What is a Registered Dietitian vs Nutritionist?

Ok so recently I had a friend ask me what is a Registered Dietitian/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist? (I hear this question all of the time.) And isn’t that the same thing as being a Nutritionist? The question is not easily answered but the answer is well, maybe.

“Every RD/RDN is a Nutritionist but not every Nutritionist is a RD”

Lets start with what is a Nutritionist:

As there is no legal regulation of the term anybody can call themselves a nutritionist without actually having any formal education. Do I think this happens that often? Yes. I think people are easily misled on a daily basis from magazine articles about diet and health, supplement companies, and even gym trainers/memberships that promote eating habits that may be more harmful than good.

But that doesn’t mean be afraid of everyone who isn’t a RD. There are plenty of people that do have a nutrition degree and have passed the RD exam to become certified or licensed in their state that I work with all of the time. Those people will be a Certified Dietitian Nutritionist or Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist. Some states do not regulate either of those. You can certainly look up your states regulations online.

So what is the big deal about being called a RD/RDN vs being a Nutritionist then? RD is a credential that goes beyond just saying I’m a RD in the health field. We are the only “nutritionists” that will be employed by any health facility like a hospital (other than DTR’s) and can be reimbursed by health insurance due to being experts in medical nutrition therapy. Unlike any other nutritionist, we have a standard of practice and evidenced based library to follow. Due to our SOP as RD’s we can’t just be promoting misinformation or we risk losing our credentials. Lastly, we use standardized practices to assess, diagnose, intervene, monitor, and evaluate patients. On top of what we do it is a very long process to become a RD. The process of becoming a RD while variable in length is similar to becoming a health practitioner like a Physicians Assistant, Nurse Practitioner, Physical Therapist, etc.

Requirements Include:

  • Bachelors in Nutrition Science or Bachelors with a Masters in Nutrition Science
    • must meet all required accredited coursework which may mean you may have to take classes outside of your degrees (I had to take 8 extra courses and I had a pre-med and public health background and got my Masters in Nutrition Science)
    • By 2024 all RD’s will be required to have a Masters degree
  • Along with coursework, in order to apply to the Dietetic Internship you are expected to have at least 250 hours of volunteer experience combined with work experience in the actual field of nutrition
    • I spent my Saturdays and Sundays volunteering at the local VA kitchen, ┬áthe Rescue Mission, and with a nutrition education group on campus.
  • 1200 hour Dietetic Internship with a focus on three rotations in clinical, community, and food service management
    • Most are unpaid and cost a pretty penny
    • It has a matching process very similar to becoming a Doctor
    • 1200 hours = about 10 months of working a 40 hour work week on top of having homework (and of course working 20+ hours to afford to live)
  • Take the RD exam and pass
  • Every five years you have to maintain a working portfolio which entails you to continue your education in the field. You have to have at least 75 credit hours to keep your RD credential.
  • Become credentialed with their state. Certain states may require a separate state test to practice there.

So as a RD I take my credentials to heart and hopefully you can see why.



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