Dietitians and nutritionists evaluate the health of their clients. And based on their findings, they advise clients on which foods to eat. Both are both experts in food and diet, and both are considered to be healthcare professions.
So what are the differences? Dietitians and nutritionists are certainly similar, but not quite interchangeable. Click on the links below to learn more about each role and to determine which profession is right for you.
- What Is A Dietitian?
- What Is A Nutritionist?
- Which Career Is Right For Me?
- What Is The Career Outlook For Dietitians?
- What Other Careers In The Field Of Nutrition And Dietetics Exist?
What Is A Dietician?
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 US, 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, dietitians typically complete an internship or practice program at a health care facility, food service company, hospital, or other organization. Upon completion, students can sit for their national examination; once they pass, they are free to practice as an R.D, or registered dietitian.
Dietitians 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 on public health issues.
Other dietitians choose to go into private practice allows practitioners more creative options for helping others and to develop their knowledge base. Private practice isn’t for everyone and is a big career decision, but for those who choose to pursue it, they often find the individualized and focused client therapy to be well worth it.
What Is A Nutritionist?
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. Nutritionists typically do not have any professional training, and therefore, should not be involved in the diagnosis and treatment of any diseases.
There are nutritionist certification boards, which require applicants to have an advanced degree 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 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 deals with food behavior. They teach clients about the general nutrition and health properties in food and offer nutrition supervision.
It’s important to note that only nutritionists that become registered with Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) may legally declare themselves as registered dietitians. The nutritionist profession is much less protected under the law.
Which Career Is Right For Me?
The answer to this question comes down to training and education. If you want to work as a registered dietitian, you’ll want to earn a degree in dietetics. Some schools offer nutrition science programs with the option to take additional courses to become a registered dietitian (RD). If you choose to pursue a degree in nutrition science without becoming a dietitian, you can always go back and earn the credential.
Keep in mind, there are A LOT of nutrition enthusiasts out there who claim to be health experts. If you really want to work in this field and be successful and profitable at it, you’ll need the right credentials. If you want to open your own practice, work at a doctor’s office, or at a hospital, there’s a good chance you’ll need to be an RD to do so. If you become an RD, you’ll be able to legally help people in your state.
Dietitians and nutritionists typically need a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, or a related area to qualify for employment. Dietitians also may study food service management or food science.
Keep in mind that many states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed. It’s not uncommon for dietitians and nutritionists to have advanced degrees. Some employers may require a master’s degree or relevant work experience. Those who have earned advanced degrees or certification in a specialty area may enjoy better job prospects and higher earnings.
What Is Food Science?
Some nutritionists are also called food scientists. Typically, food scientists work for food manufacturers, retailed businesses, or public health promotion. Some nutritionists work as dietitian assistants or food journalists.
Food science is a similar field that offers unique career opportunities. Food scientists study are professionals who focus on researching issues related to food production. Some schools offer food science as an area of specialization.
Food science considers the chemical, biological, and physical properties of food in relation to processing, and storage of food products. If you’re interested in the science behind our health and how food quality is managed, you might want to find a program that offers a food science concentration.
The accredited degree programs below will help you find the right one that meets both your profession and educational goals.
Featured Nutrition Science Programs
Accreditation: HLC, NCA
- MS in Exercise Science - Clinical
- MS in Exercise Science - Community Physical Activity
- MS in Exercise Science - Human Performance
Accreditation: HLC, NCA
What Is The Career Outlook For Dietitians And Nutritionists?
Depending on where dietitians and nutritionists decide to work – either for an organization, contractually, or independently – in 2015 they made an average of $57,910 a year, based on statistics from The Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Additionally, the nutrition and diet related job field is growing faster than average – at a rate of 16 percent from 2014 to 2024. According to the BLS, the “interest in the role of food and nutrition in promoting health and wellness has increased, particularly as a part of preventative healthcare in medical settings.”
Both dietitians and nutritionists have a responsibility to the health, welfare, and safety of their clients and patients. Many people consider obesity to be epidemic in developed nations and this condition can lead to a multitude of different medical issues. These include cardiovascular and GI issues as well as mental health issues relating to eating disorders and self confidence. These professionals are partners in health and important to the communities they work and serve in.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese. Dietitians and nutritionists are needed to provide care for people with diabetes, heart disease,and other conditions associated with obesity.
Dietitians and nutritionists are needed just about everywhere, but if you’re interested in learning more about specific areas in the US with the highest employment level in this occupation, see the map below (source: BLS.gov: Occupational Employment And Wages: Dietitians and Nutritionists, data for May 2017).
What Other Careers In The Field Of Nutrition And Dietetics Exist?
Nutrition is a diverse, dynamic and growing area of study. As such, your career options expand beyond the traditional role of dietician or nutritionist. The field will continue to grow as consumers continue to explore new ways to better their health.
If you’re not sure if working as a dietician is right for you, there are alternatives. Below are a few other career options that you may wish to consider:
- Health Educators: Community Health Workers: Health educators teach people about behaviors that promote wellness. They develop and implement strategies to improve the health of individuals and communities.
- Community Health Workers: Community health workers collect data and discuss health concerns with members of specific populations or communities.
- Registered Nurses: Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care and educate patients about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members. Some RNs specialize in health and wellness in order to provide dietary and lifestyle advice to their patients.
- Rehabilitation Counselors: Rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, developmental, or emotional disabilities live independently. They work with clients to overcome or manage the personal, social, or psychological effects of disabilities on employment or independent living.
As you can see, the study of nutrition is varied field. You’ll discover new and interesting areas of study while earning your degree. If you choose to advance your education and pursue a master’s degree in nutrition or a related field, your options for management roles increases.