What is the Difference between a Nutritionist and a Dietician?
The two careers paths that deal exclusively with diet, food, and nutrition – dietitians and nutritionists – are certainly similar, but not quite interchangeable. So what are the differences? Dietitians and nutritionists are both experts in food and diet. They’ve studied how diet, nutrition, and supplements affect your body and your health. Both are considered to be healthcare professions. The simplest difference might be that dietitians are considered to be nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.
Generally speaking, the role of dietitian is more regulated than that of a nutritionist. While anyone can go to school to study health and nutrition, in the United States, depending on where a person wants to practice, there are certain licensures and certifications a dietitian has to earn to be able to work.
After earning a bachelor’s degree at an accredited university in a field like nutrition science, a dietitian usually has to complete an internship or practice program at a health care facility, food service company, hospital, or other organization where their health advice and research can be monitored and supervised.
After a successful working internship, a dietitian student can sit for their national examination; once they pass, they are free to practice as a R.D, or registered dietitian.
The main work of a dietitian is to organize food and nutrition plan and promote healthy eating habits to prevent and treat illness. They find work in food service businesses, or working with patients in hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities. Dietitians also work at colleges and universities, where they may teach nutrition and health classes, do research or focus and speak on public health issues.
In the US, the title “nutritionist” is not as regulated as “dietitian”, and tends to have a broader, more general meaning. The title is not generally protected, meaning that it can be used by anyone, unlike “doctor”, for instance, which requires proof of qualifications.
However, most nutritionists have also studied diet and nutrition, and may have a graduate degree – either a master’s of science or Ph.D. There are nutritionist certification boards, which require applicants to have these advanced degrees from an accredited college along with practical experience before taking their certification exam. Nutritionists who pass this test may refer to themselves as certified nutrition specialists, or C.N.S, which is a protected title.
Also, many doctors, including medical doctors, osteopaths, physician assistants, chiropractors and naturopathic doctors, practice clinical nutrition after completing extra work in the study of food and nutrition science.
One of the major differences between the work of a nutritionist (one who is not also working as a doctor) 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”.
Depending on where dietitians and nutritionists decide to work – either for an organization, contractually, or independently – their education and experience can earn them, on average, about $53,000 a year. Additionally, the nutrition and diet related job field is growing faster than average – expected to increase by about 20% by 2020, meaning that there will certainly be jobs opportunities available for both skill sets.
Both dietitians and nutritionists have a responsibility to the health, welfare, and safety of their clients and patients. They are partners in health and important to the communities they work and serve in.