Need help with food and diet but don’t know where to turn? Read this article to understand the difference between a Registered Dietitian vs Nutritionist, and who is the best fit for your goals.

What is a registered dietitian (RD)?

A Registered Dietitian (RD) is an expert in food and nutrition. 

They are trained to interpret complex nutrition science so you can eat healthier. Dietitians can help you manage different health concerns like PCOS, diabetes, gut issues, overeating, and general wellness. They help you learn what to eat (and often, how to eat!) for optimal physical and mental health.

And just like nurses and physicians, dietitians are regulated health professionals. This means they report to a regulatory body. And if they want to keep their license, they have to provide safe and evidence-based care to their patients or clients.

Dietitian education requirements

To call yourself an RD, you need to complete very specific education and training. This includes an undergraduate degree, an internship, and an exam. And depending on where you practice, you might need a masters degree too!

  • Complete an accredited undergraduate degree in nutrition and dietetics.This includes lots of chemistry, physiology and clinical classes.
  • Complete 35-40 weeks of training in an internship or masters program.This takes 1-2 years on top of your degree.
  • Write a licensing exam.
    It’s called the Canadian Dietetic Registration Exam (CDRE) and it’s a doozy.

What happens if you don’t complete all these steps? Well, you can’t call yourself a dietitian! By the way, these requirements vary in every country-but the steps are usually similar to what’s outlined here. Read this to learn how to become a dietitian in the US or check with your country’s dietetics association.

What is a nutritionist?

Nutritionists teach people about nutrition, food and healthy habits more broadly.

Nutritionists aren’t regulated like dietitians are. This means they’re limited in how they can practice legally. Nutritionists can teach you about macronutrients and show you how to build a balanced plate. But they can’t legally help you with your diabetes or PCOS… and you definitely won’t find them working in a hospital.

Nutritionists are meant to act more as general health and wellness coaches. But because they’re unregulated, it’s not uncommon for them to go beyond their scope.

What's the difference between a registered dietitian and nutritionist

Nutritionist education requirements

The big difference between nutritionists and dietitians is that there are no specific education requirements to be a nutritionist. 

And that doesn’t necessarily mean all nutritionists are bad. After all, the cost to become a dietitian is BIG. The process is long, the degree is expensive, and internships are competitive. Not everyone can afford to pursue the designation and not everyone needs it.

But what it does mean is that you don’t necessarily know who you’re working with. Pretty much anyone can call themselves a nutritionist… whether they’ve completed a 3-day training or a PhD in metabolism. So it’s super important to ask about their qualifications if you choose to hire one.

All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians

Yep, you read that right. 

Legally, dietitians can call themselves nutritionists too. But nutritionists can never call themselves dietitians. It’s confusing, isn’t it?!

Here’s any easy way to tell the difference between registered dietitians and nutritionists:

  • Registered Dietitian, Dietitian, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, RD, RDN, P.Dt-if you see one of these titles, it’s a dietitian.
  • Nutritionist, registered nutritionist, holistic nutritionist, integrative nutritionist-if you see one of these titles, ask for qualifications.

Key differences between nutritionists and dietitians

The 3 main differences between registered dietitians and nutritionists are education, training, and regulation:

Education: Registered Dietitians need a relevant degree in nutrition and dietetics to qualify. Nutritionists may or may not have relevant education.

Training: Registered Dietitians must complete 35-40 weeks of additional training before writing a national exam. Nutritionists don’t have any specific training requirements.

Regulation: Registered Dietitians report to a regulatory body-so if they do something unsafe or unethical, they can lose their license. Nutritionists aren’t regulated so they can get away with more questionable practices.

Should you see a dietitian or nutritionist?

That’s up to you! Everyone’s nutrition needs are different and it’s important to find a professional you connect with.

The upside of working with a dietitian is that you know what you’re getting in terms of qualifications. But with nutritionists, you may have to ask more questions.

Whether you choose to work with a dietitian (like me!) or nutritionist, here are 3 questions to ask them:

  1. Are you a registered dietitian? This isn’t always required but definitely a bonus.
  2. Do you have a degree in nutrition? This is required-nutrition is complex!
  3. What experience do you have with [your specific health condition!]? Make sure they understand your needs before investing.

The bottom line

Dietitians are always well-trained in the science of nutrition. Nutritionists sometimes aren’t! If you’re unsure about someone’s qualifications in nutrition, don’t be afraid to ask.

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

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