The terms dietitian and nutritionist are certainly similar, but not quite interchangeable. Dietitians and nutritionists are both considered to be healthcare professions involved with food, diet, and nutrition of their clients.
So what are the differences?
To start off, all dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionist are dietitians. The roles of registered dietitians are a lot more regulated than that of a nutritionist. For instance, all dietitians are required to earn at least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition/dietetics from an accredited university and complete supervised and monitored dietetic internship. After completing an internship, a national examination must be passed and 75 continual education hours must be obtained every 5 years to practice as a registered dietitian. Also depending on the state of practice, a state license may be required to legally practice medical nutrition therapy.
In the US, the title of nutritionist is not regulated or protected like a dietitian. This means that anybody can refer to themselves as a nutritionist without having a formal education or professional training in nutrition. This can be quite risky when dealing with people that have major medical issues that require very specific dietary regimens.
With that being said, not all nutritionists are incompetent in regards to nutritional sciences. There are nutritionists that have obtained Master’s and PhDs in nutrition. But when it pertains to dealing with medically compromised individuals, it is better suited for a registered dietitian that has the documented educational background and hands-on training to prescribe the dietary regimen to meet the needs of all health populations.