Dietitian? Nutritionist? What are they? Are they the same? Are they different? And do you need one, the other or both? The truth is, working with either one could have significant benefits for your health, especially if you have dietary challenges, known allergies or suspected sensitivities. From identifying the ideal dietary supplements that meet your needs to developing a meal plan that works with your lifestyle, both nutritionists and dietitians can help you make positive changes to your eating habits.
Together, we’ll explore what these two professions offer and help you decide if working with a nutritionist or dietitian is right for you.
What Is a Dietitian?
Dietitians are food and nutrition professionals who assist folks in making healthy food selections.There are over 30,000 registered dietitians in the USA found in both the private and public sectors. They educate clients on what to eat and drink in order to live a healthy lifestyle or reach a specific health objective. Dietitians work in various settings, including hospitals, schools, nursing homes and government agencies.
To become a dietitian, you need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, food science or a related field. You also must complete an accredited dietetic internship. In addition, most states require dietitians to be licensed or registered with the state in which they practice.
There are four main types of dietitians: clinical dietitians, food service management dietitians, community dietitians and research dietitians.
- Clinical dietitians work with patients to determine what type of diet they need to stay healthy or improve their health. They may work in hospitals, nursing homes or outpatient clinics.
- Foodservice management dietitians oversee the foodservice operations in institutions such as schools, hospitals and prisons. They make sure that the food served is nutritious and safe to eat.
- Community dietitians develop and implement nutrition education programs. They also may conduct research on community dietary needs and problems.
- Research dietitians conduct studies on the relationship between diet and disease. They often work in universities, government agencies or private research institutes.
What Is a Nutritionist?
A nutritionist is a food and nutrition expert who provides guidance on the effects of diet on human health. Nutritionists typically have an undergraduate degree in nutritional science or a related field. However, some may also have a graduate degree. Many states require nutritionists to be licensed or registered, although the requirements for licensure vary from state to state.
Nutritionists often work with individuals or groups to help them change their diet to improve their health. They may also work in research, education or public policy.
Are Dietitians and Nutritionists the Same?
This is where things can be a little confusing. For example, “dietitian” and “nutritionist” are often used interchangeably. Still, they are not the same thing due to the requirements to use either title in different jurisdictions.
Dietitians are food and nutrition experts who have met specific educational and professional requirements. As we mentioned, for someone to become a dietitian, they need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree in one particular health-related field and complete an accredited dietetic internship. In addition, in most cases, dietitians must be licensed or registered with their state’s nutrition board.
Nutritionists are food and nutrition experts who provide guidance on the effects of diet on human health. Nutritionists typically have an undergraduate degree in nutritional science or a related field. Still, they do not necessarily have to complete an accredited internship or be licensed. However, some states do require nutritionists to be licensed or registered.
The differences are nuanced and location-specific, as you can see. However, chances are, both would be able to explain digestive enzyme benefits. It might just come down to preference, insurance coverage and licensing in your state.
Who Should See a Dietitian or Nutritionist?
Working with a qualified nutritionist or dietitian may be beneficial if you have a chronic health issue such as diabetes, heart disease or celiac disease. Depending on their areas of expertise, they can help you manage your condition by developing a personalized meal plan that includes the right foods, portion sizes and nutrient levels to help improve your health.
Dietitians and nutritionists can also create a weight-loss plan that includes healthy eating and physical activity if you’re trying to lose weight. And if you have food sensitivities or intolerances, they can assist you in determining the foods that cause your symptoms and devising a plan to avoid them. For example, they may recommend products like digestive enzymes to help you deal with gluten or lactose intolerance.
In addition to working with individuals, these professions may also work with groups, such as employees of a company or students in a school. They may also give presentations or write articles on topics related to nutrition and health.
Whether you see a dietitian or nutritionist may depend on your insurance coverage. Some insurance plans cover nutrition counseling with a registered dietitian but not with a nutritionist. And some plans may cover only certain types of nutrition counseling, such as nutrition counseling for weight loss.
If you’re unsure whether your insurance plan covers nutrition counseling, call your insurance company or the dietitian or nutritionist you’re considering seeing.
Choosing Your Dietitian or Nutritionist
Money aside, you’ll want to ensure that the dietitian or nutritionist you choose to work with is a good fit for you. Here are some things to consider:
- Do they have experience working with people with similar goals or health conditions as you?
- Do they use an evidence-based approach to nutrition counseling?
- Are they up to date on the latest nutrition research?
- Do they have a positive, non-judgmental attitude?
- Do you feel comfortable communicating with them?
- Where are they located, and are their offices or services easy to access?
When you’ve narrowed down your options, call or email the dietitians or nutritionists on your list and ask them about their rates, availability and approach to nutrition counseling.
The bottom line is that both dietitians and nutritionists can provide valuable guidance for improving your diet and overall health. When choosing between the two, consider your needs and preferences and your insurance coverage. And don’t hesitate to ask questions to ensure that you’re making the best possible choice for your health.