What Differentiates Registered Dietitians From Nutritionists?

What’s the one thing more important than a degree or clinical experience that differentiates Registered Dietitians from nutritionists? It’s called evidence-based practice.

whitney english registered dietitian nutritionist

I get this question ALL THE TIME — from friends, from strangers, and even from doctors — what’s the difference between a Registered Dietitian and a nutritionist?

With the rise of many different types of nutrition certification programs, there is a lot of confusion surrounding the term “nutritionist.”

Many RD’s have done a great job explaining the criteria that differentiate a Registered Dietitian, aka “Registered Dietitian Nutritionist,” from other people using the title “nutritionist.” I’ll recap those basic facts below. But more importantly, I’ve found that one thing above all really draws the line between those that call themselves RDs and others in the wellness space.

It’s called “evidence-based practice.”

Evidence-based practice is an approach to nutrition therapy where dietitians use the best evidence possible to make decisions about client care. It involves the critical analysis of information and incorporates the most recent and rigorous research, clinical expertise, and individual client needs and preferences.

Want to know what evidence-based practice is not? Watch this quick video! >>

The Difference Between Registered Dietitians and Nutritionists

To recap the legal difference between RDs and nutritionists, the two main takeaways are:

  1. All Registered Dietitians are nutritionists but not all nutritionists are Registered Dietitians.
  2. All Registered Dietitians must complete specific coursework, exams, and hands-on training, and become registered with the Commission for Dietetic Registration to legally call themselves an RD. There are no legal standards in many states, including California, for the use of the term “nutritionist.”

Requirements to Become a Registered Dietitian

The specific requirements to become a Registered Dietitian nutritionist include:

  1. Earning a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in Nutrition
  2. Completing 1200 hours of supervised practice
  3. Passing a national board exam for registration
  4. Completing 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years to maintain credentials

There are no specific requirements in most states to use the title “nutritionist.”

If you’re looking for more information about becoming a Registered Dietitian, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic’s website. You can also search for accredited dietetics programs here.

The reason I decided to write this post is that I believe it’s critical for clients/patients to understand the caliber of service they’re getting when they go to see a nutrition professional. If practitioners are not implementing evidence-based practice, then you’re not getting the safest, most effective treatment possible.

You may fall victim to practices that are not only expensive and ineffective but sometimes harmful.

If you want to know if your nutrition practitioner is abiding by these guidelines, simply ask them to share the research supporting any nutrition therapy claims they may be advocating. If they can’t provide you with robust evidence (case studies and single small trials don’t count), then they’re not practicing evidence-based therapy, and you’re not getting the best care possible.

I hope you found this article and video informative!

If you have any questions about becoming an RD or how to find a reputable nutrition practitioner in your area, please don’t hesitate to leave comments and questions below.

And please SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel to get the latest Whitney E., RD videos!

Looking for evidence-based answers to your common nutrition and fitness questions? Here are a few other articles you may want to check out! >>

The Truth About Coconut Oil


The Best Exercise for Weight Loss + Disease Prevention

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The Diet That Slows Dementia + Supports Brain Health

Weigh In: Are you a registered dietitian nutritionist, or thinking of joining the nutrition profession? Is evidence-based practice important to you?


  1. I never understood the difference between both of these occupations. And since I’m not using their professional help, I gave up on determining who is responsible for what. But thanks to your post, I reevaluated my decision. You are right there are so many people out there calling the self nutritionists and pushing their ideas without providing their clients with any kind of research or evidence. That’s definitely can be dangerous. Thanks again for pointing that out.


  2. Thank you so much for explaining this. I had no idea the differences were so big.
    Rachel recently posted…25 Quotes for Racing and Running MotivationMy Profile

  3. Such a great post Whitney! You did a great job differentiating the two!
    Jessica @Small Bites by Jessica recently posted…Menu Plan Monday: October 2, 2017My Profile

  4. Love this explanation! I used to think it was the same thing, just preference in title. Now I’ve learned. 🙂
    Maria recently posted…Butternut Squash and Kale FrittataMy Profile

  5. This is SO helpful. I remember being sent to a nutritionist when I was younger and struggling with eating enough, and I questioned her qualifications so much that I didn’t heed any of her advice (I was also super stubborn, for the record lol). Once I saw an RD I felt so much more confident in the help I was receiving.
    Laura recently posted…No-Bake Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter CheesecakeMy Profile

  6. Thanks for sharing this! It was so informative. Now I know the difference.
    Joanna recently posted…Hangover PreventionMy Profile

  7. Christine says:

    I’ve always wondered what the difference was! So interesting. And love that you included a video to help explain it!

  8. Totally helpful! I’ve always wondered myself and this really cleared it all up!
    Deryn | Running on Real Food recently posted…Healthy Whole Grain Porridge 5 WaysMy Profile

  9. I have several RD friends who will love this! Great to clear it up!

  10. This is such a great post to read! I love how you broke it down!

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