While both these career paths are similar and deal with diet, food, and nutrition; they are not interchangeable.

Dietitians and nutritionists study how the food you eat affects your body and your health. Both are considered to be health care professionals. Dietitians can also be considered nutritionists, but NOT all nutritionists are dietitians. We’ll define each so you can understand the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist and know which one you want to work with to meet your healthy eating goals.


In general, the role of a dietitian is more regulated than that of a nutritionist. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a registered dietitian is someone who has:

  • Earned a bachelor’s degree with coursework approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).
  • Completed an accredited, supervised practice program at a health care facility, community agency or foodservice corporation.
  • Passed a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
  • Completes continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration.

Once an individual completes the above requirements, they are free to practice as an R.D. (registered dietitian). If you see the initials R.D. behind the name, you know the person you are working with has completed the required training and certification.

Registered dietitians may plan food and nutrition programs and promote healthy eating habits to prevent and treat illness. They often work in food service or as part of medical teams in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities.  Other dietitians choose to go into private practice allowing them more creative options to help work with clients one-on-one.

Approximately 50 percent of RDNs hold advanced degrees. Some RDNs also hold additional certifications in specialized areas of practice, such as pediatric or renal nutrition, nutrition support and diabetes education.


In the US, the title “nutritionist” is not as regulated as “dietitian,” and tends to have a broader, more general meaning. Nutritionists typically do not have professional training, and therefore, should not be involved in the diagnosis and treatment of any diseases.

Nutritionists have studied nutrition and may have a graduate degree (M.S. or Ph.D.) in nutrition from an accredited college.

There are nutritionist certification boards, such as the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists, that require applicants to have at least a master’s degree in nutrition (or related field) from an accredited college along with practical experience before sitting for their certification exam. Nutritionists who pass this test may refer to themselves as certified nutrition specialists (C.N.S.), which is a protected title. The Clinical Nutrition Certification Board is another organization that offers certification as a certified clinical nutritionist (C.C.N.).

Many states require licensure to practice as a nutritionist. L.N. (licensed dietitian) and L.D.N. (licensed dietitian nutritionist) are licenses you can look for. The requirements vary by state, but it gives you some assurance of certification and training. Since the term “nutritionist” itself is not protected, you might want to dig a little deeper into someone’s experience and certification before working with one.

One of the major differences between the work of a nutritionist and dietitian, though, is that a dietitian can help to diagnose eating disorders or help plan meals for the managing of symptoms of health problems. While nutritionists can certainly offer support in these areas, most of their work is done with behavioral issues and/or teaching clients about general nutrition, cooking, and health.