What is the Difference Between a Nutritionist and Dietician?

People often use the terms dietitians and nutritionists interchangeably. As nutritionists and dieticians work in dietetics and nutrition, people do not know how to distinguish between them. However, they are two entirely different professions. They have different roles, education, and authorities. 

If you have decided to turn your love for food and health into a profession or have to sign up for the correct appointment, it is essential to know the difference between them both. Hence, let’s have a look at each in detail to unravel their differences! 

Who are Dietitians?

a dietician in her clinic

Dietitians are board-certified experts in dietetics. Generally, dieticians have more authority as per the licensure. 

Education and Licensure

They commonly help you achieve nutrition-based goals for medical conditions and individual preferences. A registered dietician completes the following education for a certification: 

  • A Bachelor Degree recognized by the Accreditation Council of Relevant Governmental Board. 
  • Extensive training under supervision at accredited healthcare facilities, community agencies, or food service corporations.
  • A national exam 

Every year, dieticians must continue meeting professional education and training requirements to maintain their license. They’re known as Registered Dieticians (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN).

Everyday Professional Positions

a doctor with pills in one hand, and fresh fruits in the other

Owing to their specialized training and education, Dieticians don’t just follow any standardized trend. They personalize nutrition programs to meet the individual needs of their clients. They work with individual clients and may also collaborate with the stakeholders of the healthcare industry. They may work independently to conditions like eating disorders or with:

  • Doctors in hospitals or clinics: They work to improve eating disorders resulting from other underlying conditions or prescribe food to individuals with complex health issues.
  • Policy Makers: They help the government-run nutrition-based awareness programs, draft health strategies, and approve or disapprove food products,
  • Industry Leaders: They provide consultation on food systems and sustainability, food service management with production, and marketing.
  • Researchers in Universities or Research Centers: Dieticians help research food sciences and technology. 
  • Educational Institutions: They may work as teachers or at schools to provide their services to students.

Conditions Treated

Dietitians usually help one make healthier food choices. They draft personalized meal plans that suit individual needs and goals. They may also help you set those needs and goals in the first place by educating. Unlike nutritionists, dietitians work with sick patients. We highly recommend seeing a registered dietician with grave health conditions like heart disease, cancer, allergies, obesity, and diabetes. 

They also provide complex nutritional advice on intravenous feeding, supplements, food safety storage, diet and drug interactions, and more.

Who are Nutritionists?

Who are Nutritionists

As opposed to dietitians, nutritionists, in general, are not regulated by the law. Hence, nutritionists, by default, have lesser authority and work with non-sick patients. However, there are licenses and titles available for nutritionists: for instance, certified nutrition specialist (CNS). 

The following are some more details about them!

Education and Licensure

As the term isn’t legally regulated, this means that anyone can use the title for themselves. However, many nutritionists have advanced degrees and go through an educational ordeal to protect certifications: for instance, Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS).

They have to obtain:

Everyday Professional Positions

a doctor with healthy fruits

In contrast to dieticians, nutritionists work in commercial settings like fitness and wellness centers, nutritional supplement companies, or educational institutions. They can also work at places like hospitals, large corporations with in-house cafeterias, long-term care facilities, and athletic organizations.

The role of nutritionists here differs in the sense that they formulate meal plans for non-sick individuals. They also offer generalized advice, such as making food products at companies or curating a menu at a healthy restaurant. They aim to make healthy eating more common by advocating the importance and benefits of a well-balanced diet. Many find nutritionists in governmental agencies as well. Their roles there are to educate and spread awareness amongst the masses. 

Conditions Treated

Nutritionists cannot diagnose or treat eating disorders. They are not the right fit if you’re seeking medical nutrition therapy. Instead, nutritionists curate general meal plans to help you adopt healthier food and eating habits.

However, certified nutritionists do have greater authority and expertise. In most US states, a licensed Nutritionist may help treat any condition that a registered dietician would. They may prescribe specialized nutrition therapy to treat medical conditions. 

Therefore, if you have medical conditions, we recommend consulting the nutritionist politely about their licensure or certification.

Career Outlook For Dieticians and Nutritionists

two women talking on a clinical desk about nutrition

In the US, there are approximately 74,200  professionals in the field today. The industry is expected to grow by 8% from 2018-2029 as more and more people continue to embrace healthier lifestyles and eating habits. The expected median salary for both is also $63,090 per year. 

The Takeaway

Although dietitians and nutritionists achieve the same goal, they are different professions in the same field. Dieticians, in general, are more legally regulated than nutritionists. However, there are licensures and certifications available for nutritionists as well. Dieticians can provide personalized medical nutrition therapy and treat sick patients. Nutritionists, on the other hand, provide generalized meal plans. Dietitians are also more likely to work in medical and health centers while nutritionists get positions in commercial settings.

Speaking of eating healthy, don’t forget to check our write-up on food guide pyramids!