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Dietitian vs Nutritionist - What's The Difference?

By Elizabeth Herrin, MS, RD, LD

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There’s so much nutrition information on the internet these days that it can be tricky to figure out what is credible and what is not. So many people offer their own nutrition advice: personal trainers at the gym, social media influencers, and even your friends and neighbors. How can you tell who to believe? How can you find credible, evidence-based nutrition information from someone with years of education and experience?

What is a nutritionist? 

Nutritionist is a catch-all term for someone who offers nutrition education or expertise. The term “nutritionist” is not a legally protected term, which means anyone can call themselves a nutritionist without schooling or training to back it up. Many nutritionists have certificates that take weeks to months to complete rather than bachelor’s or master’s degrees from accredited educational institutions. These certificates vary widely in the information taught. 

This doesn’t mean that things nutritionists recommend are wrong, but nutritionists may or may not have the same level of training that a Registered and Licensed Dietitian would have. Legally, a nutritionist may provide general nutrition care which includes general healthy eating recommendations; however, they are not able to provide Medical Nutrition Therapy, which is a term for specially modified diet recommendations for medical conditions. For example, a nutritionist would not be allowed to provide diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome diet education. 

What is a registered dietitian?

A Registered Dietitian (RD) is a legally protected term that requires licensure in many states, just like nurses or doctors. There is also a minimum level of training and education that a dietitian must have. Beginning January 1, 2024, all new registered dietitians must have a graduate degree (Masters/PhD). All registered dietitians complete an accredited dietetic internship as well, which consists of 1200+ hours of supervised practice in the areas of clinical nutrition, community nutrition, and foodservice management. Finally, all registered dietitians must pass a national exam to prove their knowledge. In states with licensure requirements, they must also apply for licensure. In the state of Georgia, dietitians are licensed and have the designation “LD” or “Licensed Dietitian,” so you may see RD, LD after their name to designate they are a registered and licensed dietitian. To maintain the RD credential, dietitians must complete continuing education units each year. 

Dietitians are the only healthcare professionals allowed to practice medical nutrition therapy. 

At LifePlan Nutrition, we have a registered dietitian available to meet all your nutritional needs. Contact us today to make an appointment!