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Registered Dietitian vs Nutritionist: What is the difference?

June 13, 2022

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Learn more about the difference between Registered Dietitians (RD) and nutritionists. Read about dietitian vs nutritionist education, training, and scope of practice–and how to find the right practitioner for you.

What's the difference between a registered dietitian vs nutritionist

What is a registered dietitian (RD)?

 

A Registered Dietitian (RD) is a regulated health professional who is an expert in food and nutrition. 

They're trained to translate complex nutrition science to make healthy eating easier for you. RDs can help you tackle many health concerns including PCOS, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), overeating, and overall wellness.

Registered Dietitians are bound by a professional regulatory body (just like nurses and doctors!). This means they're held to a certain professional standard to provide safe and evidence-based care.

Registered Dietitians may also be called dietitian, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, RD, RDN, P.Dt–it just depends on where they practice!

 

Dietitian education requirements

 

RDs must complete specific education requirements. It’s a protected title–so if you don’t complete this process, you can’t call yourself a dietitian.

How to become a dietitian in Canada:

  • Complete a degree in nutrition and dietetics. Your degree must be accredited by the Partnership for Dietetic Education and Practice (PDEP). Find a list of accredited dietitian undergraduate programs here.
  • Complete 35-40 weeks of unpaid internship. After that, you must apply to a masters or practicum program that includes supervised training.
  • Write a licensing exam. Dietitians must pass the Canadian Dietetics Registration Exam (CDRE). 

Dietitians complete courses in chemistry, physiology, microbiology, metabolism, clinical dietetics, and management. It's a complex science - so a solid foundation is a must!

Other countries have similar education requirements. Learn about how to become a registered dietitian in the United States (US) here, or check with your country’s dietetics association.

 

What is a nutritionist?

 

Nutritionists teach people about nutrition, food and healthy habits.

They don't have a defined job description because the profession is unregulated.

You can think of them more as a general educator and coach. Legally, nutritionists can't provide any medical nutrition counselling unless they're also a dietitian.

What's the difference between a registered dietitian and nutritionist

Nutritionist education requirements

 

There are no specific education and training requirements to become a nutritionist since it isn't a regulated profession.

Some nutritionists hold advanced degrees in nutrition. Other nutritionists may simply complete a weekend course or 3-month training program.

Remember, there's a big cost to become a dietitian.

The degree is expensive, the practical training is competitive, and the internship is completely unpaid. Many people won't pursue the RD credential because of this cost.

Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, registered nutritionist, holistic nutritionist, or integrative nutritionist in most countries. These titles aren't usually legally protected–so make sure you ask for information on their education and training.

There are some exceptions–like registered nutritionists (RNutr) in the UK or certified nutrition specialists (CNS) in the US. Always ask your practitioner for their qualifications to avoid confusion.

 

All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians

 

Recognizing the difference between dietitians and nutritionists can be confusing. 

And to make matters even more complicated, dietitians can call themselves nutritionists... but nutritionists can never call themselves dietitians.

How to know if someone is a dietitian or nutritionist:

  • If you see any of these titles–Registered Dietitian, Dietitian, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, RD, RDN, P.Dt–you’re dealing with a dietitian.
  • If you see any of these titles–nutritionist, registered nutritionists, holistic nutritionists, integrative nutritionists–ask for credentials. You might be dealing with a qualified practitioner... or not.

 

Key differences: dietitians vs nutritionists

 

The main differences between registered dietitians and nutritionists are:

 

1) Education requirements

Registered Dietitians must complete specific education in nutrition and dietetics. Nutritionists do not have any specific education requirements. Although some nutritionists hold relevant degrees, it's not required to practice.

 

2) Training requirements

Registered dietitians must complete 35+ weeks of supervised training before passing a licensing exam. Nutritionists do not have any specific training requirements.

 

3) Regulation

Registered Dietitians are governed by a regulatory body, which protects the public. If an RD does anything unsafe or unethical, they can lose their license. 

Nutritionists do not report to a regulatory body. It's harder to report them if they're saying or doing something unsafe.

 

Should you see a dietitian or nutritionist?

 

There’s no right answer!

Everyone’s goals and nutrition needs are different. And what’s most important is that you find someone who feels like a good fit.

When you work with a Registered Dietitian, you know their level of education, training, and expertise. With a nutritionist, you may want to ask more questions to understand their qualifications!

Whether you choose to work with a dietitian (like me!) or nutritionist, I recommend asking these two questions first:

  1. What is your education and training? (Look for a bachelor's degree in nutrition or more)
  2. What is your experience working with [your specific health concern]?

 

The bottom line

 

Registered Dietitians are regulated health professionals with rigorous training requirements. ‘Nutritionist’ is an unregulated title in most places, so make sure you ask about their education and training.

If you have any questions about this article, leave them below. And if you found this post helpful, screenshot and share to Instagram!

Want to learn more about finding balance with food? You might also like:

 

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Hey, I'm Miranda! I'm a Registered Dietitian here to help you simplify nutrition and find balance with food.

categories

nutrition

mindset

personal

crowd favs

on the blog

30 Healthy Balanced Snacks to Keep You Full

Is Organic Food Healthier Than Conventional?

Is Coconut Oil Good for Weight Loss and Health?

myth busting

food