The Difference Between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist

There are many types of nutrition certification offered; in this article we will compare a Functional and Integrative Nutritionist (CCN and RDN) with a traditional RD. An excellent comparison of the dietitian and the nutritionist was made by the International and American Association of Clinical Nutritionists (IAACN), a professional organization that represents CCNs in all the licensed healthcare fields. According to their informational materials, to understand the difference between dietitians and nutritionists, we must first look at the definitions of “diet” and “nutrition.” In the simplest terms:

Diet refers to the foods we eat and beverages we drink

Nutrition refers to the biochemical processes that result from food or beverage ingestion.

Traditional Dieticians


Many dietitians (RD) base their approach on dietetic-related research. Some work in academic settings, in industry or in private practice. However, most dietitians provide food and nutritional services within institutional settings (e.g., hospitals, schools, nursing homes).

The major focuses from the dietetic perspective are on calories (energy), quality of food in regard to freshness, sanitation and freedom from spoilage and contamination, meal planning, evaluation of standard measurements of foods, specific diets for certain conditions, and eating patterns based primarily on food groups, such as the “USDA My Plate”, and other guidelines based on daily food intake strictly outlined by health organizations. Nutritionists (as well as Functional RDN) in comparison, are defined by the concept of nutrition, the biochemical processes that result from food.

Integrative and Functional Nutritionist

nutritionNutrition is defined as the “sum total of the processes involved in the taking in and utilization of food substances by which growth, repair, and maintenance of activities in the body as a whole or in any of its parts are accomplished-including ingestion, digestion, absorption, and metabolism (assimilation).” Certified Clinical Nutritionists and Integrative Registered Dietitian Nutritionists base their approach on up-to-date science in nutrition research based on these concepts. One vital aspect of the CCN and RDN orientation is their highly sophisticated background in complementary-alternative healthcare.

The CCN and RDN’s food perspective focuses on the classification of food based on nutrient value (e.g., vitamins, minerals, EFAs (essential fatty acids), amino acids, enzymes, and accessory nutrients) of a food in its natural whole-food state. Nutritionists look at the effects of food treatments (e.g., irradiation, genetic engineering, hydrogenation) and chemicals (e.g., pesticides, preservatives, coloring, tenderizers). In addition, they consider how some foods are depleted or altered by cooking, the effects of refining and processing, and how food is actually handled and processed by the body. A major role of a functional and integrative nutritionist, is to consider how foods are digested, absorbed, and assimilated, and ultimately how food affects the body biochemically. Among the many aspects of nutrition research considered within this context are by-products of digestion, gastrointestinal health, neurotransmitter response, immune function, metabolic shifts and balance, allergic or sensitivity reactions, and systems and pathways of detoxification. The CCN and RDN’s approach to diet structure is developed according to what is best for the individual-not necessarily what is a standard recommendation for the general public at large, or for all people experiencing a particular health concern.

The cutting edge training of Functional and Integrative Nutritionists (CCN and RDN) make them one of today’s most relied upon practitioners in the field of integrative complementary-alternative nutrition. Increasingly, consumers and professionals are recognizing CCN and RDN’s as important partners in the modern healthcare system.

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