What's the Difference between a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist?

What's the Difference between a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist?
Updated December 2020.

Curious if a nutritionist is the same as a registered dietitian (RD)? While you may have heard the two terms used interchangeably, there are actually some important differences between a registered dietitian a nutritionist. Read on to learn more!

What it takes to become a registered dietitian:

  • Complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree at a U.S. regionally-accredited university or college and course work accredited or approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Complete an ACEND-accredited supervised practice program at a healthcare facility, community agency, or a foodservice corporation or combined with undergraduate or graduate studies. Typically, a practice program will run six to 12 months in length.
  • Pass a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).
  • Complete continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration.

Where registered dietitians can practice:

  • Hospitals, HMOs, or other health-care facilities
  • Sports nutrition and corporate wellness programs
  • Food and nutrition-related businesses and industries
  • Private practice
  • Community and public health settings
  • Universities and medical centers
  • Research areas

What it takes to become a nutritionist:

  • The term nutritionist is not protected by law, whereas a registered dietitian is. An individual can simply grant themselves the non-accredited title. Some individuals, however, may do the undergraduate course work, but may not advance further (those who have completed university degrees in Food Science, Human Nutrition, Food and Nutrition, or Food Technology).

Where nutritionists can work:

  • Manufacturing
  • Retail business
  • Research and public health promotion
  • Dietitian assistant
  • Food journalist
  • They can work for food manufacturers, retailers, in research and public health promotion, as dietitian assistants or food journalists.


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