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Nutritionist vs. Dietitian: What's the Difference?

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Research and data confirm that proper nutrition is the key to a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life. Interest in nutrition is on the rise, especially with the uptick in chronic diseases worldwide. As a result, people are turning to experts in the pursuit of healing or seeking guidance on how to become healthier all around.

What is a Dietitian?

Dietitians are food and nutrition experts who translate the science of nutrition into practical applications for healthful living, also commonly known as Registered Dietitians (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN). Medical nutrition therapy is defined as a nutrition-based treatment provided by a registered dietitian nutritionist. 

Dietitians are educated with in-depth knowledge of the physical, behavioral, cultural, ecological, legislative, community, and clinical aspects of human nutrition. They support a whole-person health approach, accounting for the unique health needs of every individual.

Dietitians assess, diagnose, and apply nutritional therapy to treat acute illnesses and problems.

Some examples include:

  • Malnourishment
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney Issues
  • Those undergoing bariatric surgery
  • Eating disorders
  • Sports/athletics

Dietitian Education

A graduate degree from an accredited university is required to become a Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Additionally, a minimum of 1200 hours of supervised practice through an accredited internship is also needed. RDs are licensed through the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s (CDR). The licensure of an RD or RDN is protected by law, meaning regulations are enacted by law to protect the public.


Where Do Dietitians Work?

You can find Registered Dietitians in a variety of professional settings. Since they provide medical nutrition therapy, they are permitted to provide care in different clinical settings.

A few examples include: 

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Other healthcare facilities
  • Foodservice management
  • Public/community health 
  • Education
  • Private Practice
  • Food industry/product development
  • Research facilities

Oftentimes, dietitians work within a healthcare team to educate patients and administer medical nutrition therapy as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Outside of a traditional healthcare setting, dietitians can manage food service operations in schools, daycares, correctional facilities, etc.


What is a Nutritionist?

A Nutritionist is a food and nutrition expert who promotes health and manages diseases. Unlike a Registered Dietitian, the title of ‘nutritionist’ is not protected by law and there are no regulations or specific licenses required.

Nutritionists work with clients to help them achieve specific health-related goals. They deal with general nutrition plans and behaviors. Since the field is so broad and there are no universal education or licensure requirements, a Nutritionist may be limited in the ability to treat medical conditions or practice in hospitals or similar settings. Nutritionists are sometimes not covered by standard health insurance, while dietitians typically are. 


Nutrition Education Requirements

Nutritionists can explore more diverse education avenues than dietitians. Training requirements may depend on your state of residency.

Nutritionists have the option to earn the title Certified Nutrition Specialists through the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists. Nutritionists can also pursue holistic nutrition training and specialize in functional nutrition. Candidates are required to complete a course approved by the National Association of Nutrition Professionals with 500 hours of practical experience, then pass a certification exam administered by the Holistic Nutrition Credentialing Board.


Where Do Nutritionists Work?

Similar to dietitians, nutritionists can work in varying settings serving different types of clientele. 

Some examples include:

  • Physicians offices
  • Private practice
  • Private coaching
  • Holistic healthcare centers


Nutritionist vs. Dietitian: Which is The Right Career Path For You?

Nutritionists and dietitians share many similarities and both paths offer ample room for diverse career opportunities. Choosing which educational track, specialty, and career to pursue comes down to your individual interests and passions. It is important to equip yourself with an education that takes a comprehensive approach to nutrition to better serve others and the environment.


Bastyr University offers graduate degrees in science-based natural health that integrate mind, body, spirit, and nature.

Our graduate degrees equip students with a strong foundational overview of nutritional science, theory, and research. Bastyr University’s integrative curriculum educates students with practical skills to apply their whole-person approach to benefit clients, communities and beyond.

Some degrees to consider for pursuing a career in nutrition include:

Are you unsure of the right track for you?
Meet with an admissions advisor to discuss your degree options at Bastyr.

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Written by Bastyr

Bastyr University's academic and research programs have received international recognition for pioneering work in science-based natural medicine. We offer a learning environment that fosters serious inquiry, professional dedication and lifelong relationships. Your career begins here, where comprehensive training makes the difference.