Editor's Note: This post was originally published November 2015 and has recently been updated and revised for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Although nutrition-related titles may sound similar, they can be very different when it comes to educational requirements, job duties, and typical workplaces.
The two designations that are the most common in the field are certified nutritionist and registered dietician. There are obvious points of overlap, such as providing advice on food and nutrition, but in other ways, each is a distinct career path. Here’s a look at the differences:
A registered dietitian (RD) is the same as a newer designation, a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Board of Directors created the newer title as a way to further enhance opportunities for RDNs.
Either way, the role requires a bachelor's degree from a college or university, with coursework that typically includes food and nutrition sciences, foodservice systems management, business, economics, computer science, sociology, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, and chemistry. RDs and RDNs must also complete an accredited, supervised practice program at a health care facility, food service corporation, or community agency.
Once your education and practice program are complete, you can step into a number of job roles that may include explaining nutrition to individual clients or groups, developing meal plans, promoting nutrition through public speaking, and putting together community outreach programs. Some RDs and RDNs choose to pursue more education in order to become researchers or professors.
As they continue in the profession, some RDs and RDNs pursue certifications in specialized areas of practice, such as pediatric nutrition, diabetes education, or senior nutrition.
No matter which path they follow, RDs and RDNs must renew their credentials every five years, and apply for licensure or certification based on their state’s laws.
Those who want to provide nutritional counseling through a more accelerated timeframe (and on a more affordable basis), may want to consider becoming a Certified Nutritionist, also known as a Certified Nutrition Consultant.
The role requires completion of a nutrition certification program or series of certification programs, usually with the prerequisite of having a high school diploma, GED, or international equivalent. This is often done in six months or less. In the program, you’ll study topics like the principles of energy balance, macro and micro nutrients, the connection between nutrition and physical fitness, the use of research in creating nutritional plans, and identifying behaviors that may be affecting individual clients.
Once your coursework is complete, you can take on a number of job roles, from being self-employed as a nutritional and wellness consultant, to working for food supplement distributors, corporate wellness centers, weight loss centers, health food and nutrition retail stores, health and wellness publications, schools, or community programs.
The certification allows you to give educated nutritional guidance that might include developing nutritional plans for individual clients, creating workshops that can be presented at schools or companies, and providing support to groups with specific goals like weight loss or disease management. Using current scientific research, you can construct a foundation for wellness nutrition and help people meet their goals.
In general, both the certified nutritionist and the registered dietician assist people with their nutrition and wellness needs. But the paths to get to those roles differ, and which one to take is a matter of personal choice.