Registered Dietitian vs. Nutritionist

You’ve read the term on this blog. But what does “Registered Dietitian” really mean? How is it different than being a nutritionist? Let me explain.


A Registered Dietitian is a nationally-credentialed nutrition expert. There’s just no way around it: RDs are the authority on nutrition. The process to becoming an RD is a long one, and will take at least four to five years (and that’s if you’re speedy about it!).


1. Complete a bachelor’s of science in a certified didactic program of dietetics (DPD) or coordinated program in dietetics. These are programs at colleges across the nation that have been certified to be up to par by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Each program has a standard set of courses and requirements to make sure that everyone has the same knowledge base when they graduate.

2. Complete a certified dietetic internship ranging from 6 to 12 months long. This is a very competitive step in the process. Only about 50% of graduated dietetic majors will be placed in an internship right out of college. The internship requires that each intern complete 1200 hours of supervised practice in different healthcare settings: food service systems, hospitals, clinics, community health organizations, counseling centers, etc.

3. Pass a national board exam to become a Registered Dietitian. This is the last step in the process, unless your state requires licensing. I just passed my exam, so I’m now an RD! Woohoo!

(Learn more about the entire process here.)

What makes us better than nutritionists?

1. We have the most extensive and objective education in nutrition. Period. We are taught to analyze and conduct research, practice nutrition standards that have been deemed the most appropriate for different patient populations, and understand the metabolic and physiological pathways of the body as they relate to food.

2. In Oregon (and many other states), dietitians are required to be licensed in order to practice, creating legal parameters that make us the safest nutrition professional to work with. Nutritionists are not regulated.

3. The science of nutrition is constantly evolving. Registered dietitians are guaranteed, thanks to our education and our supervised practice, to be able to interpret and apply cutting-edge nutrition research.

4. We have more experience. How many times have you seen an ad online that promises just ten weeks of coursework in order to become a nutritionist? Do you think you’d want to put your health in the hands of someone who took a month or two-long program?

Every day, nutrition grows more important in the healthcare setting. And because it’s so important, a lot of responsibility comes with the science of educating and coaching people towards better nutrition habits. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has ensured that across the nation, registered dietitians meet vigorous standards to become nutrition experts. You just can’t guarantee the same level of knowledge and expertise with anyone else.


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