Dietitian-Approved Guide: What Is The Difference Between A Dietitian And A Nutritionist?

The terms “dietitian” and “nutritionist” are used interchangeably, but they are not identical. Summit’s nutrition and wellness team explains the difference between these titles.

When we need medical advice about our diet, we want to consult a healthcare professional with specialized training in nutrition. Both dietitians and nutritionists offer advice about food and diet, but the quality of their training can vary substantially. Summit’s nutrition and wellness team explains the difference between the two titles.

Knowing your professionals is important. Dietitians and nutritionists may be discussed in the same breath, but there is a significant difference between the education and the credentialing of a dietitian versus a nutritionist.

  • Registered Dietitian  The term dietitian is protected and regulated by law, like the term “lawyer.” The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines a dietitian as a health professional with specific university qualifications, including a four-year bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics or a three-year science degree followed by a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. Additionally, a dietitian in the U.S. is required to complete 1,200 hours of practical training in different hospital and community settings.
  • Nutritionist  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines “nutritionist” as a non-accredited title. It may apply to people who have done a short course in nutrition or who have given themselves this title without any supporting education. Because this title is not protected by law, anyone can call himself or herself a nutritionist.

The title “nutritionist” covers a lot of territory. Anyone can claim this title, from a person who simply went online to get a nutritionist certificate for $25.00 to a person who has a four-year bachelor’s degree in nutrition—but has not done any kind of internship. That’s where it gets tricky. Nutritionists may offer medical advice about nutrition, but it’s very difficult to ascertain how much education they’ve had—if any.

The distinction between dietitians and nutritionists has been complicated by the fact that dietitians can now be called registered dietitian nutritionists. This change was made to address the confusion between dietitians and nutritionists, tough to say whether it was helpful though!

When you work with a registered dietitian, you know you are getting advice from someone who is a member of a regulated professional body that holds them accountable for their conduct and the care they provide. Dietitians have a science-based education and have had extensive supervised training in a variety of nutritional settings. They are credentialed so that you can have confidence in the safety of their care.

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