What is the Difference Between a Nutritionist and a Dietitian?

what-is-the-difference-between-a-nutritionist-and-a-dietitianThe roles of nutritionist and dietitian are similar in that they help people to understand the impacts of food and supplements on their physical health, but there is also a marked difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian. The difference pertains to the regulatory requirements that are placed on health professionals who want to provide nutritional guidance in public or private clinical settings; these people earn the credentials that allow them to be licensed or certified through state approved agencies. Educated and trained people who simply want to work as nutritional consultants in places other than medical facilities can call themselves nutritionists.

Here is an overview of the different academic requirements, professional certifications and job profiles of dietitians and nutritionists.

Education and Training for Nutritionists and Dietitians

Most nutritionists and dietitians prepare for their careers in much the same way; they obtain undergraduate degrees in nutritional science, dietetics or human nutrition. Students who know that they want to become registered dietitians must attend academic programs that are endorsed by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Academic credentials for nutritionists can range from six week diploma programs to doctoral degrees. However, certified nutritionists must follow the same educational path as registered dietitians, and some states require that they have advanced degrees in their field to work as certified nutrititionists. Degree programs for registered dietitians and certified nutritionists include courses in subject areas like biology, chemistry and physiology.

Internships and Work Experience Requirements

Leaders in academia and industry recognize the importance of providing students with supervised work experience prior to graduation so many diploma and degree programs in nutrition science that are not approved by ACEND include internship opportunities within industry. However, future registered dietitians and certified nutritionists are required by law to participate in supervised internships to earn their credentials. Many of the ACEND approved degree programs include internships as part of their curricula, but some allow students to complete the 1200 hour internships after graduation. This hands on work experience through accredited dietetic internship programs that often take place in hospitals, public health organizations or assisted living facilities also helps graduates to prepare for license and certification examinations in dietetics and nutrition.

Professional Licenses and Certifications for Nutritionists and Dietitians

Dietitians obtain licenses to operate in different states by taking the registered dietitian exam through the Commission on Dietetic Registration for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This credential affords them opportunities to work in a variety of clinical or public health nutritionist jobs. Some nutritionists increase their employment opportunities by gaining designations like the Certified Nutritional Specialist or the Certified Clinical Nutritionist that is administered through the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board .

Career Specialties and Job Outlook for Nutritionists and Dietitians

Trained nutritionists who are not certified can still offer wellness advice to clients through jobs in private industry or as independent consultants. They can even specialize in areas like sports nutrition or holistic nutrition. Registered dieticians and some certified nutritionists are eligible to work in hospitals, public health facilities and government agencies as clinical nutritionists or public health dietary counselors.


As the United States faces unprecedented growth in cases of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, many people want the services of knowledgeable nutritionists to help them get their quality of life back. However, the choice of nutritional counselors for most people depends upon their health insurance coverage. A significant difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian is that the services of registered dietitians are usually covered through health insurance policies and those offered by non-certified nutritionists generally are not.

You may also like: The Science of a Great Steak (Infographic)