What Is the Difference between a Dietitian and Nutritionist?

Jennifer Long

A dietitian and nutritionist are similar professions that involve nutrition and healthy eating. These two professions are actually different, however. Dietitians and nutritionists can be distinguished by the differences in educational requirements, overall function, and the average salary earned.

While a dietitian holds specific certifications, nutritionists have no specific licensing or education requirements.
While a dietitian holds specific certifications, nutritionists have no specific licensing or education requirements.

One difference between a dietitian and nutritionist is the education that is required. In most states, dietitians are required to have a four-year degree in some nutrition-based courses and go through specific training, followed by an internship, in order to be able to take the certification testing for registered dietitians. Nutritionists are not held to these same requirements. In fact, almost anyone who has knowledge about nutrition can claim to be a nutritionist.

The second difference between a dietitian and nutritionist is in the function of each profession. Nutritionists are limited to the areas of nutrition in which they specialize, providing information about nutrition and eating healthfully. Dietitians, on the other hand, are trained to be able to deal with nutrition on a personal and medical level, often providing nutritional counseling to patients with illnesses that require special dietary changes.

Dietitians usually have internships in hospitals and doctor’s offices, which gives them the ability to learn about how nutrition can influence illnesses and overall health. Nutritionists may have real knowledge about nutrition, but only as it applies to weight management and exercise. They do not typically consult for patient dietary needs or other such instances. Dietitians are frequently used, whether privately or as part of a treatment team, to deal with patients who have to learn how to change their diets to accommodate changes in health.

A dietitian and nutritionist can also be differentiated in the salary that is earned. Due to the educational and functional differences, the salary of a dietitian is higher than that of a nutritionist. Dietitians are degree holders and are certified as registered dietitians. This gives them the ability to advise a broad range of individuals, including consulting for doctors and hospitals. Nutritionists may see higher salaries if they are well known and have a higher than average amount of nutritional knowledge.

Although both professions deal with the general area of nutrition, the differences between a dietitian and nutritionist set them apart from each other. Without the educational background and certification, a nutritionist does not have the knowledge or ability to counsel people about specific dietary needs that may apply to maintaining health or overcoming illness. Nutritionists frequently advise people in areas of weight loss, endurance, and fitness that rely on a healthy diet.

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