Nutritionist vs. Dietician: What Do These Professionals Do?

Many of us seek professional advice and support when it comes to diet and overall health. Nutritionists and dietitians are two types of professionals who can help us make informed food choices. 

But what is the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian? While these terms are frequently used interchangeably, they differ significantly in terms of education, training, and scope of practice. In this article, we'll look at the key differences between nutritionists and dietitians, as well as how to decide which professional is best for you.

What Is the Role of a Nutritionist?

In the United States, the term "nutritionist" refers to people who have a wide range of nutrition-related credentials and training. Individuals who refer to themselves as nutritionists may have varying levels of education. 

In many states, you need to meet certain qualifications to become a nutritionist. Furthermore, accredited certifications grant titles like Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS). In most of these states, you can practice medical nutrition therapy and other aspects of nutrition when you have these accredited certifications.

However, some states don’t regulate the use of this term, and anyone with an interest in diet or nutrition may refer to themselves as a nutritionist. These individuals may use their nutrition knowledge and interests to write food blogs or to advise clients. Check to see if your state or nation regulates the use of the title before consulting a nutritionist.

What Is the Role of a Dietician?

Dieticians are board-certified food and nutrition experts. They are highly educated in the fields of nutrition and dietetics. Rather than following the latest diet trends, a dietician can design diet and nutrition programs that are specific to your goals and needs.

In addition to working with individuals, dieticians collaborate with food industry stakeholders to ensure that the best health and nutrition practices are followed. They are also qualified to work in a variety of other settings, such as hospitals, communities, and research institutions.

To become a Registered Dietician (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), you must meet the criteria set by various governing bodies in your country. The United States' governing body is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), while the Dietitians Association of Australia governs Australia.

The RD and RDN credentials are interchangeable. Government bodies designated the RDN more recently. However, dieticians can decide to use either of these two credentials whichever they prefer.

Types of Dieticians

There are four main types of dieticians based on their roles and job functions. They include, clinical, community, food service management, and research dieticians.

  1. Clinical Dieticians

Clinical dieticians assist patients admitted for inpatient care in hospitals and clinics. Outpatient dieticians may also work in these facilities, but with patients who are usually less ill.

Inpatient and outpatient dieticians collaborate with the medical team to find solutions for both acute and chronic illnesses. Dieticians may also supervise the nutrition of people in long-term health care facilities who have serious conditions that necessitate continuous care.

Clinical dieticians provide nutritional advice to patients in the hospital who have specialized needs, such as those who have recently undergone surgery, are undergoing cancer treatment, or have been diagnosed with chronic illnesses such as kidney disease, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

  1. Community Dieticians

Community dieticians assist in the development and implementation of food programs for a group rather than an individual. They may work in community cooking initiatives for diabetes prevention interventions. In some cases, they even advocate for public policies that focus on nutrition, food, and health.

  1. Food Service Management Dieticians

Food service management dieticians work in large organizations such as military bases and school districts. They supervise the production of nutritionally adequate food that adheres to food safety regulations or the standards of that organization.

  1. Research Dieticians

Research dieticians work in research hospitals, organizations, and universities. They assist the research team in carrying out nutrition-focused interventions. 

Differences Between A Nutritionist and Dietician

Dieticians Work With the Healthy and Sick, While Nutritionists Work With Only the Healthy

Dieticians promote nutritional well-being and assist in the treatment of medical conditions. They often work with people who have been diagnosed with ailments. Nutritionists, on the other hand, promote healthy eating practices.

The Title “Dietician” Is Regulated While “Nutritionist” Is Not

In many parts of the world, dieticians are regulated by various governing bodies. You need to meet certain professional requirements to be called a dietician. On the other hand, in some places, nutritionists are often not regulated by law, and anyone can call themselves a nutritionist.

Different Workplaces

Most dieticians work in medical settings like hospitals and health clinics, where they conduct assessments and recommend better dietary practices. In contrast, nutritionists are often found in commercial settings, like fitness and wellness centers.

Bottom Line

To summarize, nutritionists and dietitians are professionals who work to improve people's health and well-being through proper nutrition. There are, however, some significant differences between the two roles. 

Nutritionists frequently focus on general nutrition principles and how to apply them in a variety of settings, whereas dietitians often work more closely with patients to develop personalized nutrition plans for the management of specific health conditions.