A dietitian holds out an apple and a donut

Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: What's the Difference?

If dietitians and nutritionists both work in similar work settings and provide consultation to clients and organizations, you may be wondering what the real differences are between the two occupations. If you’re hoping to make a career out of consulting other people about dietary and nutritional needs, then you should definitely know what occupational differences there are between nutritionists and dietitians. Read on to learn about the differences and benefits of each occupation.

What is a Dietitian?
A dietitian is an accredited and licensed professional who has completed extensive education in nutrition and dietetics courses. They have earned at least a bachelor’s degree in major coursework related to dietetics, completed a practicing internship accredited by the Accreditation Counsel for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), and they’ve taken national licensing exams to become certified to consult and advise individuals and organizations on nutrition and diet-related issues.

What is a Nutritionist?
A nutritionist is generally someone who has earned a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in nutrition or food sciences from an accredited college or university. They, like dietitians, may work for organizations or consult with individuals on food and diet-related issues. Essentially, all dietitians are also nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. A nutritionist cannot call himself or herself a dietitian unless they have completed accredited coursework and have taken dietetics licensing examinations.

Education Differences
Differences in formal education between nutritionists and dietitians are minimal. They may complete coursework in the same major at the same university, but the difference lies in the hands-on training that is required to become a dietitian. A person who calls themselves a nutritionist but not a dietitian may have only earned a degree in nutrition, but they may not have gained any accredited hands-on experience during their schooling.

Licensure Differences
Different states may have different licenses for different occupations. “LD” stands for “licensed dietitian” and is a nationally recognized license. “LN” stands for “licensed nutritionist,” but many states do not require licensing to call oneself a nutritionist, and therefore, this license may not be recognized in many areas. Some states also have an “LDN,” which stands for “licensed dietitian nutritionist.” All licenses depend on licensing boards and state requirements. Remember, all dietitians are nutritionists based on education, but not all nutritionists are dietitians because they have not received nationally recognized licensing.

Which Should You Choose as a Career Path?
If you want to have more career opportunities and reputability nationally, regardless of state, you should put in the work to become a dietitian. The requirements for becoming a dietitian will work in your favor to get you more job opportunities and higher pay. You will also have the educational background to give you reputability with clients. 

Last Updated: April 15, 2015