A nutritionist holds up an apple, an orange, and a kiwi

What is a Nutritionist?

Nutritionists are professionals who specialize in food science and the human diet. Nutritionists see food as life-sustaining resources for human consumption, but they are also concerned with food consumption and diet-based prevention and treatment. Nutritionists may work in a variety of capacities, but their primary role is to evaluate the food consumptions of clients or patients and make recommendations for future nutrition.

Nutritionists may work in hospitals or health organizations to help guide individuals seeking healthier lifestyles. Other nutritionists may work for hospitals or prisons to help plan meals that are both nutritional and cost effective. Nutritionists may assist government entities in evaluating the nutritional value of food sold for consumption. They could work on the staff of schools, and they can also work for public health organizations. They may also be involved in the creation of diet programs that are sold as products to the public.

Many people mistake nutritionists as being the same thing as dieticians. In some ways, dieticians and nutritionists have similar functions, but the difference lies with educational level and professional status. In the United States, the word dietician has legal protection. You can only be referred to a dietician if you have received legal training and a master’s degree in dietetics. They are also held ethically and professionally accountable by certain medical professional associations.

A nutritionist, on the other hand, is not a legally protected professional title in the United States. Some nutritionists may have a degree in food science, nutrition, or even just a bachelor’s degree in dietetics. These nutritionists may work as a dietician’s assistant or in capacities where they make food recommendations for certain organizations. However, nutritionists are not legally certified to make patient recommendations or treatments. They are not necessarily medical professionals.

While some nutritionists may have educational credentials or certifications, others may not. The trouble with the word “nutritionist” is that because it is not a legally protected title, some people can claim to be a nutritionist without having any background in nutritional sciences. If you’re seeking information or guidance from a nutritionist, make sure to look into their educational credentials. Sometimes, the only thing separating a nutritionist from dietician status is an internship or specific degree. Many nutritionists can still have a wealth of knowledge, but others may not.  

Nutritionists and dieticians are not the same thing, but dieticians are, by training and expertise, nutritionists. Dieticians are experts in the nutritional value of foods and products. Just make sure you know that not all nutritionists are dieticians. As long as you know the difference between nutritionists and dieticians, you can understand the actual occupation that each can perform. 

Last Updated: April 15, 2015