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Dietitian vs. Nutritionist

Feb 25, 2022 | The Pointe

With March being National Nutrition Month in this country, let’s attempt to clear up the differences between a dietitian and a nutritionist. If you just asked yourself, “There is a difference?”, then this information is for you. Depending on your health needs, perspective, and opinion on regulation, this may help you decide on who to seek for help with your specific nutrition habits and needs.

Licensure and Certification: States have varying titles that can make this a little confusing. In Missouri, a Registered Dietitian is required to meet certain educational standards from an accredited program and complete an internship. After that, one may sit for the Registered Dietitian exam. Once passing the exam, the title of Registered Dietitian is bestowed upon the candidate. In order to practice the profession, however, there is a licensing step, which simply requires mailing in the credentials along with a $50 check, of course. Licensing allows a Registered Dietitian to prescribe medical nutrition therapy, ensures the consumer of qualifications, and allows insurance coverage of nutrition services. When it comes to a nutritionist, it is less definitive (in Missouri). Like personal training, organizations offer certifications for nutritional services. Titles vary and include Nutritionist, Nutritional Specialist, Nutrition Coach, and Fitness Nutrition Specialist. These types of certifications are offered by health and wellness organizations, but do not require a specific educational degree and licensure.

Education Requirements: In Missouri, achieving an Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) undergraduate or graduate degree is the standard in becoming a Registered Dietitian. As already mentioned, the next steps are an internship, exam, and licensure. For the varying health and wellness organization, nutrition certifications, holding a degree in nutrition is not required. 

Different from State to State: Up until this point, the definitions are specific to Missouri. This is where it gets unnecessarily confusing. Depending on the state, dietitian and nutritionist might be used interchangeably and there may be a licensing requirement for both. The easiest way to think about this is that all Registered Dietitians are Nutritionists, but not all Nutritionists are Registered Dietitians. To add to the confusion and the industry’s seemingly insistence to split hairs, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has added a third designation, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. 

After this discussion on the differences between a dietitian and nutritionist, yours truly may have even confused himself. In the end, the information is more important than the title. Regulation and state licensure is the primary difference. If you are looking for nutrition guidance, it is important to seek a qualified individual that fits your needs. A certified nutritionist of any kind will have the qualifications necessary to guide those considered “apparently healthy.” If you fall into this category, focus on the nutritionist’s philosophy/approach and your relationship. The basic science doesn’t change, but making that science understandable and using it in a way that works for you are skills to seek. If you have any special conditions, illnesses, or disease, it may be in your best interest to seek a more clinical approach from a Registered Dietitian. Prescribing specific diets for your specific needs should only be practiced by a an RD.


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