Dietitian and Nutritionist: What is the Difference?

Finding the right professional for you. Our expert from Washington University walks you through choosing the best fit.

If you are like most people you’ve noticed how sometimes nutrition advice comes from a nutritionist and sometimes it comes from a dietitian or a registered dietitian (RD). And if you are like most people you’ve wondered—What is the difference?

The difference is that the term dietitian, and more significantly the RD, has a clear definition that includes an education based on the science of food and how the body uses that food. The “Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics” clearly outlines the coursework required for someone to call themselves a dietitian. In addition, the Commission on Dietetic Registration outlines the experience needed to take the credentialing exam and the continuing education needed to maintain the RD credential.

On the flip side, the term nutritionist does not have a nationally defined definition so the background of a nutritionist in California could be very different from one in Florida. Some state licensure boards have regulated the use of the title but regulations vary from state to state. All Registered Dietitians are nutritionists but not all nutritionists are Registered Dietitians. 

If you want to find a nutrition professional that will provide information based on the science of food and nutrition, turn to the RD. When contacting the RD make sure you discuss your personal goals for healthier eating because just as physicians have areas of specialty so to do RD’s. You want to make sure you work with someone who can assess your needs and help you plan an eating plan that is enjoyable, maintainable and based on the science of food and nutrition. Some insurance plans cover the services of a Registered Dietitian so make sure you ask that question as well.

You can locate an RD in your area by visiting www.eatright.org and clicking on “Find a Registered Dietitian.”


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