Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: What is the Difference?

Both nutritionists and dietitians work with food and health, but a dietitian is often more regulated and educated than a nutritionist.

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August 15, 2022 7 min read

“How can I change my diet to lower my cholesterol?”

“What meals will give me sustained energy throughout the day?”

“Is it possible to eat healthy while on a budget?”

These are questions that both nutritionists and dietitians may be able to answer. However, just because the two titles contain lots of overlap, it doesn’t mean they’re the same!

If you’re interested in a career that combines health, wellness, and food, it’s helpful to learn the difference between dietitians and nutritionists, so you can work towards the career that best fits your interests.

What’s the Difference Between Dietitians and Nutritionists?

While you may use these two terms interchangeably, these two professions have different regulations and accreditations. In short, dietitians are nutritionists with specific education and training. That means that every dietitian can be considered a nutritionist, but not every nutritionist can be called a dietitian.

So how do dietitians gain this title?

Dietitian vs Dietician: What’s the Correct Spelling?

Health professionals can attest that this word is often misspelled. Although some people claim that both spellings are correct, “dietitian” is the variant that is most commonly accepted by professionals.

Dietitians, also known as registered dietitians, must earn a bachelor’s degree from a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). These programs cover hard sciences such as biochemistry, microbiology, and physiology, so students can gain an understanding of how food and nutrients interact with the human body as well as information about conversing with patients.

After graduating from an accredited program, aspiring dietitians must then complete a hands-on internship that is also accredited by ACEND. This internship may take place in a hospital, community health clinic, eating disorder clinic, or another related location. If a student successfully completes their internship, they may then move on to take the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) exam.

If they pass this exam, they are now a registered dietitian! This means they can now offer counseling and treatment for clinical conditions including diabetes, post-operative nutrition, high blood pressure, obesity, anorexia, and more. They may also accept many types of health insurance from patients.

Nutritionist sitting at a desk with a bowl of fruit and vegetables speaking with a patient while showing them a food chart

Unlike the title of dietitian, the word nutritionist isn’t regulated at a federal level. Instead, regulation falls to the states. In some states, just about anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, no matter their education or background. In other states, nutritionists must complete specific education requirements, such as earning a master’s degree in nutrition. Some of these states also require individuals to obtain a special certification before they begin calling themselves a nutritionist.

A nutritionist’s abilities also vary between states. In most states, nutritionists cannot create and prescribe specific meal plans to clients nor prescribe vitamins or supplements. They also cannot diagnose diet-related illnesses. However, they can usually offer knowledge and advice regarding healthy eating.

Why Become a Nutritionist or Dietitian?

Both dietitians and nutritionists may be appropriate careers for people looking to promote health and wellness. In most cases, dietitians have far more authority to provide patient treatment for specific conditions than nutritionists. However, becoming a nutritionist can still be a worthy pursuit!

Amy Sapola“A lot of what we have to do in being healthy is to go against the grain, to do things differently. I see that in our healthcare system as well. We need students coming out of programs like this to do things differently, to go against the grain, to be creative, and passionate.”*
Dr. Amy Sapola, Certified Wellness Coach, Director of Farmacy at The Chef’s Garden

Nutritionists can still work closely with individuals who are looking to improve their health, which means it can be a rewarding career if you’re looking to connect with others. And since nutrition involves food, becoming a nutritionist also allows you to share recipes and cooking tips with your clients! It may be the perfect career if you want to combine your love of cooking with your desire to help others improve their health.

Since the title of nutritionist isn’t regulated in many states, your day-to-day may take on many different looks.

While most nutritionists cannot prescribe a meal plan that will help a client manage their diabetes or address nutrient deficiencies caused by chemotherapy, they can counsel clients on how food impacts their health. So a nutritionist may spend their morning developing recipes and checking in with clients about their eating habits over the phone, then head over to a client’s house in the evening to show them how to prepare a nourishing meal.

Chef mixing an Asian inspired Cabbage Salad

Another reason to consider becoming a nutritionist is that this field is predicted to grow! The health coaching industry—which includes nutrition coaches—is predicted to grow from $7.1 billion in 2020 to $8.87 billion in 2025. And according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, dietitians and nutritionist jobs will grow by 11% between 2020 and 2030.

Plus, if you begin working as a nutritionist and later discover you wish to become a registered dietitian, your hands-on experience may help you as you complete the necessary coursework and internship.

How to Get Started as a Nutritionist

Even if your state doesn’t regulate the title of nutritionist, potential clients may want to see you’re both invested and educated. One way to stand out from the crowd is to obtain a nutritionist certification or nutritionist degree.

Escoffier’s holistic nutrition degree introduces students to how food impacts the body as well as how to prepare foods to maintain nutrition and support specialized diets. If you’re interested in taking the science of nutrition and translating it into healthy meals, this program could be right up your alley!

Woman smiling at her phonr while she eats a salad and orange juice

Students can also explore fundamentals of entrepreneurship, which could prove helpful if you aim to start your own nutrition-coaching business. And since the program also explores wellness concepts including sleep, stress management, and mindfulness, students can often find themselves well-positioned to begin a career as a holistic health coach or holistic nutritionist, depending on the regulations of the state in which they’re operating.

But the program doesn’t only include classroom lessons! Students also complete at least one industry externship where they can practice what they’ve explored throughout their program.

And since both our diploma and associate’s degree programs are shorter than a four-year degree program, you can start a nutrition and wellness career quicker than you would if you became a dietitian. That said, these programs can also pave the way if you decide to become a dietitian down the road.

Begin Your Journey to Wellness

Whether you’re interested in becoming a nutritionist or dietitian, foundational skills include understanding how to prepare food and designing menus. Escoffier’s Holistic Nutrition and Wellness program can provide you with the skills and confidence you need to begin leading others to healthier lives in your future career in this field.

To learn more about this well-rounded program, contact us today.

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*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.

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