What’s the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?
Both nutritionists and dietitians can provide nutrition advice but dietitians tend to be more regulated than nutritionists.
Nutritionists and dietitians are both there to help people improve their health through food or diet. However, the roles vary in terms of training requirements, certifications and what they’re able to diagnose.
In most cases, dietitians have more training than nutritionists.
Read on to learn more about the differences between a nutritionist and a dietitian.
Dietitians provide nutrition therapy, that is, using food and diet recommendations to treat health conditions like diabetes, eating disorders, or high blood pressure. People who are pregnant, gaining weight, or have a chronic disease may also receive medical advice from a dietitian regarding their diet.
Dietitians may also provide recommendations to help prevent disease and promote wellness.
A doctor might refer a patient to a dietitian to develop health goals and figure out a nutrition plan that suits their needs.
Dietitians may work in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, clinics, private practice, or industries like food, technology, research, or education.
How does a dietitian become certified?
A registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) goes through several training and study requirements to receive certification from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) is the agency that approves education programs for dietetics or nutrition professionals. This means that ACEND ensures that education programs meet certain standards.
Here is the criteria needed to qualify as a registered dietitian nutritionist:
- Obtain a bachelor’s degree from a university or college with coursework accredited by ACEND
- Complete supervised practice, like a dietetic internship, through an accredited program. This may take place at a healthcare, community, or food-service agency or it can be combined with the degree. These programs can run from six to 12 months
- Pass a national exam from the Commission on Dietetic Registration
- Complete ongoing professional education requirements
Some RDNs specialize in certain areas such as pediatric nutrition, sports dietetics, nutrition support, or diabetes education.
A nutritionist also provides food and nutrition advice. They are able to assess health needs and give tips for diet, exercise, or supplements to help a patient reach their health and wellness goals.
However, nutritionists cannot diagnose eating disorders or manage specific health conditions unless they are also a registered dietitian.
The level of training nutritionists receive can vary.
How does a nutritionist become certified?
A certified nutrition specialist (CNS) is certified by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS), which requires people to show advanced knowledge in a nutrition field to become credentialed.
Nutritionists or other health professionals must meet the following criteria to become a certified CNS:
- Obtain a graduate degree such as a master’s or doctoral degree in nutrition or a related clinical healthcare field
- Complete 1,000 hours of supervised practical experience in professional nutrition
- Pass a national exam
- Complete continuing education
Nutritionists may also specialize into different areas of focus, such as sports nutrition, ketogenic nutrition, or nutritional genomics.
While all dietitians are nutritionists, not all nutritionists are dietitians. Some people may practice as nutritionists without a formal title or training.
States also have their own rules about registration, which usually align with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For more information on each state’s requirements visit NutritionED.org.
Please note that dietitians cannot prescribe medication for weight loss.
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