RD = Registered Dietitian

The terms ‘dietitian’ and ‘nutritionist’ are often used interchangeably. This can sometimes get confusing as the two terms are not equal.

In order to earn the R.D. credential, individuals must obtain a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nutrition through a university program that has been accredited by the American Dietetic Association. They must then complete a year-long ADA-approved dietetic internship and pass a national registration examination covering all aspects of nutrition and food-service management. In order to maintain their certification, dietitians must earn continuing education credits from ADA-approved programs. Although a graduate level degree is not a requirement for the R.D. certification, it is highly desirable as it represents a more thorough level of study.

Many states also require dietitians to be licensed in order to practice, so if you see credentials such as “LDN” or “LN” following a dietitian’s name, it means that they are licensed to practice in the state.

In contrast to the rigorous certification process required to become an R.D. and maintain the certification, the titles “nutritionist” and “nutrition consultant” are unregulated in most states. Individuals who adopt these titles can be unqualified to provide nutrition counseling. According to the law in most states, pretty much anyone can call themselves a nutritionist: the guy working behind the counter at the supplement store, the personal trainer at your gym, or even your Aunt Mary who fancies herself a food expert because she likes to cook. While there are some professional certifications that contain the term ‘nutritionist’ in their title that do require a specific level of training and expertise, there are countless others that require minimal qualifications of any kind. If you are uncertain as to whether a nutritionist is qualified, be sure to ask for their credentials.

Dietitians can and often times do refer to themselves as nutritionists. Nutritionists, however, cannot call themselves dietitians.