dietitian nutritionist with fruits and vegetables

Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: What’s the Difference?

Nutritionist vs. dietitian: which career should you pursue? While on the surface they may appear quite similar, it is important to recognize the differences between these two nutrition careers before committing to either track. Read this comparison to learn what each job entails and choose which is right for you.




Dietitian Education

The primary difference between nutritionists and dietitians is how strict their requirements are. Dietitians must be credentialed by the Commission on Dietetic Registration as either Registered Dietitians (RDs) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs). To gain this qualification, they are required to first complete a bachelor’s degree in a related program (such as nutritional science). Then, they undergo an internship and pass a national exam.

Nutritionist Education

Compared to dietitians, nutritionists have more freedom regarding their qualifications. There is no designated course of training for this occupation, so these professionals may have any level of knowledge about their subject matter. However, some choose to pursue specific credentials through many certification boards, such as through the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS) and the American Clinical Board of Nutrition (ACBN). Unlike the title “nutritionist,” credentials through these organizations are regulated and protected under the law.


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Job Description


Dietitian Job Description

A range of sectors are open to dietitians, including clinical practice, community work, and education. Common dietitian job duties include developing meal plans to promote healthy living and educating the general public and/or individuals about positive eating habits. Some create their own private practices, which allows them to dedicate more attention each client.

Dietitians may also cooperate with teams of specialists to help diagnose and treat patients with a variety of health concerns, including eating disorders, food allergies, diabetes, and kidney disease. They might also pursue a specialist certification through the CDR, which offers advanced credentialing for Pediatric, Renal, Gerontological, and Oncology Nutrition, as well as fields like Sports Dietetics and, in the near future, Obesity and Weight Management.

Nutritionist Job Description

Nutritionists also have a wide range of career opportunities available to them. Besides directly advising individual clients, they may work as food scientists for manufacturers or other businesses. Some enter fields such as research, public health, and food journalism. Without a CNS credential, though, nutritionists have limited opportunity for employment in doctors’ offices and hospitals.

Several nutritionists begin as doctors and expand their credentials to add clinical nutrition to their practice. Professionals with these qualifications are well positioned to diagnose eating disorders and develop meal plans to manage a variety of health issues.


Salary & Outlook      


Due to the growing elderly population and the needs of the 33% of Americans who are obese, this field will continue to offer new opportunities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 16% growth in employment for dietitians and nutritionists between 2014 and 2024.

Dietitian Salary

According to PayScale, dietitians make approximately $51,000 per year. Though a significant percent of dietitians receive no employee health benefits (22%), the majority report having medical (74%), dental (62%), and/or vision (55%) coverage through their employers.

Nutritionist Salary

The average salary for nutrition jobs, on the other hand, is $41,471 per year. Even more nutritionists than dietitians have no work-related health benefits (34%), though many still receive medical (65%), dental (47%), and vision (42%) benefits.


Now that you know the basics of what each track has to offer, take the time to prepare for your job applications. You might, for example, investigate the industry and how your preferred career fits into this larger picture, or research what potential employers are looking for in dietitian and nutritionist candidates.

By Erin Coursey, iHire | November 23, 2016
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