the moment they feel they are heading outside of their expertise.

Lastly, a nutritionist/coach does not have any continuing education requirements, and thus is not held accountable to continuing to stay up-to-date on the latest research.

What is a dietitian?

A registered dietitian may call themselves an RD (Registered Dietitian) or RDN (Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist). The governing body for dietitians added RDN as an optional title in an effort to specify that dietitians are nutritionists and to create more awareness around what we do.

What’s the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist? One of the biggest factors is education.

Dietitians must complete a bachelor’s degree full of nutritional sciences including but not limited to: biochemistry, organic chemistry, anatomy & physiology, advanced nutritional studies, and more.

RD’s also must complete an advanced degree, finish 1200 hours of supervised work, and then take a board exam with an average of a 50% pass rate. In addition, they are required to keep their credential through extensive continuing education. Should they not meet the standards for continuing education, they lose their credential.

RD/RDNs eat (no pun intended), sleep, and breathe nutrition and science. They are basically the doctors of nutrition. In fact, many RDs do go on to earn a PhD, though at this time it is not required to become a dietitian. This focus on education is one of the biggest differences between nutritionist vs registered dietitian.

What does a dietitian do for you?

A dietitian is a professional who focuses nutrition as both a science and a social science. Meaning, why do we eat what we choose to eat? How can we alter food-related behaviors to better serve us? And what kinds of foods will help us function most optimally?

Thus, a dietitian may help a person focus on using nutrition to enhance their athletic performance, prevent disease, manage a disease, reverse malnutrition, heal an eating disorder, and much, much more.

Dietitians have sufficient knowledge to deal with the treatment of diseases through nutrition. The training received by dietitians qualifies them to attend to the populations with serious health problems.

Unlike the nutritionist, they have more training, clinical understanding, and the ability to provide medical nutrition therapy. For this reason, dietitians can develop diets and nutritional strategies to mitigate & manage symptoms.

Dietitians are an important addition to the medical team in hospitals, facilitating nutrition therapy to patients who have serious medical conditions or who require liquid nutrition.

a woman in a lab coat smiles at the camera thinking about the difference between nutritionist vs registered dietitian

Which is better, nutritionist or dietitian?

When it comes to helping you manage medical conditions and improve your overall health, what a dietitian does and the educational experiences they have makes working with a dietitian your best option.

The RD/RDN is a professional who can help you improve your health in a safe, reliable way. Formal training and credentials are vital because what might work for one individual may be totally inappropriate, ineffective, or even harmful to another person.

You wouldn’t let someone who’s not a doctor tell you what medication to take, so why let someone who’s not a dietitian tell you how to eat?

If you’re ready to recruit an RD to help you create a healthy relationship with food, visit yatesnutrition.com to find out more about how I can help!