Dietitian or Nutritionist: What’s the difference?

In today’s society, nutrition is unavoidable. There are ads, articles, commercials and even Facebook posts telling you what to eat and why. Everyone is impacted by nutrition and has their own opinions and experiences. Finding reliable nutrition advice among all the chatter can be daunting and often it takes seeking out a person that specializes in nutrition for help.

In the United States the words dietitian and nutritionist are often used interchangeable or even together. So is there a differences, and if so what is it? Yes, there is a difference. There can be a huge difference in the depth, types, and length of education and training. All dietitians are nutritionists, however not all nutritionist are dietitians. The term nutritionist is not regulated, meaning anyone, regardless of training, can call themselves a nutritionist. Dietitians, on the other hand, have a set of criteria they must complete, comprising of education and supervised training, before they can sit for their national registration exam. Just like nurses or doctors, dietitians can then go on to specialize in certain areas of nutrition such as nutrition support, sports nutrition, weight management, holistic nutrition, pediatrics and much more.

Nutrition is a specialized sciences. You should be aware of the qualifications of your dietitian or nutritionist. Here are a few of the types of credentials you might run into and some detail on what is required for these credential.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD or RDN)

  • Minimum of a Bachelor’s degree
  • Completion of an Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) accredited Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPI)
  • A minimum of 1200 hours of supervised practice
  • Pass an exam taken under supervision

Holistic Nutritionist

  • 16 hours of lectures and 5 course textbooks
  • Online certification exam

Certified Nutritionist (CN)

  • Two-year associate degree or distance-learning program consisting of six classes
  • Pass an exam taken under supervision

Certified Nutrition Consultant (CNC)

  • Pass 11 open-book exams within 5 years


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