Nutritionist vs Dietitian – Is there a difference?

By Kim McCorquodale RDN, CSO, CD
North Star Lodge

The world of nutrition can be a confusing one. There are new studies with new results all of the time. It can be hard to decide what the right thing to eat is or who to trust. And there are many people anxious to help you with those choices. How do you know what to do? I thought it might be helpful to start with what the letters that follow a person’s name.

I listed “my letters” above and will explain them all. The first, RDN, stands for “registered dietitian nutritionist.” Many “registered dietitians” (RDs) have started to add the N at the end because the word “dietitian” can be limiting or confusing. But, if it says either RD or RDN that means the person is a health professional who has university qualifications consisting of a 4-year Bachelor Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics or a 3-year Science Degree followed by a Master Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, including a certain period of practical training in different hospital and community settings (in the U.S. 1200 hours of supervised practice are required in different areas). They must meet national standards for professional legislation which includes passing a comprehensive exam and obtaining continuing education requirements.

The CSO after my name means I am a “certified specialist in oncology.” This means I have practiced a minimum of 2000 hours in the field of oncology nutrition in the past 5 years and have passed a rigorous exam. This exam must be retaken every 5 years to ensure the CSO remains current in the ever-changing field of oncology nutrition.

The CD after my name stands for “certified dietitian.” This simply means that the state of Washington has reviewed my qualifications and found they meet current standards. This is a credential that must be annually renewed.

The term “nutritionist” is harder to pin down. A “nutritionist” is a non-accredited title that may apply to somebody who has a PhD in Nutrition or to someone who has given themselves the title and to something in between. The term “nutritionist” is not protected by law in almost all countries, so people with different levels of knowledge can call themselves a “nutritionist.” It does not necessarily mean the person is uneducated or a “quack” or they are supplying inaccurate information. It just means it is up to you to make certain the person you are consulting is a qualified health professional and has the expertise. This task is much more difficult when the person does not have an accredited title.

Of course, all the letters in the world are not a 100% guarantee of the perfect health professional for your needs. You still need to investigate them carefully and make sure you understand any advice given to you. But, I hope the above information helps you make an informed decision in the interesting world of nutrition.

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