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What’s the Difference Between a Registered Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

nutritionist and registered dietitian comparison

Nutritionist or Registered Dietitian: What’s the difference?

Nutritionist and Registered Dietitian are terms used these days to describe a professional who counsels people on diet.  Is there a difference?  If you are seeking guidance for your health, how do you know whom to call? 

All registered dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians.  

The words “registered dietitian” (RD) or “registered dietitian nutritionist” (RDN) is a legally protected title granted by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. This agency governs the educational and practice standards of all nutrition professionals with these titles.  RD’s typically work in hospitals, medical practices, government public health,  long term care facilities, school systems, and with sports teams. 

The term “nutritionist” by itself is not a protected title and may be used by anyone who decides to offer diet counseling regardless of their training.  However, there are a few good accreditation organizations who do offer credentials to health care providers with training in nutrition.  The depth of that training will vary between a few months of classes and a rigorous 3-4 year curriculum and extensive hours of supervised practice.  This may be useful for physicians, nurses, physical therapists, personal trainers, yoga instructors, health coaches, teachers, social workers or other professionals who wish to have anything from a basic understanding of nutrition to the ability to work in a medical facility and coordinate a patient’s care with a physician.  

Here is a comparison:

Registered Dietitian or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Nutritionist (examples, there are many)

Letters Used

  • RD
  • MS RD
  • RDN

Learn more about credentials here.

  • CNC -Certified Nutritional Consultant
  • Certified Nutritional Professional
  • CCN – Certified Clinical Nut

Level of Education Required

Bachelors or Masters Degree

None, HS diploma, bachelors, masters, physician level

Accrediting Organization

Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR)

  • American Assoc of Nutritional Consultants
  • National Assoc of Nutrition Professionals
  • CCN Clinical Nutrition Certification Board

Hours of Supervised Practice in Core Program

1000+ hours

None for entry level programs, up to 1200 hours for physician level programs

Acceptable Credential for State Licensure to Practice

Yes, however not all states require a license to practice. (Michigan does not).

Not for entry level programs. Nutrition licensure may be accepted for health care providers with another health care license

Continuing Education Requirement

75 credit hours every 5 year

Varies. 0-75 hours every 3-5 years.

If you are hunting around for a good nutrition professional, know what the various credentials mean before choosing to work with a practitioner.  If you just need some general help with managing a meal plan, a personal trainer with a few nutrition classes might be able to help you make some good choices.  However, if you have medical concerns, a new diagnosis or complicated medical history, it is best to work with a practitioner who has a strong medical background, a minimum bachelor’s degree in nutrition science and experience in providing counseling for your concerns. 

Carol Bell, MS RD is a Registered Dietitian since 2013.