The 3 differences between a nutritionist and a dietitian

Food is one of the fundamental pillars of our survival and one of the most important aspects of maintaining our health. It is also part of our cultural identity and influences our image and self-image. However, while food is fun, a large part of the population does so in ways that do not meet their needs. That is why the figure of a nutritionist or dietitian is necessary.

The two professionals are often confused or even integrated in the same profession (It’s not uncommon to hear from a dietitian-nutritionist), but the truth is, they’re not the same type of professionals, and they don’t necessarily do the same things. In this article, we’ll look at the main differences between a nutritionist and a dietitian.

    Nutritionist and dietitian: what are we talking about?

    To understand the differences between a nutritionist and a dietitian, you first need to know how each of the terms is defined, as well as the purpose of each of these professions.


    In the case of the profession of nutritionist (sometimes also called dietitian-nutritionist), we are dealing with professionals who have studied a diploma or diploma in nutrition and dietetics at university level (or have specialized in medicine in this branch).

    Nutritionists are trained to be experts in nutrition (that is, not in food but in the nutrients and elements obtained and how they affect the body) and in dietary guidelines focused on the needs of the body. whether he is in good health or on the contrary suffers from a disorder or disease.

    It is recommended to use its services for people suffering from some type of medical disease (eg diabetes) or psychiatric (in case of bulimia or anorexia nervosa).


    As for the dietitian, he is a professional focused on the process of eating as such: the act of eating. Its main function is to establish appropriate dietary and activity guidelines, generally applicable to most of the population based on aspects such as weight, height and what their goals are. However, their training mainly allows them to take care of people without serious health problems. Their training is more limited, usually based on advanced courses and modules in dietetics which tend to last between several months and two years.

    Similarities between the two groups

    As we can see, the two have very palpable similarities: Nutritionists and dietitians work to promote and maintain health through intake and nutrition management. Specialized prior preparation is also required in both cases.

    In both cases, in addition to direct contact with the client, it is also possible to participate in research, educational advice and marketing. The similarities are quite marked: in fact, often instead of differentiating them, we talk about the dietitian-nutritionist (Although their training would be that of the aforementioned nutritionist), but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t differences either.

    main differences

    While with the definition of both terms, it is possible to perceive much of the differences between nutritionists and dietitians, it is helpful to make them explicit. So we can see that the main differences between the two areas are as follows.

    1. Level of training

    One of the most notable differences between a nutritionist and a dietitian is the level of training required. to obtain this diploma. In Spain, the nutritionist must have completed university studies in the form of a diploma or diploma in nutrition and dietetics or specialize in this branch during their medical studies. As for the dietitian, his training tends to be shorter, following VET modules in dietetics which allow him to become a technician in this field.

    2. User type

    As we have seen, people who see a dietitian are generally people who are in good health or who do not suffer from diseases that require a change in dietary guidelines. IThe usual goal of this type of user is to lose weight or stay in shape., Although they may also participate in marketing and educational consultancy or participate in multidisciplinary research.

    On the other hand, nutritionists tend to be held not only by people with a normative level of health, but also by those who have pathologies or altered conditions to take into account. For example, people with heart problems, pregnancy, diabetes, psychiatric problems, or chronic drug use that can cause serious problems if combined with certain foods should be referred to a nutritionist. They can be part of the national health system.

    3. Assignment to the general health system

    Although they can perform similar functions in some cases, only one of the branches is considered part of the national health system. In Spain he is the figure of the nutritionist, the training is more specialized and allows him to take care of advice and interventions in case of pathology.

    Territorial differences in taking into account the two professions

    However, being one or the other also depends, among other things, on the country we are in and the legal regulations they have regarding the regulation of these professions. The terms may not be the same or may even be reversed.

    This is the case, for example, in the United States or the United Kingdom: a nutritionist would correspond to what in Spain would be called a dietitian and vice versa. In these countries, the law protects the figure of the dietitian (or dietitian-nutritionist), who must be registered with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and can be part of the health system. As for nutritionists, they are not required to be registered have less consideration, but voluntary registration associations have been formed.

    But these are not the only countries where these differences occur. For example, in countries like Mexico, we differentiate between nutritionist (which would be equivalent to the Spanish dietitian in terms of training and skills) and nutritionist (corresponding to our nutritionist, with a higher level of training and specialization).

    Bibliographical references:

    • Marcason, W. (2015). Dietitian, dietitian or nutritionist? From the Academy. Question of the month. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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