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  • Writer's pictureAlina de Almeida

Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: What’s the Difference?

Updated: Apr 11

Alina de Almeida, Registered Dietitian

Registered Dietitian

While the terms “dietitian” and “nutritionist” are often used interchangeably, there are important distinctions between these two careers. Dietitians require either a bachelors in science or a masters degree, are strictly regulated and must undergo a rigorous process to become credentialed. Separately, nutritionists don’t necessarily have any education requirement or have to undergo any particular training.

Registered dietitians (RD's) are health professionals who have special training in diet and nutrition. Their main focus is to recommend nutrition protocols to prevent and manage chronic health conditions.

Registered dietitians receive comprehensive training in nutrition science, anatomy and physiology, and biochemistry. They also develop counseling skills to support effective behavioral changes. Some dietitian's acquire specialty credentials in areas such as pediatric nutrition, endocrinology, obesity and weight management. Dietitians are qualified to treat specific medical issues, such as food intolerances, gut health issues, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, and diabetes.

Dietitians work in a variety of settings including but not limited to hospitals, private practice, schools and restaurants.

On the contrary, Nutritionists offer more broad views of nutritional advice. They cannot provide medical nutrition therapy.

How To Become a Dietitian

As of January 1, 2024, first-time registered dietitians must have a master’s degree, complete a clinical internship and pass a national board examination. Additional credentialing requirements vary by state.

Complete an Accredited Internship

Students must complete a 1,200-hour supervised dietetic internship (DI) that takes eight to 24 months.

Pass the National Registration Exam

After completing their DI, students must pass the registration exam for dietitians. Administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), the exam assesses learners’ knowledge of dietetics and nutrition. Aspiring dietitians who pass the exam earn the RD credential and become eligible for state licensure or certification to begin working in the field.

Obtain State Licensure

The following states require additional certification or licensure after earning the RD credential:

  • Alabama

  • Alaska

  • Delaware

  • District of Columbia

  • Florida

  • Illinois

  • Kentucky

  • Louisiana

  • Maine

  • Maryland

  • Massachusetts

  • Minnesota

  • Mississippi

  • Missouri

  • Montana

  • Nebraska

  • New Jersey

  • New Mexico

  • New York

  • North Carolina

  • North Dakota

  • Ohio

  • Pennsylvania

  • Rhode Island

  • Tennessee

  • Virginia

  • Washington

Complete Continuing Education Requirements

To maintain registration with CDR, Registered Dietitians must complete 75 continuing professional education units every five years, one of which must be related to ethics. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers various qualifying face-to-face learning events, recorded sessions, online certification courses, self-study programs and webinars to help RD's meet these requirements.

What Is a Nutritionist?

Because the field is less regulated than that of dietitians, nutritionists’ level of expertise and qualifications vary greatly. Some states, including Oklahoma, Oregon, California and Colorado, don’t regulate the nutritionist title at all. In these states, anyone interested in the profession can call themselves a nutritionist as long as they aren’t providing medical care.

Other states may require you to earn a basic certification in nutrition before you can work in the field.


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