When I tell people I am a dietitian they almost always follow with, “…you’re a nutritionist? That is great! I’ve been trying to eat better…” I usually never correct people when they call me a nutritionist, but often would like to. It is not that I am offended by being called a nutritionist – technically, I am a nutritionist – it is just that not all nutritionists are created equal and I like to distinguish dietitians from others in the crowd.
A recent article in US News does an excellent job of pointing out the differences between nutritionists. In many states, anyone can use the title “nutritionist,” even your great aunt Thelma who read a book about herbal supplements one time when she was in her 20s. Many states are trying to regulate this, but it is a long, difficult legal battle. Because of this, it is important for people to know who is actually qualified to tell you nutrition information.
A Dime a Dozen
Certified Nutritionist (CN) – Certified means they are qualified, right? Wrong. While it does not necessarily mean they have no idea what they are talking about, it also does not mean they do have an idea of what they are talking about. Many programs are similar to this one, which requires only 6 college-level courses (equal to 1 semester) and a 150-hour internship (less than 4 weeks of full-time work). The internship experiences are the student’s choice and can include something as simple as working at a vitamin store. Individuals with these credentials are often not trained to conduct medical nutrition therapy and in many states, it is illegal if they do give nutrition advice for a medical condition.
*I should note that some people with these credentials may in fact have a strong human biology, medical, and/or nutrition background and may actually be qualified to give nutrition advice. It is vital to ask a lot of questions and find out a CN’s qualifications.
The Real Deal
Registered Dietitian (RD): Complete at least a Bachelors Degree in a nutrition-related field (mine is in human biology), participate in a highly competitive 1000+ hour dietetic internship, and pass the RD exam. Specially trained in medical nutrition therapy, which is the use of treating diseases with nutrition (i.e. diabetes, gout, heart disease, celiac disease). To read more, visit my professional portfolio.
Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS): Hold a Masters or Doctoral degree in a nutrition-related field or be a licensed health professional (i.e. MD, PT, NP, PA), complete 1000+ hours of post-graduate supervised nutrition experiences, and pass a certification exam.