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A common question asked in the field of nutrition is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist. While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a clear distinction between the two. A registered dietitian (RD) is a nutrition expert with a minimum of a graduate degree from an accredited dietetics program, completing an internship, passing a national exam, and fulfilling continuing education requirements to maintain their credentials. The terms registered dietitian and registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) are protected and regulated, interchangeable terms.

Students interested in becoming a dietitian must study a variety of subjects, such as food and nutrition sciences, foodservice management, business, communication, statistics, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, anatomy, and chemistry. A graduate degree from an accredited dietetics program is required to sit for the RD exam. After completing the necessary coursework, students take part in a supervised practice program, known as a dietetic internship. This program consists of a minimum of 1,000 hours of supervised practice in clinical, community, and food service settings.

After completing the dietetic internship, students are eligible to sit for the registered dietitian exam, administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. The title of “registered dietitian” is awarded after passing the exam. Each state has specific licensure laws that RDs must follow, and continuing education credits are required to stay up-to-date in the field. Registered dietitians work in various settings, including health care, food service, public health, sports nutrition, media, public relations, research, schools and universities, private practice, and more.

On the other hand, the term “nutritionist” is unregulated, without a standardized definition. A person who studied nutrition but did not pursue the RD credential may call themselves a nutritionist. Others who have taken an online course in nutrition or are passionate about the subject may also refer to themselves as nutritionists. There is no specific degree or training required to become a nutritionist, and many online programs offer certifications that are not regulated or accredited.

As a registered dietitian, it is recommended to see a dietitian for one-on-one nutrition advice rather than a nutritionist. Dietitians are the most qualified experts in the field of nutrition and can provide appropriate guidance for managing health conditions, athletic nutrition, weight loss, nutrition education, pediatric nutrition, and preconception nutrition. While some may choose to see a nutritionist, it is important to inquire about their education and qualifications before seeking advice, as they are not recognized medical professionals and are unlikely to be covered by insurance.

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