The titles Dietitian and Nutritionist are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Although every Registered Dietitian is a nutritionist, not every nutritionist is a Registered Dietitian. So, what is the difference? Read on to learn more about these nutrition professionals and what to look for when seeking nutrition advice.
What is a Dietitian?
According to Khursheed Navder, Ph.D., RDN, director of the nutrition program at Hunter College in New York City, dietitians translate nutrition science into practical day-to-day applications to help you achieve and maintain your health goals.
Dietitians are food and nutrition experts. They are recognized by the credentials “RD” (Registered Dietitian) or “RDN” (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) after their name and work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, various businesses, schools, government, and research agencies and sports teams. You can even find them at your local supermarket and drugstore!
It’s no easy task to become a Registered Dietitian. An RD or RDN is a healthcare professional who has completed the following:
- A four-year bachelor’s degree with specific course work accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). This includes a variety of subjects, such as biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, anatomy, chemistry, business, pharmacology, culinary arts, behavioral social sciences and communication. Beginning in January 2024, new dietitians will be required to have a Masters or Doctoral degree before they are considered eligible to become an RD/RDN.
- The aspiring RD or RDN must then complete at least 1200 hours of supervised practice through an accredited dietetic internship. This internship is typically unpaid and takes between 8-24 months to complete depending on whether the program is part-time or full-time. There are some “coordinated” education programs in dietetics, which means the bachelor’s or master’s degree coursework also includes the required internship. These programs are a great way to get both your degree and internship completed at the same time.
- Once a person has a bachelor’s degree and has completed an internship, they can immediately apply to take the national exam. The Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) administers the national exam. It is a computer-based exam that evaluates a dietitian’s ability to perform nutrition responsibilities. You must pass this exam to be an RD. Until RDs have passed this exam, they are considered Registered Dietitian eligible (RDE).
Once the education, internship, and the exam are completed successfully, a person can call themselves a registered dietitian, but an RD never stops learning. Similar to many health experts, dietitians must stay up to date on the science for best practice. In order to maintain the credential, an RD must complete continuing professional educational requirements on an ongoing basis and submit this for review and approval to the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
What is a Nutritionist?
Unlike Dietitian, RD, or RDN, “Nutritionist” is a term that is used loosely and has no defined requirements. In the U.S., this title can be applied to anyone who offers general nutrition advice. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, even without any formal training.
With that said, some nutritionists have advanced nutrition degrees and certifications. Those with advanced degrees can pursue the title of Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) or Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner Credential (IFNCP™).
Obtaining a CNS credential is not an easy task either. It is granted through the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists (CBNS) and requires the following:
- Successful competition of a Master’s of Science (MS) or doctoral degree in nutrition or other clinical healthcare fields, including specific coursework from a regionally accredited institution.
- A passing score on the certification exam for Nutrition Specialists™.
- The completion of 1000 hours of supervised practice experience.
- The continued maintenance of education requirements.
The IFNCP™ credential is slightly different as it can be an additional credential to already practicing healthcare providers, such as dietitians and nurses, or can be granted to non-healthcare providers. The following individuals are eligible to apply for the IFNCP™ credential:
- Current Healthcare providers such as RD/RDNs, Registered Nurses, etc.
- Individuals who have successfully completed a Master’s or Doctorate degree in the health science/nutrition field.
- Health coaches, massage therapists, personal trainers and nutritionists who have a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition from an accredited university, and who have also acquired a minimum of 1000 hours in clinical practice within a five year period.
Those eligible for the IFNCP credential must then complete the following to be allowed to take the IFNCP examination:
- Successful completion of all five program education tracks within 24 months.
- Pass all open-book module quizzes.
- Upon completion of the entire program and quizzes, those eligible may apply for the IFNCP™ credential.
- Once the application is approved, the final step is to register for the IFNCP™ credential exam. Once an individual has passed the exam, the credentials of IFNCP™ may be used.
Which Specialist is Right for Me?
As you can see, it is essential to know precisely which qualifications and certifications an individual has when looking for a nutrition professional. Not everyone who calls themselves a nutritionist is qualified to dispense nutrition advice. Be sure to choose someone with the appropriate knowledge, background, and expertise to meet your needs.
Also, certain states require nutrition professionals to be licensed. Currently, 47 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have statutory provisions regulating the profession of anyone using titles such as “dietitian” and “nutritionist.” These professional licensing laws help protect you against unsafe or inaccurate nutrition advice or interventions that may lead to adverse or even dangerous health outcomes — and unnecessary, expensive products or services. Look for the additional credentials of LDN (Licensed Dietitian and Nutritionist) to ensure your nutrition expert is a licensed practitioner.
Theralogix Registered Dietitians
Theralogix employs two full-time registered and licensed dietitians who stay up to date on relevant nutrition research and work closely with our Chief Science Officer and Medical Advisory Board on product development and reformulations. They are responsible for all the content found on the Theralogix website, including the Balanced Living Blog. The Theralogix dietitians are also here to answer your questions regarding our products. Feel free to contact them with product-related questions by visiting the Contact Us page and selecting “Nutrition Question.”