Differences Between a Dietician and a Nutritionist

As experts in food and nourishment, both dietitians and nutritionists have studied the role food plays in overall health. But these titles can be confusing, so here are a few basic differences to be aware of – 

The credential “registered dietician” can be used only by dietetics professionals who are currently authorized by the Commission on Accreditation/Approval for Dietetics Education (CADE) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Registered Dietitians may call themselves “nutritionists,” yet not all nutritionists are dietitians. The difference is education and clinical experience.

Surprisingly, many states allow practitioners to call themselves “nutritionists”, offering the same services as dieticians, regardless of the education and training. counts here.


A registered dietitian plans food and nutrition programs, promoting healthful eating habits to prevent and treat illness. They often work in food service or as part of medical teams in hospitals, clinics or university settings where they may teach, do research or focus on public health issues.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the United States, a registered dietitian has:

1. Earned a bachelor’s degree with course work approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics.

2. Completed an accredited, supervised practice program at a healthcare facility, community agency or foodservice corporation.

3. Passed a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.

4. Completed continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration.


A nutritionist specializes in the study of nutrition, including nutritional deficiencies, sources of nutrition, and nutritional challenges which may face individuals or communities. They may or may not have a graduate degree in nutrition from an accredited college. The word is thrown about a bit loosely, making it rather vague since they are not regulated.

 A person may take a few classes in nutrition and consider him or herself a nutritionist, or someone may have a PhD or MD in nutritional science.

Some healthcare providers such as medical doctors, osteopaths, physician assistants, chiropractors and naturopathic doctors may be considered to be nutritionists if they’ve fulfilled supplementary studies in nutrition and they may practice “clinical nutrition.”

There are nutritionist certification boards, such as the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists, which requires applicants to have at least a master’s degree in nutrition from an accredited college along with practical experience before sitting for their certification exam. After passing the exam, they may refer to themselves as certified nutrition specialists (C.N.S.). The Clinical Nutrition Certification Board is another organization that offers certification as the certified clinical nutritionist (C.C.N.).


In regions where nutrition and dietetics are not licensed or regulated, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Many U.S. states and Canadian provinces require licensure to practice as either a dietitian or a nutritionist. They are:

  • L.D. = licensed dietitian
  • L.N. = licensed nutritionist
  • L.D.N. = licensed dietitian nutritionist

The requirements for licensure vary a bit by location. Some states only license register dietitians, while others license nutritionists if they’re certified by one of the above certification boards.

So, the take-away is this – when choosing between a registered dietician and a nutritionist, be sure to inquire about the practitioner’s education, experience and expertise.

How would it feel to be Strong, Leaner, and more confident in your body?