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What is a registered dietitian?

Did you know that a nutritionist and a dietitian are not necessarily the same thing?

There is often confusion about the differences between the two. Read below to learn about these differences and what a dietitian can do for you.

What is the major difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian?

Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, but only a Registered Dietitian (RD)/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) has completed the education and training established by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).  Additionally, dietitians follow the Code of Ethics and are subject to regulatory statutes. This assures the highest quality of care.

nutritionist v. dietitian. nutritionist degree requirements vary, can become nutritionist online in as little as 3 weeks. may or may not require internship hours and annual continuing education. dietitians require master's degree as of 2024 in addition to 900-1200 hours of internship, passing a national exam, and completing annual continuing education.

What education is required for dietitians?

Currently, all dietitians must complete the minimum of a bachelor’s degree as well as 900-1200 hours of ACEND-accredited supervised practice program. At the completion of these, the individual must pass a national exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).

Depending on the state, an RD must also apply for license to practice. This is indicated by an “LD” or “LDN” at the end of their name. Regardless of where they are licensed to practice, all Registered Dietitians must complete continuing professional educational requirements to be able to practice. This keeps the public safe and assures that we are qualified to discuss nutrition-related topics.

What do the letters at the end of a dietitian's name stand for?

RD stands for Registered Dietitian. Alternatively, an individual can choose to use “RDN,” which stands for Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. RD and RDN can be used interchangeably.

LD stands for Licensed Dietitian. Some states require that RDs also apply for a license to practice within that state. As with RD, individuals can also choose to write “LDN” or Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist.

You’ll notice that I also have an MPH after my name. That stands for Master of Public Health. Other dietitians may have letters such as MS (Master of Science) or MA (Master of Arts). 

What do dietitians do?

Dietitians work in a variety of areas. These include acute care, public health, and community health sectors; as health educators; in private practice; in food service and food industry; and in sports, research, or the media.

Regardless of the area an RD works in, they provide the highest level of nutrition counseling, personally tailored advice, and assistance with issues such as chronic diseases, food allergies, and weight.

If you’re more of a visual person, check out this Instagram post that explains who dietitians are and what dietitians do


All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.

The process to be a nutritionist depends on the individual program and may take as little as 3 weeks. In contrast, it typically takes at least 5-6 years for a person to become a registered dietitian.

Since some nutritionist pathways can have similarities to that of a dietitian, it is always important to talk with an individual you want to work with and learn more about their educational background and training to ensure they are the best fit for your needs.

woman cutting vegetables in kitchen; image from mad faith photography