Dietitians vs Nutritionists: The New RDN Credential

There is already significant public confusion over the difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist, but now the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is throwing another term into the mix. Effective immediately, Registered Dietitians (RD) are able to identify themselves as Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN). This new title is optional, and there is no difference between the practice, experience or skill set of an RD vs an RDN. According to the Academy, the change is meant to remind the public that “All Dietitians are Nutritionists, but not all Nutritionists are Dietitians”. But lets back up first…

What is the difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

I have covered this before, but here’s a quick recap. Registered Dietitians (RDs) are experts in the field of nutrition that have met the requirements in order to hold the legal title of “RD”.  Although some RDs may consider themselves nutritionists, do not assume that all nutritionists are RDs. In many states, almost anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist”, regardless of education or experience. Requirements to become an RD include:

  • a Bachelors degree in nutrition, dietetics, or a related field
  • Completion of 1200 supervised practice hours through an accredited program
  • Passing the registration exam given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration
  • RDs must then keep up with continuing education requirements in order to maintain their certification.

How does the RDN fit into this puzzle?

Personally, I think that “Nutritionist” is a much better description of nutrition practice, but because it is so unregulated, I prefer to be called a Dietitian. I worked hard to become a Dietitian, not just a Nutritionist, and I’m glad that my title reflects that. I don’t have strong opinions one way or another on the new title, but by making it optional, I believe that the Academy is creating divisions where such divisions don’t exist.

What about Licensure?

Licensure is an entirely different can of worms. Licensure is state regulated, so by becoming licensed, Dietitians are identified as state regulated nutrition professionals. Licensed Dietitians are identified by having “LD” or “LDN” following the RD (or RDN) in their title (example: Jane Doe, RD, LDN). There is no difference in meaning between LD and LDN. Some states (such as Texas) use LD, while other states (such as Massachusetts) use LDN. Many employers request that Dietitians become licensed, because licensed Dietitians qualify as providers by insurance companies, are recognized by JCAHO, meet the criteria for Medical Nutrition Therapy, and are the only professionals that can provide nutrition counseling.

So what’s all of the controversy about? Even though many states have licensure in place, recent persecution of a nonlicensed blogger providing nutrition counseling has sparked the debate that licensure is just a tool for the Academy to limit competition for RDs. On the other hand, the Academy sees licensure as protecting public health and setting a minimum standard for education and experience. As a recent article so eloquently put it, “just as there are licensed physicians and dentists, whose license ensures they’ve met a rigorous set of standards, so should there be licensed dietitians”.

For those that would like to learn more:

– Kelly


7 thoughts on “Dietitians vs Nutritionists: The New RDN Credential

  1. Kelly Kremnitzer says:

    I am working on a Master’s degree in Nutrition and will obtain certification in my state to become a nutritionist. Although I see your point about having worked hard for your license and not wanting to be confused with those that do not have licenses, this is not the full picture. Some nutritionists have more education and certification hours than RDs, however they are not RDs. I find this field to actually be very political in the way it uses titles. I agree that there DOES need to be a way to differentiate those with education from those that do not have it and understand your desire to maintain your title. I have an undergraduate degree in Biology, however, and had no intention of obtaining a second bachelor’s degree just to become an RD. As such, I chose to pursue a master’s program and am so glad I did. Not having the RD title at the end does not change my level of knowledge. I think your website/blog is beautiful and so far I love what I see. Keep up the great work…I just wanted to throw another perspective into the mix.
    Kelly K.

    • MC says:

      Yes it does. Nutritionists do not have the knowledge that dietitians have thank you. We work very hard to get to where we are. Nutrionists get these fake certifications and think they can tell somebody how to eat. Granted of you wee a diet tech then I can understand your point. It so much time that it takes for your mind to develop a lot of knowledge in order to grasp the concepts and digestion, nutrient absorption when it comes to disease states and etc. most of the people that we teach and many issues. So no, unless you are a diet tech or RD you are not qualified or allowed to give nutritional advice. It goes way beyond class work sweetheart. A rigorous internship and rigorous examination.

  2. Elyna Ito says:

    Thanks Kelly for this article. It helps somewhat to clarify how a dietitian is different from a nutritionist. I am asked that question all the time. I’m a dietitian and licensed in my state. Basically, as you mention RD’s (or RDN) do go thru more intense training and must legally pass the board exam to obtain the RD title. This ensures that the dietitian gives the appropriate medical nutrition therapy/plan to her/his patient or client. A nutritionist can not give a medical nutrition therapy but can give nutrition lesson plan to low risk clients/patients mostly in a community setting. Bottom line, if the general public seeks nutrition information and can not get a hold of a dietitian, the next best bet is to seek out a nutritionist.

  3. Megan says:

    Thank you Kelly K for offering another view of what a “nutritionist” truly means. Although this article does have a valid point that the term “nutritionist” is used loosely, it was very one-sided and geared toward highlighting the qualifications of a RD/LD/LDN. I feel that if one is going to list the requirements of one certification, it is beneficial to list the qualifications of other certifications as well.
    I am currently within days of completing my Master’s degree in Integrative Nutrition with a concentration in Human Clinical Nutrition. With the intention of acquiring my CNS designation soon. I have an undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry and felt it would be a step backwards to obtain a RD certification therefore, I pursued the master’s program. Please see below for a list of our requirements in the event you are curious to see how a CNS compares to a RD. Like Kelly K mentioned above, the nutrition arena tends to be very political.

    Certified Nutrition Specialists (CNSs) are advanced nutrition professionals. CNSs engage in science-based advanced medical nutrition therapy, research, education, and more, in settings such as clinics, private practice, hospitals and other institutions, industry, academia, and the community.

    CNSs have fulfilled the most rigorous advanced-degree, education, experience, examination, and continuing education requirements. In order to qualify as a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)the candidate must hold either a:

    • MASTERS of Science or Doctoral degree in the field of nutrition or a related healthcare field (e.g. PA, MPH, Biochemistry), from a United States regionally accredited college or university, or its foreign equivalent; or
    • DOCTORAL degree in a field of clinical healthcare (including, but not limited to, MD/DO*, DC, DDS, Doctor of Nursing, ND, PharmD) from a United States regionally accredited college or university, or its foreign equivalent.

    And have completed the following minimum for-credit coursework:
    • Nutrition (minimum of 9 semester credit hours). Examples of such course topics include but are not limited to: therapeutic nutrition, nutrition assessment, developmental nutrition, micro nutrients, macro nutrients, functional nutrition, nutrient depletion & drug/herb interactions, dietary supplements, nutritional disorders, pharmacology, and biomedical science courses that involve nutrition-related metabolic systems.
    • Biochemistry (minimum of 6 semester credit hours)
    • Physiology or Anatomy/Physiology (minimum of 3 semester credit hours)
    • Clinical or Life Sciences (minimum of 12 additional semester credit hours). These courses may be prerequisites for the above courses and include, but are not limited to: biology, micro-biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, botany or nutrition.

    • 1,000 hours supervised practice experience must include minimum hours in each of the following categories:
    —Nutrition assessment (minimum 200 hours)
    —Nutrition intervention, education, counseling, or management (minimum 200 hours)
    —Nutrition monitoring or evaluation (minimum 200 hours)
    —The remaining hours may be in any of the above categories

    Thank you for opening the floor for discussion.

Comments are closed.