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

In the age of social media, where influencers may be perceived as experts, it can be confusing to know who is credible and certified to provide diet and nutrition advice. It’s especially important to know who is providing nutrition advice when dealing with conditions and medical issues including polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), infertility, pregnancy and breastfeeding. Nutrition is a complex science, not simply common sense.

Dietitians are food and nutrition experts. While all dietitians are nutritionists, not all nutritionists are dietitians. The term nutritionist is not regulated, so practically anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. A Registered Dietitian (RD), also known as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), at a minimum has completed a four year Bachelor’s degree in nutrition sciences (including but not limited to human anatomy & physiology, biochemistry and medical nutrition therapy) from an accredited university. In addition, RDs and RDNs must complete a 1,200 hour supervised hands-on internship, pass a national registration exam, and pursue continuing education to maintain their certification. Some RDs/RDNs have also earned Masters degrees. Furthermore, all RDs/RDNs adhere to a professional code of ethics. 

In addition to supporting general health and wellness, dietitians are trained and able to provide medical nutrition therapy (MNT) for specific conditions, including diabetes, gastrointestinal disease, and cancer.  Some dietitians also specialize in certain areas and pursue continuing education and training in that field, as Rachelle does for reproductive nutrition. Dietitians can also be involved in dietetic practice groups (DPG) to stay current with the research and connect with other RDs/RDNs with similar specialties and interests. Rachelle is a member of the Women’s Health and Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine DPGs.

Dietitians can also be part of your health care team, communicating with your doctor to provide comprehensive care. While physicians and nurse practitioners are incredibly skilled and knowledgable, they receive little to no education in nutrition in their medical training, so a dietitian who communicates with your primary healthcare provider (primary care physician, OB/GYN, midwife, reproductive endocrinologist, etc.) ensures you’re receiving the best care for your needs.