There isn’t a concrete definition of a nutritionist. There are no specific qualifications to become one and any person with any amount (or none) of training can call themselves a nutritionist. They are not legally recognized as an expert in nutrition.
A Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) is a credential that requires a degree and is legally recognized as an expert in nutrition. All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. To become an RD/RDN one must:
- Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in dietetics, a 4 year degree from an accredited college or university
- Complete an internship with at least 900 hours of supervised practice
- Take and pass the RD/RDN exam.
- Complete 75 hours of continuing education credits every 5 years to maintain license.
While completing their degree, Registered Dietitians study food and nutrition sciences, food service systems management, business, culinary arts, communications, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, anatomy and chemistry.
RD/RDNs are not only knowledgeable about the science of nutrition but also know how to interpret research studies and apply that knowledge to counseling individuals and groups on how to improve their lifestyle and health. RD/RDNs are able to look at your unique health history, current conditions, and lifestyle habits and work with you in a way that is safe and effective for you to reach the goals you set for yourself. A nutritionist may or may not have the credentials of a Registered Dietitian. A RD/RDN is the authority on nutrition in the US. If you are looking for someone to help you with your diet and aren’t sure if the person you find is credentialed, ask them if they are an RD/RDN and to see their credentials. Some nutritionists claim they have credentials, but if he or she is not an RD/RDN then their credentials are not backed by science, education, and experience in the same way they would be if they were an RD/RDN.