Q: What is the difference between a nutritionist and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist?

A: Registered dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs, used to be called Registered Dietitians, or RDs) are food and nutrition experts. They are NOT just the “lady in the cafeteria.”

The following are the criteria required to earn the RDN credential:

  • Earned a minimum of a pre-med bachelor’s degree at a US accredited university or college and completed a supervised practice program at a healthcare facility or community agency lasting up to one year
  • Passed a national accreditation examination
  • Completes continuing professional education requirements on an on-going basis

The registered dietitian nutritionist is the health care provider with the most intensive experience necessary to provide nutrition services to individuals interested in medical nutrition therapy (MNT) or preventive nutrition counseling.

MNT is defined as a plan or set of steps, developed through a consultative process by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, which incorporates current professional knowledge and research, and clearly defines the level, content, and frequency of nutrition care that is appropriate for a disease or condition. Medical nutrition therapy begins with the nutritional assessment of a client, followed by a medically prescribed nutrition therapy based on standard protocols.

Some Registered Dietitians hold additional certifications in specialized areas of practice, such as pediatric or renal nutrition, nutrition support, and diabetes education. These certifications are awarded through the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), the credentialing agency for the American Dietetic Association, and/or other medical and nutrition organizations and are recognized within the profession, but are not required.

In addition to RDN credentialing, many states have regulatory laws for dietitians and nutrition practitioners. Frequently these state requirements are met through the same education and training required to become an RDN.

Dietitians study a variety of subjects, ranging from food and nutrition sciences, food service systems management, business, economics, computer science, culinary arts, sociology, and communication to science courses such as biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, anatomy, and chemistry.

What Distinguishes a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist from a Nutritionist?

ALL of the above distinguishes a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist from a nutritionist. You may hear of people who call themselves “nutritionists.” Basically, ANYONE can call themselves a Nutritionist. However, they DO NOT have the qualifications of a REGISTERED DIETITIAN NUTRITIONIST.

Click here to read more about the differences between a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a nutritionist.