Q: How do you tell the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist?
A: Ask them about their student loans.
These are two terms that seem like they should be interchangeable, and yet, there are some pretty significant differences between the two. It's important as a consumer to know the difference between the two to ensure you're getting your nutrition advice from an educated professional who knows what they're talking in.
Here are the qualifications it takes in order to be called a dietitian, as well as use the trademarked terms Registered Dietitian and/or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist:
RDs must have a Bachelors degree in a food or science field (i.e. nutrition, biology, chemistry, etc.)*
RDs must have completed 1200 hours of supervised practice through an ACEND accredited internship**
RDs must pass the RD exam
RDs must complete 75 units of continuing education credits every five years
RDs may be required to be licensed in the state(s) in which they practice
Starting in 2024 all RDs will also be required to have a Masters
*dietitians are required to take anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and microbiology
just to name a few, often courses that are shared with pre-med students
**about only 60% of those who go through the match process for internships actually match!
As you can see, a lot of requirements! Now let's look at what it takes to use the term "nutritionist" :
That's right, nothing.
Anyone can use the title of nutritionist, and to be fair there are some highly educated nutritionists out there
who just don't happen to have met all the requirements listed above to be a dietitian. However, someone with no nutrition education whatsoever can also call themselves a nutritionist and since this is not a regulated term, spoiler, there's no regulation for the information they are sending out in the world.
What's the take away from this? Check the qualifications of the nutrition professional you are choosing to get your information from or who you choose to get your nutrition counseling from. Make sure they have a background in science, how the human body works, and someone who is ensuring they are remaining current in their nutrition knowledge.
Or, and I may be biased on this one, you could just work with a Registered Dietitian!