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Nutritionist vs Dietitian - What's the Difference?

The terms, Dietitian and Nutritionist, are often used by many in place of each other. There is a lot of overlap in what nutritionists and dietitians do and study and the 2 terms are used interchangeably.

However, in reality they are not identical, neither are they synonyms.

Main differences between a Nutritionist and a Dietitian revolve around 3 major areas. Their definition, qualification and the legal protection:



Person who has studied nutrition (minimum of 3 months) and examines and evaluates the dietary habits of individuals. Offers advice on what to eat to stay healthy. Gives clients guidance on the types and quantity of food intake required specifically to increase or decrease body weight.


Studies nutrition and/or nutrition sciences either through a private coursework or a certification, which need not be approved by any type of board.

Legal Protection:

Nutritionist titles are not generally protected. It can be used by anyone, unlike ‘doctor’ for instance, which requires proof of qualifications.

Nutritionists need not be an expert in nutrition and dietetics and definitely not well equipped to deal with medical issues of their clients. Their knowledge is considered limited with respect to dealing with patients because of a lack of recognized formal education or degree in the respective area of study. They can practice as nutritionists with a fair amount of knowledge about nutrition and nutrient deficiencies. They can also possess a self proclaimed title probably based on their self study in the sphere of nutrition or through experience on the same.



They are practitioners who have achieved the national standards of healthcare educational degree that qualify them as dietitians. They are trained and qualified to provide dietary counselling in health and disease condition, including trauma, cancer and other serious conditions.


Studies food, nutrition and dietetics (science of nutrition), through an accredited university and an approved curriculum. Has to complete a rigorous internship and passes a licensure exam to become a registered dietitian.

Legal Protection:

The title of a registered Dietitian is legally protected. Not anyone can call themselves a Registered Dietitian.


are qualified professionals who are experts in Nutrition sciences. They would have undergone rigorous academic and professional preparation. They are professionals with a license to practice. They are specialized in nutrition for different categories of people, especially clinical patients and usually placed in hospitals or health care centers. They are licensed to guide patients regarding the right kinds of nutritional intake and are also qualified to give tube feedings. If you are seeking medical nutrition therapy, it is always advisable to consult a Registered Dietitian.

For example, a person recovering from an accident would have different requirements from someone suffering from cancer. Dietitians can use their knowledge on the properties of food, in disease treatment and prevention.

In India, to become a professional Nutritionist there is no need to obtain any license for practice. They do not need to meet the requirements to use the titles- Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). A nutritionist can upgrade herself to become a dietitian by studying the required dietetics course and getting a license.

In some countries, some states may require nutritionists to obtain an occupational license from a Board of Nutrition, while other states allow individuals to practice as nutritionists without any previous education, training or work experience. To practice as a Dietitian, a professional license and recognition from a relevant authority/governing body is required. Indian Dietetic Association (IDA) is the authorization body that takes care of licensing and membership of practicing dietitians in India.

‘All Registered Dietitians are Nutritionists

but not all Nutritionists are Registered Dietitians.’

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