What's the Difference Between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?


Have you ever wondered what the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist is? Not many people know.

Registered Dietitians (RD), or Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN), are the experts in the field of nutrition, whereas nutritionists are not registered and the title can be used by anyone. Literally anyone.

So, what is the difference? Should it really matter if we use the terms nutritionist and dietitian interchangeably? Well, in healthcare we don’t consider a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) to be a Registered Nurse (RN), nor do we consider a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) to be a Physical Therapist (PT). So why do so many people think nutritionists are dietitians?

Let’s break down what the actual difference is between a dietitian and a nutritionist.

Dietitian

First, a dietitian must earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. After graduating, you must apply for a dietetic internship. It’s extremely competitive and the odds are about 50% of getting a spot. Just to put that into perspective, the chances of qualifying for medical school are about 48%.

Most dietetic internship programs suggest at least a 3.4 GPA or higher to even be considered. 3.4 GPA? Probably not too hard if you’re only taking basic nutrition classes and general education classes, right? Well, here’s a short list of classes required during undergrad: microbiology, organic chemistry, biochemistry, advanced physiology, medical nutritional therapy, and human nutrition with biochemistry. That short list might only equate to a year of classes. There are still multiple classes in nutrition and food sciences, foodservice systems, statistics, sociology, economics, and chemistry.

Not only do you need to maintain a high GPA but you also need to have work/volunteer experience in the field as well as be involved on campus. Once you’re accepted into an internship program, you must complete 1,200 hours of supervised practice experience before taking the RD national exam. Registered dietitians must also maintain their registered status through continuing education and advanced degrees/certifications for areas of specialization.

Nutritionist

As I mentioned above, the title “nutritionist” can be used by anyone. Dietitians are required to provide proof of qualifications to practice. Nutritionists are not required to provide any proof. Nutritionists typically don’t have any professional training. Dietitians have minimum of 4-5 years of training just with schooling and their internship.

Would you send your loved one to someone’s house for therapy because YouTube made him or her an expert? Or would you really get a mammogram from that guy down the street because Wikipedia and WebMD showed him how to screen and diagnose? I didn’t think so. Yet, people still take nutrition advice from people who are not experts.

As you can see, there is a huge difference between the two. Nutrition information is everywhere. With so many nutrition enthusiasts out there today, it’s important that you’re receiving accurate information. Formal training and credentials are so important because wrong nutrition advice/information may be flat-out dangerous. Before trusting anyone, make sure you know his or her qualifications and background before accepting any nutrition advice.


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