Here's The Real Difference Between A Dietitian And A Nutritionist

It may seem like the terms "dietitian" and "nutritionist" are interchangeable, but that's actually not the case. Both help can help people reach their health and wellness goals, but there are differences in the credentials required for each. If you plan on seeking nutrition advice or treatment for a condition, it's important to understand the qualifications of whomever you choose to see (it's also a good idea to seek treatment in tandem with speaking with your primary care doctor).

One of the most crucial differences between dietitian and nutritionists in the United States is that dietitians must be certified by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They are then able to treat clinical conditions such as eating disorders, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, allergies, and food intolerances. Though some organizations offer certification for nutritionists (such as the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists, or BCNS), it is not required in all states (via Medical News Today). Technically, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, while very specific degrees and accreditations are required to call oneself a registered dietitian, or RD.

Dietitians and nutritionists have very different credentials

In the United States, dietitians are highly trained and educated health professionals that can practice in hospitals, outpatient clinics, and other settings. According to PureWow, dietitians must earn a Bachelor's degree at a four-year institution with an accredited nutrition curriculum. They must also complete an internship program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). These programs typically involve 900 to 1,200 unpaid supervised practice hours in addition to passing an exit exam upon completing the internship. The final step to becoming a dietitian is passing the national registration exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.

In order to maintain their registration, dietitians are also required to participate in continuing education. This helps them to stay up-to-date on the current science, as the health and nutrition field is ever-changing.

Nutritionist, on the other hand, is an unregulated title in the U.S. (via Healthline). Really anyone with an interest in nutrition can call themselves a nutritionist without penalty. However, some nutritionists have gone through educational programs relating to their field — some even go on to become certified nutrition specialists (CNS). This speciality requires a Master's degree from an institution with an accredited nutrition curriculum, 1,000 hours of supervised practice experience, and passing the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists exam.

Essentially, while nutritionists can be registered health professionals, it is a much more broad term and doesn't require certification in the U.S. Dietitians, however, are required to complete certain accredited programs in order to practice.