Dietitians, nutritionists and other practitioners in the nutrition and diet field offer recommendations to clients about maintaining health based on scientific research and data. Depending on your personal needs, you may need to see a variety of specialists or just one. Take a look at the similarities and differences between nutritionists, dietitians and functional medicine specialists to determine which practitioner best fits your needs.
Registered Dietitians (RDs)
Registered dietitians (RDs) meet specific guidelines set by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) and the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). RDs have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree (or both) in nutrition, dietetics or nutrition sciences from a program accredited by ACEND. Throughout their careers and practice, RDs must continually maintain their credentials through education.
Educational requirements for RDs include classes in basic sciences that cover anatomy and physiology, chemistry and biochemistry, as well as nutritional science, clinical and community nutrition, lifecycle nutrition, food policy, nutritional epidemiology, food service and food science. They complete an internship for 6 to 12 months with hands-on experience in healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, community agencies and foodservice corporations. They must also take an exam, and keep up on the latest scientific information. Many states also require RDs to be licensed as a medical professional.
Dietitians are trained to prevent and treat disease and health conditions through diet and may work in clinical settings, such as hospitals and doctors offices, as well as in other fields ranging from the food industry to tech.
Because they are held to medical standards and practices, many insurance plans include visits to dietitians. RDs may have better training in food sensitivities and intolerances to create diet plans.
By contrast, nutritionists do not have a specific set of requirements that are regulated. Nutritionists have education and training requirements that vary according to the state. Licensing and certification also vary, so the title of nutritionist is very vague and may not require any specific training at all. Depending on the state, licensing may or may not be required to practice as a nutritionist. Most nutritionists do have some background in science, and use a whole body natural approach to help people eat well and live well. Nutritionists generally fall closer into the realm of holistic medicine and are a good option if traditional medical treatments are not working for you.
Other specialists include those who are in the field of functional and integrative medicine and use food and diet as part of a whole body approach to living well. These specialists believe that food is one part of the solution to health and disease. Lifestyle and diet play a role in the total health and wellness package, and doctors and other practitioners help people feel better by finding natural and diet based solutions to their health problems.