Dietitian vs. Nutritionist

According to the 2003 Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition, dietitians study dietetics. The definition of dietetics is, “the application of science of nutrition to the human being in health and disease”. 

Per the 2021 update from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the definition of nutrition is, “the study of nutrition processes as well as the components of food, their actions, interaction, and balance in relation to health and disease“. 

Practice of Dietitians

By the Commission on Dietetics Registration, registered dietitians, or simply dietitians, are the only legal entity to practice medical nutrition therapy

The 2023 Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition defines medical nutrition therapy as “an evidenced-based process aiming to treat or manage disease through nutrition. Its components are comprehensive and include assessment of nutritional status and provision of nutritional diagnosis, diet modifications, counseling, and specialist nutrition therapies, provided by a registered dietitian (RD), or a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN)“. 

Per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, medical nutrition therapy also includes reviewing your medical and social history, medications and supplements, and bloodwork. 

Professional Title Regulations
The state of Minnesota legally defines dietitians and nutritionists as separate professional titles. 

2022 MN Statutes 148.621 Subd. 7. dietitians are “individuals who engages in dietetics and nutrition practice and uses the title dietitian“. 

MN Statute 148.624 Subd 1. dietitians have received a bachelor’s or post-graduate degree in a didactic program in dietetics, completed a minimum of a 1000 hour residency under supervision of a registered dietitian in community nutrition, food service administration, and medical nutrition therapy, pass the board examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, and earn the the rights to use “registered dietitian“, “RD“, “registered dietitian nutritionist“, or “RDN” as their title. 

2022 MN Statute 148.621 Subd 8. nutritionists are “individuals who engages in dietetics or nutrition practice and uses the title nutritionist”

2022 MN Statute 148.624 Subd 2. nutritionists have received a master’s or doctoral degree in a nutrition-related study outside of dietetics, completed a 1000 hour residency under supervision of a registered dietitian or a certified nutrition specialist in the areas of nutrition education, pass the board examination administered by the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists, and earn the rights to use “certified nutrition specialist“, or “CNS“. 

2022 MN Statute 148.630(a). no person may engage in dietetics or nutrition practice unless the person is licensed as a dietitian or nutritionist by the Minnesota Board of Nutrition and Dietetics. No person may use the title “dietitian“, “registered dietitian“, “registered dietitian nutritionist“, “licensed dietitian“, “LD“, “RD“, “RDN“,  “nutritionist“, “licensed nutritionist“, “LN“, or any occupational title using the word “dietitian” or “nutritionist” unless licensed by the board, nor shall any person hold out as a dietitian or nutritionist unless licensed. 

Services Requiring Dietitian Interventions

Please note the following scenarios are theoretical and does not reflect any current or future clients.

Example 1

54-year old female diagnosed with type-2 diabetes for 12 years. Uncontrolled type-2 diabetes has been a concern for the past two years resulting in a left foot amputation due to re-occurring slow-healing wounds. Blood sugars continue to be > 300 on a daily basis with a current HgbA1c of 9.2%. The patient is being managed with metFORmin and insulin for her type-2 diabetes but is also on sertraline for mood. Patient has had significant stress which is contributed by limited mobility due to left foot amputation, family and work life, and anxiety about her overall wellbeing. Is 54″ tall and weighs 194 pounds. Self-reports eliminating carbohydrates and doing chair exercises, but is still not exhibiting improvements in weight, blood sugars, or her HgbA1c. Physician referral requested for dietitian consult. 

Example 2

9-year old male recently diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome type-d. Mother reports the patient has been experiencing diarrhea 4 times a day with complaints of bloating, abdominal pain, and fatigue after every meal. This has made a significant impact on the patient’s ability to do well in school and soccer. The patient has been embarrassed about his health changes and been skipping school and soccer on occassion. The patient is being treated with loperamide for the diarrhea and fluoxetine for mood. The patient is 48″ and weighs 72 pounds. Is below their percentile for age group on the weight chart. Four months prior to the diagnosis the mother reported the patient weighed on average 84 pounds. Their bloodwork shows their Hgb is 8.2% and Vitamin B12 is below acceptable levels. Physician referral requested for dietitian consult.