Dietitians and nutritionists are experts in food and diet and help people maintain good health and prevent or treat health conditions. With various credentials and qualifications, dietitians and nutritionists are often mislabeled. The two professions share some similarities in responsibilities; however, the titles should not be used interchangeably, as the role of dietitian is more regulated than that of a nutritionist.

This article will explain some important differences between dietitians and nutritionists in their education and qualifications, scope of expertise and careers paths.

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What are dietitians, nutritionists & nutritional therapists?
  • dietitian.
  • nutritionist.
  • nutritional therapist.
  • CNHC registered nutritional therapist.
  • naturopathic nutritionists/nutritional therapists.
  • functional medicine practitioners.


What is a nutritionist?

A nutritionist is a health professional focused on the relationship between nutrition in food and how it affects the body. Professional nutritionists help their clients understand how the food they eat changes the way they feel, their quality of life and their overall health. They advise clients on what they should eat to meet weight and health goals, maintain healthy lifestyles or prevent disease. They can also consult on dietary plans that use certain nutrients to combat some illnesses.

Nutritionists are not as regulated as other types of health professionals, and there can be jobs associated with nutrition that have few educational or licensing requirements. The level of education required to become a nutritionist varies by states, but some states require licensing by one or more of the following associations:

Nutritionist types

All nutritionists work with food, but there are varying roles for nutritionists based on where they work. Here are some examples of types of nutritionists:

Clinical nutritionist

Clinical nutritionists work with patients individually in hospitals and clinics. They consult on healthcare teams with doctors and nurses to design and implement meal plans that help patients combat health issues like cancer or diabetes. They are typically employees of the hospital or in private practice.

For example, if a patient has diabetes, a doctor may consult a nutritionist on the dietary changes the patient should make to ensure long-term health and stability, in addition to diagnosing and prescribing mediation.

Many states require some kind of certification to work in hospitals and clinics, so if you are interested in becoming a clinical nutritionist, consider researching what qualifications your state requires.

Gerontological nutritionist

A gerontological nutritionist is concerned with how nutrition affects the elderly. They work in hospitals, nursing homes and community health centers to provide information about how best to care for elderly patients and clients.

For example, a gerontological nutritionist may work in a nursing home creating meal plans for the entire population, while also providing specialized care for elderly patients with special health needs.

Public health nutritionist

A public health nutritionist educates the public through classes, workshops or counseling about nutrition. They primarily work with community organizations or local governments to provide resources to people with low-income or high-risk jobs so that they can maintain healthy lifestyles with available resources. They can also work in public advocacy to work toward establishing a better understanding of nutrition in government regulations.

For example, when the government publishes new health and safety guidelines, public health consultants could develop new programs for their communities.

Management nutritionist

Large companies or institutions that are responsible for providing food to their employees or the public hire nutritionists to monitor the food operations. These nutritionists are focused on creating meal plans that cost-effectively feed large groups of people while still adhering to the companys standards of nutrition. They can be responsible for food sourcing, testing and budgeting.

For example, a private school could hire a management nutritionist to plan the students meal and meal schedule within the parameters of the school budget.

Sports nutritionist

Sports nutritionists work with athletes to establish meal plans and educate them about nutrition so they can improve their performance or balance their active lifestyles. Sports nutritionists work for universities, professional sports leagues or private athletes. They can also work in gyms, fitness centers or sports clinics to help active people learn about nutrition and create diets that help them with personal health goals or improve their athletic ability.

For example, a nutritionist who works at a fitness center may work with a personal trainer to help clients learn about nutrition and create standard meal plans to help them healthily meet their weight-loss goals.

Animal nutritionist

Animal nutritionists specialize in foods that provide necessary nutrients for different animals. They often work for pet food companies and consult on the ingredients of their products. Sometimes they work directly with institutions that care for animals. Zoos, wildlife reserves or farmers may hire an animal nutritionist to consult on a variety of animals in their care. Veterinarians in private practice may hire an animal nutritionist to consult individual pets.

For example, if a zoo opens a new exhibit of elephants, they would consult an animal nutritionist about the types of food stores to invest in to make sure their elephants were satisfied and healthy long term.

Holistic nutritionist

A holistic nutritionist focuses on how mind, body and spiritual elements work together to affect a persons health. This could extend the nutritionists focus beyond food nutrition and into other aspects of a clients lifestyle. Holistic nutritionists could work with private clients or organizations that seek holistic advice that may not follow government or health organization guidelines for nutrition.

For example, a company that sells holistic products that wants to launch a new meal plan product might consult a holistic nutritionist to advise on the foods that could best meet the needs of their customers while adhering to their holistic brand.

Nutrition consultant

A nutrition consultant is someone who consults on nutrition but has not met the educational or licensing requirements of a certified nutritionist. To become a nutrition consultant, you can have a high school diploma or GED and take exams to be credentialed by the American Association of Nutrition Consultants. Most nutrition consultants work in private consulting or health coaching.

For example, a health coach may want to expand their understanding of nutrition and gain credentials from the AANC to offer nutrition consulting services to their clients.

Registered dietitian nutritionist

A dietitian nutritionist focuses on nutrition and has met the necessary educational and credential requirements to be licensed as a dietitian. They adhere to the following criteria:

Please note that none of the organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.


What types of nutritionist are there?

Nutritionist types
  • Clinical nutritionist. Clinical nutritionists work with patients individually in hospitals and clinics. …
  • Public health nutritionist. A public health nutritionist educates the public through classes, workshops or counseling about nutrition. …
  • Animal nutritionist.

What type of nutritionist make the most money?

Top 5 Highest Paid Dietitian Jobs by Work Setting
  • Private Practice – $129,100 annually.
  • Pharmaceutical/mfr/dist/retailer – $97,100 annually.
  • College/university/academic medical center – $82,000 annually.
  • Food mfr/dist/retailer – $80,000 annually.
  • Office – $78,000 annually.

Are there different types of dieticians?

There are four main domains of practice for dietitians — clinical, food service management, community, and research. Clinical dietitians are those who work in an inpatient hospital setting.

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