Clarifying the Terms


The term “nutritionist” is not protected by law – anyone can add this descriptor after their name no matter what their education, training, or experience.


On the other hand, “registered dietitian” is a legally governed credential and is recognized by insurance companies as a reimbursable nutrition expert. This is why your health care provider may refer you to a registered dietitian for a medical issue, eating disorder, weight concerns, questions about supplements, or other nutrition guidance.

A “registered dietitian” (RD) must:

  • Complete a strict set of courses for a bachelor’s degree, overseen by the American Dietetic Association (ADA); these include a number of in-depth science-based courses such as nutritional biochemistry and others that involve review and critique of numerous research studies
  • Complete an ADA-approved internship program – usually about a year of intense hands-on experience in a number of nutrition-related situations and facilities
  • Pass a lengthy, comprehensive national exam


Many states also require dietitians to be licensed (LD). This credential tells the consumer that the person is a credible source of nutrition information.

To maintain their credentials, registered dietitians must also undergo documented on-going nutrition education as required by the ADA and state licensure boards.

A high percentage continue their education to receive a masters or doctorate degree.

Some dietitians may also call themselves “nutritionists” because the public tends to associate the term “dietitian” only with weight loss diets or hospitals, but their expertise goes well beyond this arena.

If you see the term “nutritionist”, and want to make sure they are a “registered dietitian”, check for the “RD” after their name.