Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist: What’s the Difference?

When looking for accurate information about food and nutrition it’s often hard to know who you can trust. Additionally, thanks to the world wide web plus social media there are many opportunities for people to spread incorrect information, particularly in the area of cancer, where patients can be determined to find anything they hope will cure them.

Fortunately, there are certain professionals who are educated and trained to help you navigate the world of food and nutrition. You just need to know who and which sources you can trust.

People often think the terms nutritionist and dietitian are interchangeable, however, this is not the case. Dietitians may refer to themselves as nutritionists, however, not all nutritionists can call themselves dietitians. This is because training to be a registered dietitian (RD) is more extensive and regulated.

According to the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, registered dietitians must have completed a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, and starting in 2024 will be required to hold a master’s degree. These degrees include academic coursework in diverse subject areas such as microbiology, biochemistry, research methods, nutrition and assessment therapy, and medical nutrition therapy.

Dietitians must also complete a hands-on dietetic internship, where they work in a variety of nutrition settings including community, clinical (both inpatient and outpatient settings), and food service management. Upon completion of their internship year, they are then eligible to sit for the registration exam for registered dietitian nutritionists. Furthermore, dietitians are required to meet continuous education requirements attending conferences and lectures, presenting and publishing research studies, and participating in certificate training programs to name a few to ensure that their knowledge is up to date. These high standards must be extensive as dietitians are the only nutritional professionals allowed to work with patients in a hospital setting.

Unlike dietitians, the education and training requirements to become a nutritionist vary from state to state, which is why “nutritionist” is not a nationally-recognized credential. Some states don’t require any type of license, which means under certain state laws a person could refer to themselves as a nutritionist without education or training in the field. This is also true for terms such as a nutritional coach or nutritional therapist.

While there are some nutritionists who have extensive education in nutrition, it is extremely important to know what qualifications someone has before following their advice. For cancer patients in particular, qualifications are crucial as incorrect advice may affect how your treatment works and may reduce your chances of recovery.

For the safest, evidence-based advice, ask your doctor to refer you to a registered dietitian. If you have cancer, consider going to a dietitian who has specialized in oncology.

To find a dietitian in your area click here >>

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