JAANUU » Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: How Are They Different?

Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: How Are They Different?

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

So, you like—no, love—food and want to be around it all the time. Who could blame you? (Not us!)

When you hear about career paths like “dietician” or “nutritionist,” perhaps you hear an opportunity to prescribe your patients tacos or pizza. Again, we assign no blame here.

Or maybe you hear the words “diet” and “nutrition” and think that this career may be all about rigidity and limitations. You know the drill: we don’t blame you. 

Let’s take the time to clear a few things up. These two careers are similar in nature, and one thing they have in common is that they are for connoisseurs of the finer (edible) things in life. By “the finer things,” yes, of course, we mean food. But we also mean making people feel great about themselves, finding comprehensive nutritional solutions for your patients and supporting the overall health of your community.

And did we mention that neither involves any cooking or clean-up? That’s right: you get to work in a food-related career that’s far from the kitchen but not from the food. Think of food as the medicine you’ll prescribe.

If you’re the kind of person that enjoys building people up through the empowerment of food, then one of these roles may be for you. Read on to learn more.

What’s the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

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What is a nutritionist?

Nutritionists are a kind of lifestyle consultant. They help their patients live their best lives through sustainable, healthful diets. They can also help clients work on treating specific illnesses or conditions through food choices that support the body well. 

Often, nutritionists work in hospitals or schools where they can implement treatment plans. If you’ve read a bit about nutritionists before, you may have stumbled upon sources that will tell you that nutritionists are not licensed professionals.

And here’s the kicker: anyone can technically call themselves a nutritionist because there’s no degree for this career (that’s where becoming a registered dietitian comes in).

But that doesn’t mean nutritionists aren’t qualified to do their work. Many states require a specific certification, and most nutritionists have had many years of experience in the field and are supported by a network of other health professionals in their working environment. 

What is a dietician?

Remember when we said that “nutritionist” wasn’t a type of degree? Let’s backtrack for a second. Technically, dieticians are nutritionists, and a degree for the dietician career does exist. That means that dietitians are, technically speaking, certified nutritionists that are licensed as registered dietary nutritionists (​​RDNs).

Dieticians perform similar work as nutritionists. In the end, both careers use food as a tool for helping people lead healthier, longer and more satisfying lives. These professionals can help their patients combat common conditions, from eating disorders to diabetes, so that their patients can feel better inside and out. 

Registered dieticians can run their own private practices, through which they are responsible for providing ethical care to their patients. That said, like nutritionists, dieticians can work in hospitals, nursing homes, cafeterias, clinics and beyond.

What is a certified nutrition specialist? 

A certified nutrition specialist (CNS) is a board-certified role that employs a public-health mindset to help others by creating meal plans that will help them choose healthier food choices and develop healthier eating habits. If you are a community-oriented person, this may be the route to follow. 

How to become a dietitian

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There are a few key steps to becoming a dietitian. Typically, the route to this career looks as follows:

  1. Get your Bachelor’s degree in a health-related field.
  2. Receive an accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).
  3. Do a supervised internship.
  4. Take the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s dietetic registration exam. Depending on your state, you may also need to get a license. 

How to become a nutritionist

There are licensed and unlicensed nutritionists. Formal requirements may depend on the state, but generally, the process is as follows: 

  1. Get your Bachelor’s degree. 
  2. Consider a Master’s degree or doctoral program in nutrition.
  3. Complete an internship.

What are the different types of dietitians? 

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Within the field, there are several different specializations, some of the primary ones being: 

  • Eating-disorder focused: Help patients recover from anorexia, bulimia and other irregular eating habits like bingeing. 
  • Oncology nutrition: Aid cancer patients in getting the best nutrition possible as they go through treatment and fight their illness. 
  • Gerontological nutrition: Help the elderly with nutrition that specifically supports the later stages of life. 
  • Renal nutrition: Create intervention plans for kidney patients that are low ​​in sodium, phosphorus and protein. 
  • Sports dietetics: Help athletes perform their best, recover and energize correctly for intense workouts. 
  • Pediatric nutrition: Keep children healthy and without any nutritional deficiencies so that they reach their full potential as young people. 
  • Public health nutrition: Take care of your community by using nutrition to tackle common ailments and conditions. 
  • Medical nutrition therapy: Help patients with chronic diseases use nutrition to their benefit. 

What’s the career outlook for dietitians and nutritionists? 

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Good news. Careers in these fields are expected to increase over the next 10 years. In 2020, there were around 70,000 jobs in this field, and the industry has seen faster growth than others. Roughly 6,000 positions open up every year. 

And, just in case you’re money-conscious (who isn’t?), the median annual income for dietitians and nutritionists was $63,090 as of 2020.  

Should I become a dietitian or nutritionist? 

If you love food and want to help others look, feel and perform their best by guiding them in establishing and maintaining a healthy relationship with what they eat, this career path may be perfect for you. It’s rewarding work, through which you assist others in leading more healthful lives.

When you practice dietary health care, you are helping others change their lives for the better and the long term. Think of this work as somewhere between a wellness and a healthcare career.

As the saying goes, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Bon appetit!

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