What’s In A Name? Dietitians vs Nutritionists

By Sara Glanz, MS, RD, LD, CNSC

To the untrained eye, a registered dietitian and a nutritionist sound like the same type of professional. Diet. Nutrition. It’s all food-related, right? Even though these names sound the same, they couldn’t be more different. From education to ethics, not all nutritional professionals are created equally.

Education & Training

Registered dietitians: All dietitians have a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in dietetics and have completed at least 1,200 hours of supervised practice. In 2024, minimum education requirements will be increased to a Master’s degree. Just like other healthcare professionals, dietitians must also complete 75 hours of continuing education every five years.

Nutritionists: There are no education or training requirements to act as a nutritionist.

Expertise

Registered dietitians: Because of their education and training, dietitians are the only professionals who can offer tailored nutrition advice for individuals of all ages. Dietitians utilize evidence-based recommendations, meaning the information they share is rooted in science and research. Evidence-based recommendations are the best, safest, and most trustworthy information available.

Nutritionists: Nutritionists are not necessarily trained in evidence-based practice. Beware of fad diets or information that sounds too good to be true.

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Ethics

Registered dietitians: Dietitians are held to a strict Code of Ethics as part of their national registration. The Code of Ethics provides another layer of trust and protection for the public. Dietitians must promote the best interests of the individuals they serve and practice in a professional manner.

Nutritionists: Nutritionists have no ethical obligations to the public.

Licensure

Registered dietitians: Nearly all 50 states require dietitians to apply for and maintain a state license or certification to practice dietetics. Through this process, dietitians must remain in good professional and legal standing within their state and national credentialing organizations. Licensure ultimately protects the public, as licensed dietitians have passed through an additional vetting process at the state level.

Nutritionists: Nutritionists are not required to hold a license to offer nutrition advice.

Legal Protection

Registered dietitian: Just like other healthcare titles, the term “registered dietitian” is legally protected. This means when you interact with a registered dietitian, you can be assured that that individual meets the education, training, and ethical requirements described above.

Nutritionist: The term “nutritionist” is not legally protected, meaning anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Because there is no legal regulation or definition, it’s impossible to guess or guarantee that a nutritionist has had any sort of nutrition-related training whatsoever.

Although both food-related, registered dietitians and nutritionists are not one and the same. Dietitians have rock-solid education and training and are held to higher ethical and practice standards. Remember, registered dietitians are the only nutrition experts.

Sara Glanz, MS, RD, LD, CNSC worked as a traveling dietitian for Dietitians On Demand for two years before joining the team as the corporate dietitian. In this role, she has championed the continuing education program to empower dietitians everywhere to achieve their professional goals.

Dietitians On Demand is a nationwide staffing and recruiting company for registered dietitians, specializing in short-term, temporary and permanent-hire positions in acute care, long term care and food service positions. We’re dedicated to dietitians and helping them enhance their practice and excel in the workplace. Check out our job openingsrequest your coverage, or visit our store today!