Registered Dietitians and Nutritionists: Similarities and Differences

Registered Dietitians (RDs) and Nutritionists have a similar professional passion – to help guide others in living their best lives through individualized and balanced eating patterns, movement routines, and overall self-care. However, there are stark differences in the education, training, and legal certification processes between Registered Dietitians and Nutritionists that are important to recognize when choosing the nutrition professional that is best suited to meet your needs.

Education and Training
All RDs must complete a formal education program resulting in a minimum of a 4-year baccalaureate degree from an accredited university. These degree programs include extensive coursework in the following areas:

  • Biology and Microbiology
  • Organic chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • Foodservice systems management
  • Food and nutrition sciences
  • Computer science and Business
  • Sociology and Psychology
  • Economics

Dietitians have also participated in a rigorous practical internship (minimum of 1,200 hours of hands-on experience) and are qualified to provide medical nutrition therapy (MNT) for chronic illnesses such as diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, metabolic disorders, and many other disease states. Nutritionists may have certificates and/or degrees in nutrition-related fields but are not required to complete the same formal education programs as RDs and cannot legally or ethically provide medical nutrition therapy.

Legal Certification
To become a registered dietitian, one must pass a comprehensive national exam and will likely need to acquire a license to practice in their individual locations. These certifications are upheld through renewal processes and by completing ongoing continuing education requirements. Non-licensed Nutritionists do not have to uphold national or state credentials and do not have to complete continuing education activities. “Nutritionist” is not a regulated title, so anyone can call themselves one regardless of their educational background, work experience, or services offered.

When embarking on your journey to balanced nutrition, ensure that you are choosing the nutrition professional that has the qualifications, experience, and ability to meet your individual needs and to help guide you in reaching your health and wellness goals!

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