Whether you need some help translating that crazy diet your doctor just told you to follow or you’re thinking about a new career in the world of nutrition, knowing the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist can impact your decision. A dietitian is registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration and has earned at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. A nutritionist may have educational background or training, but the title “nutritionist” isn’t regulated.
Registered dietitians earn at least a bachelor’s degree from a program approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, formerly the American Dietetic Association. Dietetic students study everything from premed-type subjects such as physiology, chemistry and microbiology to business subjects such as economics, accounting and computer science. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, about 50 percent of dietitians hold advanced degrees. Some nutritionists hold degrees in subjects such as food science, human nutrition or food technology. Some may have specialized training or have completed a nutrition course. Others have no educational background or training, so do your homework before you take advice from a nutritionist.
In addition to a college degree, dietitians must complete an internship, pass a national registration exam and stay current in the field of nutrition by completing 75 hours of continuing education every five years. Many states require that dietitians also be licensed in their state before they can practice. Qualifications vary for nutritionists depending on their employer. Some may require education, training or experience, but not necessarily. If you see the initials CNS or CNS-S after your nutritionist’s name, you’re probably in good hands. CNS stands for Certified Nutrition Specialist – the extra “S” means scholar. A certified nutrition specialist holds a master’s or doctorate degree in nutrition or clinical healthcare from an accredited university; has taken nutrition, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and life science courses; has completed an internship and passed the certification exam. Some doctors are certified nutrition specialists.
Registered dietitians work for hospitals, community health centers, public health programs, schools, corporate companies, athletic teams, food service companies and many other organizations. Some are authors, consultants, scientists and even media personalities. Nutritionists may work in some of these areas, but those with college degrees usually work in the food science or food technology arena.
Be cautious when taking advice from a nutritionist. They shouldn’t give nutrition advice related to medical conditions unless they are a CNS or CNS-S. Some nutritionists sell dietary supplements or herbal remedies and may be knowledgeable, but not all nutritionists are qualified or have the educational background needed to give sound advice.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Qualifications of a Registered Dietitian
- D.C. Metro Area Dietetic Association: Dietitian vs. Nutritionist
- Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists: Eligibility Requirements for the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) Credential
- Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists: Eligibility Requirements for the Certified Nutrition Specialist – Scholar (CNS-S) Credential
Kristin Mortensen began writing newspaper articles in 1992 for The Sierra Vista Herald. She has also been a registered dietitian since 1991, and has worked for hospitals, clinics and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs. Mortensen has a bachelor of science in dietetics from Brigham Young University.