Nutritionist vs Dietitian
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Healthy eating is a simple yet complex concept. The media is full of conflicting messages that tout the benefits of healthy lifestyles while vilifying people with bodies that don’t fit inaccurate, yet commonly used health metrics such as body mass index (BMI). Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CDN, and author of the book Anti-Diet identifies the popular phrase diet culture as a “set of beliefs that worships thinness and equates it with health and moral virtue.”
As with other public health issues in the United States, the idea of healthy eating is confusing at best and polarizing at worst. While cultural knowledge is shifting toward self-acceptance, patients living with or are at risk of developing diet-related illnesses may wonder: what does “healthy eating” mean? Who can people trust to help them start and sustain healthy eating habits? The answer is nutritionists and dietitians.
Nutritionists may have a degree in nutrition or a related field, while dietitians must complete an accredited dietetic program and pass a national registration exam. Some states require dieticians to have a master’s degree or even complete a registration process. In addition, many nutritionists are certified by the American Board of Nutrition or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
When choosing between a nutritionist or dietitian career, it’s essential to consider future clientele. Both nutritionists and dietitians promote general dietary guidance. However, clients dealing with more complex health issues—such as disordered eating or diabetes management—are more likely to seek out the services of a dietitian since they have more training in specific areas. Generally, dietician services are covered by insurance, whereas nutritionist services are likely to be paid out-of-pocket.
Millions of Americans struggle with obesity, and the $2 billion diet industry fuels the disinfodemic on healthy eating. Diets don’t work, and they can actually be harmful to health. Qualified nutritionists and dietitians can help people overcome dysfunctional eating habits and make healthy choices that promote holistic health. Dietitian and nutritionist careers are poised for growth in the coming decade, with an anticipated increase of 7 percent, which is predicted to create 5,100 new jobs from 2021 to 2031, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022).
In short, dietitians and nutritionists work with individuals and groups to promote good health through healthy eating habits tailored to their health needs. However, dietitians can provide individualized dietary advice and counseling on physical and mental health outcomes, whereas nutritionists generally provide general advice about healthy eating.
Read on to learn more about the similarities, differences, career outlook, salary, and educational requirements to become a nutritionist or dietician.
What is a Nutritionist?
A nutritionist is a food and nutrition expert who provides guidance on what to eat to promote good health. Nutritionists may work in various settings, including hospitals, clinics, schools, and private practices. It’s important to note that the title ‘nutritionist’ is not legally protected, meaning anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, regardless of their qualifications or experience. However, many nutritionists have completed tertiary qualifications in nutrition science or public health nutrition.
Nutritionists may work in various settings, such as hospitals, schools, or private practices. Depending on state and local laws, nutritionists may be able to find work in more regulated healthcare industries depending on their educational and professional certifications.
- Salary: $49,904 per year (PayScale, Jan. 2023)
- Certification: There are several; e.g., the Certified Nutrition Coach Certification (CASM-CNC); Certified Nutritional Consultant (CNC)
- Certifying organization: There are several; e.g., the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM); American Association of Nutritional Consultants (ANCC)
What is a Dietitian?
A dietitian is also a food and nutrition expert who provides guidance on what to eat to promote good health. However, dietitians must complete an accredited internship program and pass a national exam to be licensed. In addition, dietitians are required to complete continuing education courses to maintain their licenses. Because of these additional requirements, dietitians have more training than nutritionists.
Dietitians may work in similar settings as nutritionists, including hospitals, clinics, schools, and private practices. However, dietitians are employed by long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, and government agencies, such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
- Salary: $59,000 per year (PayScale, Jan. 2022 for “registered dietitians”)
- Certification: Registered Dietitian (RD) and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN); Certified Nutrition Coach Certification (CNS)
- Certifying organization: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND); the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (the American Nutrition Association)
Side-by-Side Comparison: Nutrition vs Dietitian
Here is a side-by-side comparison table outlining the differences and similarities between becoming a nutritionist and dietitian, including credentials, educational requirements, work environments, salary, and career outlook.
|Credentials||Several options; for example:
In most states, RDNs are required to earn an ACEND-accredited bachelor’s degree in dietetics, nutrition science, or a related field.
Some RDNs hold master’s or doctoral degrees in nutrition science.
Six months to six years of schooling:
||Five to seven years of schooling:
Please note: the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics will require a minimum of master degree beginning January 1, 2024.
Source: BLS 2022
|Career Outlook (2021-2031)||
7 percent growth in new positions (as fast as the national average)
Source: BLS 2022
7 percent (as fast as the national average)
Source: BLS 2022
Nutritionist vs Dietitian: Bottom Line
So, what’s the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist? In short, dietitians are qualified health professionals who have completed an accredited course of study, whereas anyone can call themselves a nutritionist.
For those interested in working with individuals to promote good health through healthy eating habits, either role could be a good fit. However, becoming a registered dietitian is the best career option for those looking for a role that involves providing individualized dietary advice and counseling.