What’s the difference between a Nutritionist, Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)?

It’s National Nutrition Month #NationalNutritionMonth#RDNday, and today, March 14, is National Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day when we celebrate RDNs who are the food and nutrition experts.   In recognition of the value provided by the members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, I’d like to answer the question that is often posed to me and other RDNs.

What’s the difference between a Nutritionist, a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)?

Let’s start with the difference between a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). It is important to understand that the title Registered Dietitian (RD) and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) means the same thing.  Several years ago, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) and the Commission on Dietetics Registration (CDR) approved the optional use of the RDN credential by RDs, and it is up to the individual RD (or RDN) to decide which credential they would like to use.   I decided to use the RDN credential since it includes the word nutrition, which is a more accurate description of the training I’ve had and the services I provide.

What’s the difference between RD/RDNs and Nutritionists?

The difference between RD/RDNs and Nutritionists.  While RD/RDNs and nutritionists often have similar goals – to help people eat a healthier diet and maintain a healthier lifestyle –there’s often a large difference in the level of education and clinical training. RDNs must meet very specific requirements set forth by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) and the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). At this time, the requirements include a  BS or MS degree in nutrition, dietetics or nutrition sciences from an accredited program. This is also called a Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) and must meet a tightly defined curriculum.  After finishing the DPD, future RDNs next complete a 1200 hour supervised practice/dietetic internship. This is hands-on, clinical training under the supervision of an RDN preceptor.  This training takes place in hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, and other settings.  Finally, to become an RDN you need to then successfully complete a  national registration exam administered by CDR with continuing education requirements.

Nutritionists, on the other hand,  have many different levels of education and training and the requirements for using the title Nutritionist vary from state to state. For example, Nutritionists may or may not have science-based training in how to provide nutrition counseling and education for people with medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer or celiac disease etc.

In the words of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics “all registered dietitians are nutritionists but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians.”

Call an RD or RDN

The next time you want to consult someone about weight loss, healthy eating or other nutrition questions you have, call an RD or RDN.  We practice evidence-based nutrition, and our clinical and science-based training sets us apart. If you want to find an RD/RDN in your area, visit: https://www.eatright.org/find-an-expert.

Happy Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day!!

Hi, I am

Barbara Spalding MS, RDN, Culinary Dietitian

As a dietitian and world traveler, I love bold flavors — in food and in life. 14 years ago, I fell down the rabbit hole into Breast Cancer Wonderland. Since then, I’ve learned to cook differently while savoring the pleasures of food and companionship. I’ve built a resilient new life and a bold new kitchen. Let me show you the flavors of the world.
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