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What’s the Difference Between a Nutritionist and a Dietitian?

What’s the Difference Between a Nutritionist and a Dietitian?

A question we’re often asked is, “What’s the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian? Although the professions have similarities, some key differences distinguish them from one another. For example, dietitians are certified to treat clinical conditions whereas nutritionists are not always certified. 

Key Differences Between a Dietitian and Nutritionist

Dietitians, also known as registered dietitian nutritionists, must receive certification from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They can treat certain health conditions by offering food recommendations. Dietitians provide medical nutrition therapy in a hospital setting or private practice. They can also provide nutritional education and expertise to schools, public health offices, and food-related industries. 

Nutritionist training varies and certification is not required in all 50 states. Nutritionists in states that require certification can obtain their certification from the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS).  Nutritionists may have different focus areas from dietitians. Some nutritionists may pursue advanced qualifications in specific health areas such as sports nutrition, digestive disorders, and autoimmune conditions. Nutritionists may also provide general advice on healthful eating, weight loss, and reducing tiredness. 

Training Requirements for Dietitians and Nutritionists

Dietitians must have a bachelor’s degree or higher and have the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) or Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) to accredit and approve coursework. They must also complete 1200 hours of supervised practice through ACEND-accredited practice programs. Then, they must pass the national exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. After certification, dietitians must complete continuing education requirements to maintain licensure. 

Certified Clinical Nutritionist

A certified clinical nutritionist (CCN) is qualified to assess nutritional needs based on the patient’s lifestyle and health goals. They can provide personalized recommendations for diet, exercise, supplements, and stress management. CCNs must have a bachelor’s, master’s, Ph.D, or Doctorate of Science degree to qualify for certification, or they may have an advanced professional degree in another licensed healthcare field. 

Aspiring certified clinical nutritionists can obtain certification from the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board. Training requirements to qualify for certification vary by the pre-existing qualifications the candidate possesses. For instance, a nutritionist with a bachelor’s degree must complete at least three hours of coursework in topics such as human physiology, biochemistry, and microbiology before they can apply for certification. However, a nutritionist with a doctorate of science may not be required to complete as much training to become certified. All CCNs must pass the exam and complete ongoing training every two years to maintain certification. 

Certified Nutrition Specialists

A certified nutrition specialist (CNS) can receive this certification in the United States through the BCNS. Aspiring certified nutrition specialists must have a master’s degree or higher to qualify for certification training. They must also complete coursework from a regionally accredited institution and 1,000 hours of documented, supervised practice. After passing the exam, CNSs are required to complete continuing education credits every five years to maintain certification. The minimum number of hours spent learning about life sciences is higher for CNSs than for CCNs. 

The Medical Nutrition Therapy Act of 2020 

In 2020, legislators enacted the Medical Nutrition Therapy Act 2020, which includes medical nutrition therapy in Medicare Part B. The legislation also allows nurses and psychologists to refer people for medical nutrition therapy. Patients with the following conditions qualify to add medical nutrition therapy to their Medicare Part B plan. 

  • Obesity
  • Prediabetes
  • Cancer
  • Celiac disease
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Cancer
  • Hypertension
  • Dyslipidemia
  • Malnutrition
  • Eating disorders
  • Any condition causing unintentional weight loss

Mantachie Rural Healthcare is proud to have a registered dietitian on staff to help our patients with their health and nutrition needs. To make an appointment with our dietitian, schedule a checkup with your Mantachie provider. Click here to request your appointment!

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