It’s important to know that there aren’t any regulations on who can call themselves a nutritionist. Before working with a nutrition professional, you may want to discuss their credentials.

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Nutritionists play an important role in helping people work toward their health goals through nutrition. Working with a nutritionist can offer you the chance to learn the ins and outs of good nutrition while growing a healthy relationship with food.

Although nutritionists can offer guidance when it comes to nutrition, there are some restrictions on what they can legally do in most states. One of those restrictions includes prescribing medication, which is generally outside of the scope of practice for nutrition professionals.

Below, we’ll answer some of your most commonly asked questions about nutrition care, including whether nutritionists can write prescriptions and when to consider seeing a dietitian.

No, a nutritionist can’t legally write you a prescription for medication. This is because of something called prescriptive authority.

Prescriptive authority refers to the authority of healthcare professionals to prescribe prescription medications. Under federal law, the primary healthcare professionals who can write prescriptions include physicians with the credentials of doctor of medicine (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO).

Some state regulations also allow physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) to prescribe medications. However, prescriptive authority for these professionals varies from state to state, with some states offering more freedom and others being more restrictive.

If you’ve ever considered seeking out nutrition help, you’ve likely already come across the words “dietitian” and “nutritionist.” While both professionals work in the world of nutrition, there are some important differences between the two.

A dietitian is a licensed nutrition professional who has completed formal nutrition education and training. In order for someone to become a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), they must:

  • complete a graduate or specialized program in dietetics
  • complete a supervised dietitian internship
  • pass the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s (CDR) board exam

Only once a healthcare professional has met all of the requirements set by the CDR can they call themselves an RD or RDN and offer one-on-one nutrition services.

A nutritionist is a broad term for someone who educates others on the effect that food and nutrition can have on health. Because there is little regulation, almost anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, even if they lack formal education and training.

State regulations for nutritionists and the services they can offer vary from state to state. Some states allow nutritionists to offer individualized nutrition care to clients, while other states prohibit any one-on-one counseling without a dietitian license.

Choosing to see a dietitian or nutritionist is a personal choice, and there are pros and cons to seeing either type of nutrition professional.

If you’re someone who is looking for generalized nutrition education, advice, and coaching, a nutritionist or nutrition coach may be able to help. Depending on your needs, these services can offer a more affordable approach to meeting your health goals.

However, if you want nutrition therapy because of a health condition, it’s important to see a dietitian. Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals who can offer medical nutrition therapy, a treatment approach that uses specialized dietary regimens to treat health conditions.

While every dietitian is different, most dietitians don’t require you to have a referral to see them. In fact, many private dietetics practices even offer free or low cost consultations to see if their services are the right fit for you.

With that said, sometimes dietetics services are necessary to treat certain acute or chronic health conditions. In this case, your health insurance plan may cover these services. But you’ll likely need a referral from a qualified healthcare professional first before your insurance plan covers a visit.

If you’re interested in knowing whether or not your insurance covers nutrition therapy from a dietitian, you can check your benefits package or reach out to the company to learn more.

If you need help finding a certified dietitian near you, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a searchable directory.

Nutritionists and dietitians play an important role in the world of healthcare, and each offers a different approach when it comes to coaching clients toward better health through nutrition.

Nutritionists can offer generalized advice to clients, but they’re restricted from performing other medical services, such as writing prescriptions. Dietitians are also restricted in what they can offer, but they’re still able to perform individualized nutrition therapy to help clients treat health conditions.

If you’ve been thinking about seeing a nutritionist or dietitian, whether to meet a health goal or treat a health condition, consider weighing the pros and cons of each to decide what’s best for you. Talk with your primary healthcare professional if you need help deciding.