What is the difference between a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) VS. a Nutritionist?

It’s hard to know who to trust when you are seeking accurate information and qualified help in the area of nutrition. There is so much information out in the world today and in this ever-changing field of nutrition, it is important to understand the sources that you are getting your information from. There are studies, position papers published almost daily with changing information, that it’s so easy to get confused and frustrated. That being said, there are certain credentials and people out there who are experts in the field and can help you decipher the difference between a credible and non-credible nutrition source. Let’s face it, everyone thinks they are an expert in nutrition, I hear this a lot “ its just food, I mean really”. You’re right, it is food, but it can slowly kill you or it can keep you vibrant and healthy.

People are often confused about the difference between a “nutritionist” and a dietitian. It is not accurate to use these terms interchangeably. Some registered dietitians (RDs) may refer to themselves as nutritionists in order to simplify things for those who may not be familiar with the term dietitian, but not all nutritionists are RDs. RDs have met specific academic and experiential requirements set forth by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). The credential RD is a nationally-recognized, legally protected, professional title and it can only be used by those who are authorized by the CDR.That being said, both RD and RDN mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably, RDN is a recent addition to our credentials. 

To become a Registered Dietitian/RD (now also known as Registered Dietitian Nutritionist/RDN) one must have:

  • Minimum education of a bachelors degree with approved course work and education received through an approved and accredited program via Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).
  • Completed a supervised practice component with accredited sites (by the ACEND), practicums vary in length from 6-12 months at a variety of locations/experiences (food service, community, hospital/clinical, outpatient, wellness, etc. This is combined with either undergraduate or graduate studies.
  • Passed a national       board exam administered by Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).
  • Complete continuing education requirements to maintain registration.
  • Insurances will cover RD/RDN consultations, as we are the preferred provider on their lists of professional care.

This is where the water starts to get a little murky when we are speaking just of a nutritionist….

Please do not get me wrong, there are some people who are qualified in the field of nutrition, clinical nutritionists for one. Those people usually have an extensive background in other forms of healthcare, etc. What you need to be aware of is the title and credentials of the person who wrote the article you are reading, the clinic you are going to, etc.

The title of nutritionist is not a nationally recognized credential and both the definition and requirements for using the term nutritionist varies from state to state. In some states, the licensure laws distinguish the rules of practice for those calling themselves nutritionists, but in other states, there is a different story. Actually, in some states and U.S. territories where there are no nutrition or dietetic licensure laws, the term nutritionist may not be regulated at all. This means that anyone living in those states can call himself/herself a nutritionist even without any pertinent education or training in the field of nutrition.

As I stated above, there are certainly people who are a wealth of information in the field of nutrition however, but still have not met the requirements for the RD credential. It’s important to ask those referring to themselves as nutritionists about their specific education and training.

It’s all about education and learning about how to seek out the best person to help you in your situation! I am not putting down those who are not RDs, they are contributing to the world of nutrition for sure, I am just concerned for those who have taken a weekend seminar and called themselves a nutritionist and tell someone that they can help them “cure” whatever is bothering you with nutrition and eating certain foods. It takes a person who knows how to assess the WHOLE person, every part of their life to be effective!

Education and Awareness!