Being a dietitian, I have been asked various questions about my career and what I do. The most common one I have received is how does a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) differ from a nutritionist? Many people aren't aware of the differences, so I thought I would begin my blogging experience by delving deeper into this topic. It's relevant to determine the answer to this question if you are considering hiring someone to help you with your diet. Of course, I may be a little bit biased because I am an RDN starting my own private practice business.
The main difference between the two is that registered dietitians nutritionists (RDNs) must meet many requirements to become certified and use these specific credentials. They must complete a 4-year undergraduate degree in an approved program, complete 1200 hours of supervised practice through an accredited-approved program (AKA dietetic internship), pass a difficult exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, and complete the required continuing education to maintain their credentials. Also, starting in 2024, all RDN candidates must have a Master's degree to sit for the exam.
Nutritionists' training can vary widely. They can receive certifications in specific health areas, which is beneficial, but most states do not regulate this. Because of this, anyone can offer nutrition advice and claim to be a nutrition expert. One thing a nutritionist cannot do is provide medical nutrition therapy (MNT). MNT is used for the prevention and management of disease with diet and can only be performed by an RDN. What most people don’t realize is that many health insurances cover MNT. For this reason, people can access their benefits when receiving nutritional counseling with an RDN. Also helpful to know is that most states require licensure for RDNs to perform MNT.
So, who do you choose if you want help with your diet? There is no wrong answer. Nutritionists can provide you with general nutrition advice, and some offer different certifications and specialities that could be beneficial. Meanwhile, RDNs can give more specific diet advice and provide MNT to treat and prevent chronic disease with diet. Who you decide to choose is ultimately your choice.