Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: What’s the Difference, Really?

Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: What’s the Difference, Really?

Ever heard someone described as a nutritionist or dietitian and wondered what those terms actually meant? Even though they seem similar, are they actually different? The answer is yes. While both titles are used by experts in nutrition who counsel patients about the effect of food on the body and overall health, the terms aren’t interchangeable. In a nutshell, all registered dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. Here’s a little more about the difference:

Registered Dietitians

It’s common to come across two main names for the same career: registered dietitian (RDs) and registered dietitian nutritionist (RDNs). These are the same thing and have the same requirements (the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which oversees use of these titles, gives dietitians the option for which title they want to use). The RDN title and credentials were just approved as a synonym for RD in 2013 to help those dietitians who wanted to feature the nutrition component of their practice and emphasize everything an RD/RDN have to offer. To be titled a Registered Dietitian or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, a person must have an approved bachelor’s degree, complete a six-to-12-month approved and accredited internship program of at least 1200 hours and pass a national exam. To maintain accreditation, RDs and RDNs must continue to meet professional education requirements.


Nutritionists, on the other hand, don’t have the same training requirements as RDs or RDNs and aren’t overseen by a national organization. As a result, the licensing and certification requirements vary between states. On top of that, the title “nutritionist” is much less regulated than “dietitian,” meaning someone could tack it to the end of their name without going through any formal training. The one exception is the title Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS). To use that title, a person has to take a certification exam.

When to See a Dietitian

Doctors may recommend an RD or RDN for health conditions that can be improved with a proper diet and nutrition, such as diabetes. Those with any of the following health goals could also benefit from a dietitian:

  • Improving athletic performance
  • Needing to gain or lose weight
  • Learning to care for an aging family member
  • Resolving digestive problems
  • Trying to get pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Reducing the risk of heart problems

When it comes to health, food can truly act like medicine. Dietitians are able to calculate prescriptive nutrition meal plans to help. They can also assist in making the right decisions and help people eat a more balanced diet designed for their specific needs and health goals.

For questions related to proper diet and health goals, join Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan for it’s monthly “Ask a Dietitian” Facebook Live event with host, Grace Derocha, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and health coach. March’s discussion will focus on National Nutrition Month and will air on Wednesday, March 14 at 12 p.m. EST at

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