If you’re seeking nutrition advice or have been referred by another health care professional for nutrition counseling, it’s important to look for a Registered Dietitian (RD). In fact, unless you live in Arizona, Michigan, New Jersey or Colorado, forty-six states have enacted legislation regulating the practice of dietetics to protect consumers by establishing legal requirements and licensure qualifying Registered Dietitians as nutrition experts.

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

The term “nutritionist” is an unregulated term and anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist” without any formal training, certifications or education. The Registered Dietitian (RD) credential has a very specific meaning and requires the completion of 3 major steps.

Step 1

In order to start the journey towards becoming an R.D. one must complete a minimum 4-year college degree from an accredited or approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The college coursework is rigorous in science requirements and includes coursework in chemistry, biochemistry, human physiology and nutrition science.

Step 2

After completing a degree program, graduates must then apply and be accepted to one of the highly selective and competitive ACEND-accredited supervised practice programs or dietetic internship programs. Interns spend six to 12 months and more than 1200 hours of supervised training at a healthcare facility, community agency or foodservice corporation.

Step 3

The final step towards becoming a dietitian requires the successful completion of a national examination, similar to a board examination,that is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). Once you’ve become a registered dietitian, a minimum of seventy-five hours of continuing education credits is required every five years to maintain the credential.

To learn more from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics click here

What is a Nutritionist?

All registered dietitians are nutritionists but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. A nutritionist is a non-accredited title that one may give to themselves without any qualifications, such as a celebrity health coach. Some others use the title nutritionists after completing a course or nutrition degree but has not taken all of the steps to become a registered dietitian.

Since there is widespread confusion in the public over the RD credential and nutritionists, recently the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offered the option to RDs to add the “nutritionist” to the end of their title to enhance public acceptance. Expanding the credential to Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN) communicates a broader concept of wellness, beyond the traditional role of RDs focused on clinical dietetics and disease prevention.

The Evolving Field of Nutrition

Nutrition is a science and is constantly evolving. At times, new information or research that has been released on food and nutrition recommendations can be conflicting and confusing. However, as any qualified health professional like a dietitian can explain, one research study or new development in nutrition science doesn’t change national dietary guidelines or nutrition recommendations. New research evidence can be exciting, but at the same time can lead to misinformation, fuel fad diets and food trends. This is precisely the reason to seek out a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) the next time you’re confused about nutrition or seeking an expert’s advice on dietary recommendations.


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