Yes. There absolutely, positively is a difference between Registered Dietitians and nutritionists. Furthermore, this difference is HUGE! Sadly, most people do not know this and seek and accept nutrition information from unqualified sources. This includes doctors (whom are only required to take one basic nutrition class), personal trainers, health coaches and more.
Only Registered Dietitians have the knowledge, skills and practical experiences to successfully and appropriately counsel and educate individuals on food and nutrition. They are the actual nutrition experts. Let me show you why.
There is A LOT of schooling required before one can officially become a RD. Dietetics is a very science-based profession and we don’t simply learn the calorie content of foods. We study and learn the chemistry, biology, psychology and physiology behind food and the health behaviors people make.
You must earn a 4-year bachelor’s degree and many, like myself, go on to get their master’s degree as well. Regardless, we sift through and read through all the research to provide clients with the most accurate, up-to-date nutrition information.
Second, you must apply, get accepted into and complete a 1-2 year dietetic internship. This second step is perhaps the hardest step of them all. The internship application process for dietetics is EXTREMELY competitive and only 50% of applicants actually get a match. If you don’t get one, you basically have to wait an entire year and apply again or switch career paths. It’s a very stressful process and even some of the most competitive candidates don’t get matched.
National RD Exam
Third, you must pass the national registration examination. Again, this is not easy. The exam covers every aspect of dietetics from how to treat someone with gallbladder disease to correct food holding temps to national nutrition program qualifications. This is not a standardized exam and questions are different for everyone. For example, I had four foodservice equations and one of my friends was dealt twelve. Let’s just say both myself and everyone I’ve talked to thought they weren’t going to pass mid-exam.
Finally, after you complete all the above, you must maintain your accreditation status by completing continuing education units (CEU’s). This comes in the form of professional conferences, online learning modules, nutritional education sessions/seminars and more.
In contrast, “nutritionists” don’t have to do any of this. Some decide to take an online nutrition course, but this information is not accredited and may not be backed by science. Basically, anyone can call himself or herself a nutritionist, including you. However, they are not recognized through law as nutrition experts and more often than not, do not have the proper nutrition education. Moral of the story? Always, always, ALWAYS look to a dietitian for correct, factual nutrition information. Check your sources when reading, watching or listening to popular social media sources and make sure it is an RD providing the information. If not, you cannot be for certain it is accurate as there is a lot of nutrition misinformation out there.