Nutritionist vs. Dietitian: Which Specialty Is Right for You?

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From general nutrition to helping treat medical conditions with food, learn what makes these roles unique and find your best fit.


By Jager Weatherby, Natural Healers Staff Writer

If you’ve been considering a career in nutrition, it’s likely that you’ve come across two similar but different titles—nutritionist and registered dietitian (RD).

It’s also likely that you’ve heard the terms used interchangeably, and while perhaps the distinctions are less clear than they once were, it’s important to understand the differences between the two.

Depending on your professional goals and personal interests, the role you choose to pursue will have an impact on the training and credentials you need to get started, and what you can do once you begin your career. From job duties to workplaces to salaries, the American Nutrition Association helps explains the six main differences between nutritionists and dietitians.


Which Is Right for You? Nutritionist vs. Dietitian at a Glance

Job Duties


Provides nutrition education and guidance for improved habits that address personal goals and lead to better health


Provides medical nutrition therapy for those with diseases or other conditions, as well as providing more general nutrition education




Clinical settings, private practice, and commercial environments such as wellness centers, restaurants, and health food stores


Larger institutional settings such as hospitals and long-term care facilities, university and research-based environments, commercial settings, or private practice

Licensing / Certification


Required in 9 states and D.C. for licensing or certification only as a nutritionist


Required in 41 states and D.C. for licensing or certification as a dietitian (14 of these states offer a dual dietitian/nutritionist license)



Ideally at least a bachelor’s degree, but may need a master’s for certification or licensing


At least a bachelor’s degree



Varies widely, depending on level of education and certification


Use our salary widget below to compare salaries by state


What Do Nutritionists and Dietitians Do?

Both nutritionists and registered dietitians (RD) are professionals who use science- and data-based approaches to design meal plans, make recommendations for supplements, and coach clients on the ways that their diet affects overall health. However, according to the American Nutrition Association’s Director of Nutrition Science and Education Corinne Bush MS, CNS, nutritionists “tend to operate in the field of personalized nutrition, while RDs tend to operate in the field of dietetics.”

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More simply put: Nutritionists tailor their services to the lifestyle, health history, and unique biology of each client in order to optimize wellness, prevent disease, and meet goals such as sports performance, weight loss, or proper natal nutrition. Professionals such as doctors, chiropractors, or physicians’ assistants might also become certified nutritionists as a way to incorporate additional healthcare tools into their primary practice.

RDs, on the other hand, work more closely in what’s called medical nutrition therapy. This involves conducting tests, diagnosing eating disorders, and designing nutritional plans to treat medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. “The vast majority of RDs are dietitians by profession,” says Bush, “not also MDs, DOs, CDs, PAs, etc.”

Nutritionists tailor their services to the lifestyle, health history, and unique biology of each client, while RDs work more closely in medical nutrition therapy


How Do Their Philosophies Differ?

While both roles have increasingly taken a holistic approach to health, nutritionists often view their practice in a more individualized way, taking into consideration the environments, biochemical factors, and toxicities that are unique to each client.

On the other hand, the field of dietetics often has “a more population-based approach,” explains Bush. Instead of focusing primarily on individual factors, RDs may be encouraged to follow well-researched and documented protocols designed for broader groups or particular conditions. For example, they might adhere more closely to the recommendations laid out by the USDA based on factors…

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