What is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

Dietitian vs Nutritionist

Last Updated on December 16, 2022 by Kayla

The terms “dietitian” and “nutritionist” are not interchangeable, and frankly, deciphering between the two can be difficult. It is important to recognize the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist as the credentials can vary greatly.

While all dietitians are nutritionists, the reverse isn’t always true, meaning nutritionists aren’t always dietitians. Many states {but not all} have title protection for “nutritionists”.

In states such as Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Montana, certain education criteria must be met in order to be called a nutritionist. In Arizona, California, and New York, however, nutritionist has no formal definition. In short, the latter states require no education, degree, test, or exam for nutritionists.

A Registered Dietitian, on the other hand, is a nationally protected title with specific education criteria.

What does it take to become a dietitian?

A Registered Dietitian {RD} and/or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist {RDN} must meet certain education and credentialing requirements. RD and RDN are interchangeable. Title preference is chosen by the applicant {dietitan} when they register with the Commission on Dietetic Registration {CDR}.

The CDR establishes the educational requirements and oversees accreditation for sites {i.e hospitals, universities} that host supervised practice for aspiring dietitians. The CDR is the national credentialing agency responsible for the board exam {often referred to as the “RD exam”} for registered dietitians.

What is the difference between a registered dietitian and a nutritionist - Infographic
Differences between a dietitian and a nutritionist {varies by state}

In order to become a “Registered Dietitian” or “Registered Dietitian Nutritionist” {RD or RDN}, the following conditions must be met:

  • Obtain a minimum of bachelors degree* in a nutrition-related field such as dietetics, human nutrition, etc. from an ACEND-accredited program
  • Complete 1200+ hours of supervised practice**
  • Pass the CDR exam
  • Complete a minimum of 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years

*Starting in 2024, eligibility requirements will change and a minimum of a graduate {i.e. masters} degree will be required to sit for the RD credentialing exam.

**This can be done in conjunction with an undergrad/graduate degree (through a coordinated program) or, in most cases, separately through a dietetic internship. Internship “matching” is competitive and not guaranteed.

Licensure for Dietitians and Nutritionists

Licensing for dietitians and nutritionists is not mandatory although in many clinical jobs it is a requirement. In a clinic, for instance, employing licensed medical practitioners is necessary in order to be reimbursed by insurance companies.

Licensing is meant to protect the public by ensuring a licensed individual holds the required credentials and is qualified to provide services within their scope of practice. State licensure application and fees are separate from CDR credentialing and fees.

To become “licensed”, an individual must meet eligibility requirements {education}, undergo a criminal background check, apply and be approved by the licensing board, pay a licensing fee, and keep up with any additional requirements such as continuing education.

In Minnesota {where I hold credentials as a “licensed dietitian”}, a minimum of 45 hours of continuing education is required every three years. An initial application and license fee of $150 is required in addition to a background check and criminal background check fee of $33.25. Annual renewal for licensed dietitians in Minnesota is $75.

Medical Nutrition Therapy

Licensure laws vary from state to state with over 50% of states requiring a license to practice medical nutrition therapy {MNT}. MNT is unique to dietitians. It is evidenced-based, diet-specific formal education intended to treat and prevent various medical conditions.

Nutrition counseling for celiac disease is an example of MNT. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition caused by gluten-containing food and drinks. To treat celiac disease, a gluten-free diet must be followed. A registered dietitian is able to provide MNT, essentially nutrition education, to treat the condition.

Dietitian or dietician?

Technically there is no difference between dietitian spelled with a “t” and dietitian spelled with a “c” outside of the spelling itself. Dietician evolved from physician.

The suffix “-cian” means “someone who” or “a skilled person” in said specialty area. Another example would be an “electrician“, “someone who works with electricity” or “a skilled person in…”.

Today, the preferred spelling is “dietitian” – with a “t”. Often times you will see both spellings used in medical care, however, if you want to appease your dietitian, be safe and opt for the “t”!


  • A dietitian and a nutritionist are not the same.
  • The definition/education of a nutritionist varies by state. To best protect yourself, know your state’s requirements for a “nutritionist”; choose a nutritionist that is licensed.
  • A Registered Dietitian has many educational requirements and is able to provide medical nutrition therapy {MNT}.
Picture of Kayla Girgen

I hope this helps clarify what it takes to become a dietitian. The journey is challenging, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Studying dietetics has taught me not only to be a lifelong learner but also how to relate to individuals more inimately.

Health, wellness, and nutrition are very personal, and it takes a special individual to understand the ins and outs of each person’s unique circumstances.

Whether you are pursuing your RD/RDN credentials, already established in the nutrition field, or want to learn more, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I would love to connect!

Kayla Girgen, RD, LD
[email protected]

Undergraduate Degree: Bachelor of Science in Dietetics, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Minnesota
Dietetic Internship: Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota
CDR Registration: Registered Dietitian
State of Minnesota: Licensed Dietitian

Yours truly,

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2 thoughts on “What is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

  1. That’s good to know that you may need a medical license to be a nutrition therapist. I like the idea of getting some nutrition counseling. I’ll be sure to look for someone that has a license.

    1. Hi Tyler! I am glad you found the article helpful. Licensing varies from state to state, and it looks like New York has title protection for the following: certified dietitian, certified dietician, and certified nutritionist. Here’s more information for your state to help your search: http://www.op.nysed.gov/prof/diet/dietlic.htm#. Enjoy! Kayla

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