Difference Between Dietitians and Nutritionists

By Medical Expert Team

Apr 24 , 2023 | 5 min read


People use the words, dietitian and nutritionist, interchangeably. Many don't even know that there is a difference between the two.

A nutritionist is a very general catch-all term, similar to a doctor. A doctor could be an optometrist, pharmacist, MD, or a PhD.

Whereas an RD, a registered dietitian, is a person who is professionally trained, has credentials, and has passed a national exam. Dietitians often use the word nutritionists to describe themselves because it sounds more user-friendly.


A dietitian is a dietetics specialist who studies diet and its impact on health. They are regulated by law, hold a degree, are certified, and passed the national level exam. They have experience working at an accredited healthcare facility. To gain certification, they must meet professional education requirements each year.

Dietitians can work in hospitals or maybe a dialysis centre or work specifically with people who have diabetes and help treat issues related to diet and nutrition.

Types of dietitians

As far as official titles go, dietitians can call themselves registered dietitians "RD" or registered dietitian nutritionists "RDN". However, there are 10 other dietitians who can help reach one's health and dietary goals.

  1. Sports dietitians
  2. Research dietitians
  3. Paediatric dietitians
  4. Gerontological dietitians
  5. Neonatal dietitians
  6. Food Service dietitians
  7. Consultant dietitians
  8. Community dietitians
  9. Clinical dietitians
  10. Business dietitians


Keep in mind that some Accredited Practising Dietitians (APD) have more than one speciality, such as a neonatal dietitian who works as a research dietitian.

Conditions dietitians treat

Dietitians design personalised nutrition plans for their clients and assist them in maintaining healthy eating habits based on their medical requirements. They do the following work:

  • They discuss food preferences, eating habits, allergies, necessary medical changes, socioeconomic limitations, religious convictions, and other considerations.
  • Evaluate any reoccurring medical concerns, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.
  • Conduct a nutritional assessment of all the foods, beverages, medications, and supplements in the patient's diet.
  • Create a nutrition care plan that includes food recommendations, and supplement recommendations.


Anyone can call themselves a "nutritionist"; it doesn't refer to a specific type or level of education.

Someone who calls themselves a nutritionist could be a registered dietitian because registered dietitians are nutritionists. Or maybe someone who has no nutrition training. However, many nutritionists have advanced degrees and are certified by nutritionist certification boards to gain the title of CNS (a certified nutrition specialist). This is especially true for sports nutritionists.

An excellent phrase to help one remember is, "Every dietitian is a nutritionist, but not every nutritionist is a dietitian".

Types of nutritionists

Here are a few types of nutritionists:

  1. Sports nutritionist
  2. Animal nutritionist
  3. Clinical nutritionist
  4. Gerontological nutritionist
  5. Holistic nutritionist
  6. Nutrition consultant
  7. Public health nutritionist
  8. Management nutritionist
  9. Registered dietitian nutritionist


Their client distinguishes each type of nutritionist and whether they are concerned with a person's nutrition or a group. A gerontological nutritionist, for example, may work in a nursing home, developing meal plans and providing specialised care for senior patients.

While a sports nutritionist works in a fitness club and prepares regular meal plans for clients to help them reach their weight-loss goals in the healthiest way possible.

Conditions nutritionists treat

Certified nutrition specialists (CNS) and licenced nutritionists can help treat any condition that a Registered Dietitian (RD) would. CNSs, like RDs, provide nutrition advice and specialised care used to manage or treat diseases or other ailments.

Other than that, nutritionists typically do the following:

  • Explain nutrition to the client and what it can accomplish for them.
  • Examine the health and dietary needs of its clients.
  • Create meal plans that consider both cost and client preferences.
  • Speak to groups about diet, nutrition, and the relationship between healthy eating habits and preventing or managing specific diseases.

Dietitians vs nutritionists: 4 important differences

1. Nutritionists work only with healthy individuals, while dietitians work with both

Dietitians are board-certified food and nutrition professionals who often work with clients diagnosed with chronic conditions. A dietitian, for example, may create a thorough meal plan to help someone with diabetes, high cholesterol, or obesity to manage their condition better and with normal individuals.

Nutritionists do not treat people who are sick (e.g. diabetic patients). Instead, they only work with healthy individuals who want to do a body transformation by making better dietary choices.

2. Dietitians are regulated, but nutritionists are not

Dietitians are strictly regulated in many parts of the world, where they must complete particular professional qualifications, pass a test, and obtain a licence to call themself a dietitian. This is due to the medical and diagnostic aspects of dietetics.

On the other hand, nutritionists are not regulated by law, and anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. As a result, some countries have adopted the phrase "registered nutritionist," under which persons having a recognised degree in nutrition science can register with nutrition associations.

3. Both study similar subjects at the beginning but diverge later on

Nutrition and dietetics courses start with a similar curriculum. But later on, nutrition students will go deeper into studying nutrition modules. Dietetics students, however, learn more medical-related courses such as clinical biochemistry and medical nutrition treatment. The individual's prior qualifications determine the training required to become a certified CCN or certified dietitian.

4. The workplace of a dietitian and nutritionist is different

Dietitians typically work in hospitals and health clinics, conducting nutritional assessments and prescribing dietary changes to patients to help them manage and treat their diseases.

On the other hand, nutritionists work in commercial settings such as fitness and wellness centres and nutritional supplement firms, where they give dietary counselling and structure meal plans for clients.

Dietitian vs nutritionist: Which one is the right choice?

Choosing a nutrition professional is easy if one has defined health and nutrition goals. This clarity will narrow down the options and clear up any doubts regarding which professional to consult.

Consult with a dietitian if one requires nutritional advice that would help with a medical disorder (such as diabetes, kidney disease, or cancer); otherwise, consult a nutritionist if the goal is to reduce weight or enhance one's overall health.


Both dietitians and nutritionists help individuals find the best diets and foods to fit their health needs. However, their qualifications differ. Dietitians are certified to treat clinical diseases, whereas nutritionists are not necessarily certified but can give more generalized advice on healthy eating, weight loss, and reducing stress. People should therefore ensure that the person they are taking advice from has proper training for their needs before buying their services.

Written and Verified by:

Medical Expert Team