Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: Aren’t They the Same Thing?

dietitian memeAlthough the jobs of a dietitian and nutritionist can seem similar, they are not the same thing. Not all nutritionists are dietitians, but all dietitians are nutritionists. This is because the education, certification, and licensure process for the two jobs differ.

According to, “Nutritionists usually have completed some coursework, but all dietitians hold bachelor’s degrees and have earned the title of ‘dietitian’ by meeting certain requirements. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist—even if entirely self-taught—but the dietitian title is legally protected.”

Dietitians says, “According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (United States), a registered dietitian is someone who has:

  • Earned a Bachelor’s degree with coursework approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Completed an accredited, supervised practice program at a healthcare facility, community agency or foodservice corporation.
  • Passed a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
  • Can use the letters R.D. after their names.
  • Completed continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration.

Registered dietitians may plan food and nutrition programs and promote healthy eating habits to prevent and treat illness. They often work in food service or as part of medical teams in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities. Dietitians also work in university settings, where they may teach, do research or focus on public health issues.”

Although a Bachelor’s degree is a minimum requirement, many dietitians are furthering their education by completing a Master’s degree or even a Doctorate in the field. Some universities are offering a Master’s degree in conjunction with an internship. This helps promote further education in the field and make it more accessible to some.


Anyone can call his or herself a nutritionist, but that doesn’t mean that the field doesn’t have standards. In fact, I find the opposite to be true. Here are some of the many ways that says you can be qualified to be a nutritionist:

  • Certified Nutritional Consultant (CNC):  Pass an open-book exam administered by the American Association of Nutritional Consultants (AANC) and become a CNC.
  • Certified Nutritionist (CN):  You must either complete a 2-year associate degree program or distance-learning program consisting of 6 classes. Also, you must pass a supervised exam.
  • Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN):  You become certified by the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB) after completing these steps:
    • Earn a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree from an accredited university.
    • Complete a 900-hour internship.
    • Take 56 post-graduate hours in clinical nutrition studies.
    • Pass the test given by the CNCB.
    • Complete 40 continuing education hours every 2 years to maintain certification.
    • Pass a recertification test every 5 years.
  • Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS):  Nutritionists who meet the following requirements can use the legally protected title of CNS:
    • Hold a Master’s or Doctoral degree in nutrition from an accredited university.
    • Complete at least 1,000 hours in a supervised internship.
    • Pass the exam administered by the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists (CBNS).
    • Finish 75 continuing education credits every 5 years to maintain certification.
  • Licensed Nutritionist:  Although licensure requirements vary by state, most include the following:
    • A Bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition from an accredited university.
    • A supervised internship.
    • A passing grade administered by an agency or institution.
    • A current registration or certification.
    • A satisfactory completion of continuing education coursework.

What Do They Do?

Dietitians and nutritionists can both answer questions about nutrition. They can develop individualized meal plans and monitor progress. Both can be advocates for proper eating and health to individuals and the community.

According to, “One of the major differences between the work of a nutritionist and dietitian, though, is that a dietitian can help to diagnose eating disorders or help plan meals for the managing of symptoms of health problems. While nutritionists can certainly offer support in these areas, most of their work is done with behavioral issues, as well as teach clients about the general nutrition and health properties in food and offer nutrition supervision. Overall, the difference lies in the depth, scope, length, and type of education and training.”

Introducing Our Dietitian!

Beginning next Friday, the first Friday of every month will have an article by our dietitian, Sarah Wood. Sarah is a registered dietitian with a Master’s degree in Applied Health Sciences. She is also currently a Nutrition and Health Education Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension.

Since she’ll be writing articles on nutrition and wellness each month, make sure to leave suggestions, questions, and comments in the comments section below.

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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