What is a Registered Dietitian (also called Registered Dietitian Nutritionist)?

Posted: September 8, 2011 in What is ... ?
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By Shelly Najjar

In recent news segments and magazine articles, dietitians have been called in to talk about food, nutrition, healthy eating, and weight loss. But who are dietitians and what training do they have?

Who they are

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ (the Academy) website, “Registered dietitian nutritionists — RDNs — are the food and nutrition experts who can translate the science of nutrition into practical solutions for healthy living.”

Note: AND approved the term Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) in 2013. The term RDN means the same thing as Registered Dietitian (RD). It is up to each credentialed professional to determine whether they wish to use the term Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN).

Their training

To be called a Registered Dietitian/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist in the United States, the person must

  • Complete a bachelor’s degree or higher at an educational institution accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy).
  • Complete their supervised practice covering multiple skill areas (for at least 1200 hours) from a program that is also accredited by CADE.
  • Pass the national registration exam which is offered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).
  • Continue learning by meeting Continuing Professional Education (CPE) requirements.

(Click to read more about Qualifications of a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist)

Dietitian vs. Nutritionist

The title of “nutritionist” is not protected, but the titles of “Registered Dietitian and “Registered Dietitian Nutritionist” are. According to the Academy, the new title of Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) was intended to “differentiate the rigorous credential requirements and highlight that all registered dietitians are nutritionists but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians” (Read more about the RDN credential).

They go on to say that the “inclusion of the word “nutritionist” in the credential communicates a broader concept of wellness (including prevention of health conditions beyond medical nutrition therapy) as well as treatment of conditions” (Academy). Dietetics is treating medical conditions with nutrition therapy (the application of nutrition science to specific diseases and conditions), so someone who practices in this professional area is called a dietitian. It is a more specific term than nutritionist.

How to find an RD

The Academy has a referral service called Find an Expert. Visitors can use it to find RD/RDNs near them by entering their zip code, city and state, or name of a place. The search results display the RD/RDN’s name, contact information, expertise, languages spoken, and services provided.


  • There are strict guidelines and requirements to meet in order to be called a Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), which include a bachelor’s degree, supervised practice, national exam, and continuing education.
  • RD/RDNs are food and nutrition experts, who can work in many settings, and can give clients advice on a variety of topics including weight management, meal ideas, and food safety.
  • Some RD/RDNs call themselves nutritionists, but not all nutritionists can call themselves dietitians.
  • To find an RD/RDN near you, check out the Academy’s Find an Expert referral service.

Shelly Najjar, MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and wellness coach at Confident Nutrition. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter (@ShellyNajjar), and LinkedIn.

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  1. […] The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) is the new name for what used to be called the American Dietetic Association (ADA). It is “the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals” and has more than 75,000 members (source). 72% of those members are Registered Dietitians (read the post I wrote about that topic). […]

  2. […] now, I want to share one of the posts that I have written at Nutrition Nuts and Bolts. It describes what a Registered Dietitian (RD) is […]

  3. […] Yesterday I passed my registration exam for dietetics and am now an RD (Registered Dietitian)!! […]

  4. […] What is a Registered Dietitian? […]

  5. […] Today is the second-to-last day that I have left to study for the national registration exam for dietetics. Passing this exam is the last thing I need to do to become a Registered Dietitian. […]

  6. […] What is a Registered Dietitian? […]

  7. […] now, I want to share one of the posts that I have written at Nutrition Nuts and Bolts. It describes what a Registered Dietitian (RD) is […]

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