What’s The Difference Between A Registered Dietitian & Nutritionist?

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Last updated on March 11th, 2021 at 01:52 pm

An RD explains the difference between a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Nutritionist. What exactly is an RD and what do they do?

If you’ve ever read nutrition info online or thought about meeting with a professional to discuss your eating habits, chances are you’ve seen the term “Nutritionist”. But you may be unfamiliar with the title “Registered Dietitian” or “Registered Dietitian Nutritionist”.

Although these terms are often used to refer to the same thing–someone who is an expert in nutrition–there are stark differences between a Nutritionist and Registered Dietitian. Let’s break it down.

Thinking of changing careers to become a Nutritionist? Learn more about the career here: The No-Brainer Guide To Becoming A Registered Dietitian!

What is a Registered Dietitian?

A Registered Dietitian is a credential nutrition professional. The term “RD” is authorized and legally protected by the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. The RD credential signifies that a person completed specific academic and supervised practice requirements, successfully passed a certification exam and continues to complete continuing education credits. 

In order to become an RD, one must complete a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nutrition at an accredited school, as well as a supervised practice program (Dietetic Internship). Only after a student completes the coursework and internship are they allowed to sit for the RD exam. You have to pass the exam to be able to put “RD” after your name.

Registered Dietitians use science-based knowledge to work in a variety of different forums. They are trained in various disease states and specialties and can work with a healthcare team to create different diet protocols.

As an aside, the terms Registered Dietitian (RD) and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) are used interchangeably. A person can choose to be called an RD (Registered Dietitian) or RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist).  It is the same exact thing, but different titles.

What is a Nutritionist? 

In your searches, you’ve likely come across certified nutritionists or health coaches. The definition and requirements for the term “Nutritionist” vary. Some states have licensure laws that define the scope of practice for someone using the designation “nutritionist.” But more often than not, anyone can use the title “Nutritionist”.

Since the title is not closely regulated, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist without the proper schooling and science-based knowledge. That means there are a ton of influencers or people who have an interest in nutrition starting practices as a “Nutritionist”. In other words, if someone really like foods and has an opinion about nutrition, they can market themself as a “Nutritionist”.

Who should you go to for nutrition advice?

As an RD, I’m biased towards Dietitians. That said, before changing careers, I did the research to understand the difference between a Nutritionist and RD, and I also went through a ton of schooling to earn my title.

plant based grocery shopping

When you’re reading nutrition info or debating working with someone, read their bio before making a decision. Dietitians work hard to use science-based knowledge to help people make the best nutrition choices. They won’t put you on a crazy diet or offer unreasonable advice. They will work with you to help you make long lasting choices that suit your lifestyle.


  1. Camilla Cesarini

    Good for you, Natalie, very proud of you.

  2. Mac Humphries

    Can’t wait for the recipe. Got anything in a tube steak with cheese and fries?

  3. debby voorneveld

    Very interesting blog Natalie, very proud of you! Wow, it sure is a lot of work, good for you! It’s great to see you so passionate about it! I will continue to follow it and hopefully get some great recipes too!

  4. Susan Jang

    Congrats on the blog Natalie, and of course, all the work you have and will go through to become a registered dietician!

  5. Sina Felitzitas

    Nice post, Natalie! It’s always nice to see a post about the importance of distinguishing between the two!

    • gnatle23

      Thanks! I definitely agree.

    • gnatle23

      I completely agree. Thanks for reading!


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I’m Natalie Rizzo, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian.

My mission is to help everyday athletes fuel their fitness with plants.

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