Nutritionist vs registered dietitian – the key differences

Author: Morgan Murdock, RDN,LDN
Published: October 17, 2023
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Whether you are referred by a physician or you are on the fence about getting professional guidance on your nutrition, seeing a registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist (RD/RDN) can be a vital part of your overall healthcare plan. This article will look into the difference between a nutritionist and a registered dietitian, what registered dietitians do, and different conditions a registered dietitian can help with.

What is a Nutritionist?

A nutritionist is an individual who provides or offers general nutritional advice but does not necessarily need to have a degree, professional training, or license to provide that service.  While a registered dietitian may call themselves a nutritionist, a nutritionist cannot call themselves a dietitian or a registered dietitian as they did not go through the same professional training and licensing. Nutritionists that are not registered dietitians are also limited in their ability to work with and treat certain types of conditions such as diabetes, eating disorders, and other medical conditions.

What is a Registered Dietitian?

In order to become a registered dietitian and obtain the RD credential, individuals must earn a minimum of a bachelor’s degree with the completion of a nutrition curriculum, participate in a supervised dietetic internship, and successfully pass the registration exam. Additionally, starting on January 1, 2024, all dietitian students will be required to have a masters degree to qualify to sit for their board examination. On the other hand, a nutritionist is not required to have any formal education, specifically in nutrition, and is not required to hold any license, certificate, or special training. A registered dietitian may also call themselves a registered dietitian nutritionist, licensed dietitian nutritionist, registered dietitian, or a nutritionist. 

What do Registered Dietitians do?

Now that we have an idea of who a registered dietitian is, let’s take a look at what it is they do. You can find an RD working in a variety of settings, including hospitals, foodservice operations, private practice, public health operations, research facilities, etc.

In a hospital or private practice setting, a registered dietitian works with other healthcare providers to develop a plan of care that best suits the patient or client. Patients or clients can be referred to an RD for issues such as, Eating Disorders, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Diabetes Management and/or prevention, High Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure Management, Prenatal/PostNatal Nutrition Care, and Weight Management, just to name a few.

How can I tell if I’m Working with a Registered Dietitian?

To be sure you are working with a registered dietitian who has studied for multiple years at an accredited program and has passed their licensure examination, look for the “RD”, “LDN”, or “RDN ” after their name. A nutritionist will not be able to have those licensing “credentials” after their last name.

What are Conditions that a Registered Dietitian Can Help Me with?

There are many different conditions that a registered dietitian can assist with. Below is a short list of 10 conditions that they can help with!

  1. Chronic Disease Management: Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol, or Gout
  2. Digestive problems like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  3. Are pregnant, want to become pregnant, or are a new mom
  4. Eating disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia, or Binge Eating Disorder and need guidance
  5. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
  6. Weight Management or Weight Loss
  7. Lifestyle Maintenance or Modification
  8. Thyroid Conditions
  9. Sports nutrition
  10. Special Diets such as Ketro, Vegan/Vegetarian, or Gluten-free
To learn more about how to you can talk to a Health Loft registered dietitian online or in-person you can start by calling us at (312) 374-5399 or by scheduling an appointment online. For more tips and fun facts to also check out our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages for more fun facts and articles on nutrition, physical therapy, and exercise!


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