If you’re confused about the difference between a registered dietitian (R.D.) and a nutritionist, you’re not the only one. After meeting with a doctor last week who asked this question, we figured it was high-time to explore the education, options, and state requirements with you. It’s confusing out there, so let’s clarify this situation.
Whether your goals include losing weight, having a healthy pregnancy, reducing high blood sugars and cholesterol, or improving athletic performance, diet is the place to start. A professional who specializes in nutrition is key, since their advice is based on knowledge, skills, and experience. But why might you want to make an appointment with a registered dietitian and not a nutritionist?
The key difference is in the education and training each has received. Outside of Ohio and a few other states, nutritionists often do not require any formal training, license, nor certification in order to set up a practice. Essentially anyone can call themselves a nutritionist in certain states such as Colorado and California, where there isn’t any requirement to be licensed (or even educated) as a nutritionist.
If you live in Ohio, someone who calls himself/herself a nutritionist is a registered dietitian (or is breaking the law). The person has been licensed by the Ohio Board of Dietetics (now the State Medical Board of Ohio) and may use the terms ‘clinical nutritionist’,’nutrition counselor’ and ‘nutrition consultant.’ A registered dietitian has completed the following:
- A minimum of a four-year college degree, with specific study of human nutrition through the life cycles, anatomy and physiology, as well as other sciences
- A 1,200-hour minimum, supervised internship
- Passed a national credentialing exam, which covers nutrition information from clinical to food service and community aspects
- Maintaining at least 75 continuing education credits every 5 years
Dietitians comply with a code of ethics by which to guide their practice and rely on evidence-based nutrition recommendations.
If you’re in a state outside of Ohio (perhaps one that doesn’t require licensing), know that some of the people calling themselves nutritionists can still be helpful and knowledgeable. To seek the advice and expertise of a registered dietitian, you can look for the RD or RDN (registered dietitian nutritionist) initials after their name.