Kimberly Higgins Dietitian Food Nutrition

What is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

The terms used to designate a nutrition professional can be confusing. “Registered Dietitian” “Nutritionist” and even, “Registered Dietitian Nutritionist” are often used synonymously. They don’t however all mean the same things when it comes to education, training, and experience. With so many terms in the marketplace, it can be confusing to know where to turn if you are looking for a nutrition expert.

Registered Dietitian

Dietetics is a licensed professional healthcare practice that can assess, diagnose and prescribe treatment for nutritional problems. The title Registered Dietitian (RD) is a regulated one, meaning that it is legally protected and nationally recognized. To wear the title of RD, requirements must be met that include a Bachelors’s degree in nutrition, nutrition science, or dietetics that includes specified coursework like physiology, microbiology, nutrition and disease, food science, and many other biological, sociological, and psychological sciences. Additional training is required through a 900-hour supervised internship that includes hands-on training in clinical, community, and foodservice environments. Finally, the RD designation is granted once an individual passes a comprehensive exam that covers all elements of nutrition care and services. To maintain the RD designation, dietitians must complete continuing education throughout their career, to ensure they stay up to date on emerging science and must adhere to a professional code of ethics.


Conversely, the term “nutritionist” is not a nationally recognized term. Definitions can vary by state with some states having requirements for using the title and many others having no requirements at all – meaning that anyone can call themselves a nutritionist regardless of whether they have any nutrition education or training at all. Though many nutritionists have some formal nutrition education or training, the term “nutritionist” does not guarantee it, so the savvy consumer must ask questions and do their homework when selecting a nutritionist.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

The term Nutritionist is a powerful one because it is self-explaining. Many dietitians choose to also call themselves nutritionists because of the familiarity and recognition of this title amongst the general public. In 2013 the Academy of Food and Nutrition (Formerly the American Dietetic Association), in alignment with this trend, approved a new designation, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Any Dietitian that is registered (RD) has the option of alternatively using the RDN designation to include the term nutritionist as part of their professional designation. Per the Academy of Food and Nutrition, this step was taken because “every dietitian is a nutritionist, but not every nutritionist is a dietitian”.

The bottom line is, whenever you choose a health practitioner you should do so carefully, asking questions and ensuring qualifications. The RD or RDN credential allows you to know that your nutritionist brings education, experience, and ongoing training to the relationship.