Dietetics vs. Nutrition: What's the Difference?
Those interested in health as it relates to food and nutrition may consider studying either dietetics or nutrition. While these two degree options are quite similar, there are key differences between the two that distinguish a dietitian from a nutritionist. Dietitians are held to a higher standard than are nutritionists, with governmental bodies regulating what and how they are taught. Nutritionists, on the other hand, are not regulated and do not require the same level of clinical experience in order to pursue their career after graduation. Understanding these differences will help candidates better prepare for their future and earn the appropriate credentials for their desired career path.
Admission Requirements for Dietitians & Nutritionists
Candidates can pursue a degree in dietetics or nutrition after earning their high school diploma or GED equivalent. Because both dietitians and nutritionists work with individuals to optimize their health through the food they eat, many programs place strict GPA requirements on interested applicants. In general, most universities will require a GPA of at least 2.8 on a scale of 4.0; however, others may require a GPA as high as 3.0 to be considered. Additionally, candidates will need to present a letter of recommendation as well as passing scores on the ACT and/or SAT.
Common Nutrition Courses
Degree programs in nutrition are designed to not only provide health-specific information as it relates to food consumption, but to also prepare candidates for careers within the food industry at large. The following courses are commonly seen in many undergraduate nutrition programs:
Food Safety & Microbiology
Nutritionists need to understand how to safely handle and produce food for public consumption. Coursework in food safety and microbiology addresses the basic principles of food safety and sanitation, including how foodborne illnesses get started. Candidates will also learn best practices for how food products should cycle through a restaurant or other food service establishment, and the role managers play in developing staff skills for proper food production, handling, and safety.
Applied Principles of Food Management
Many who study nutrition will go on to work as professionals within the food service industry. For this reason, it's important for individuals to understand how to effectively manage food and beverage operations from a managerial perspective. Candidates will learn about food service and regulatory compliance as they relate to production and service standards of quality.
A nutritionist's responsibility is to help individuals make changes to their diet to achieve optimal health. Coursework in well-being optimization enables aspiring nutritionists to do just that, exploring the many ways in which individuals can optimize their health and performance through dieting, exercise, and more. Program participants will also learn how to best strategize their future clients' nutrition plans using skills in evidence-based practice and cognitive psychology.
Common Dietetics Courses
In addition to their coursework, dietitians will need to complete a practicum placement or an internship designed to provide them with the training and skills necessary for their careers. Prior to practicum placement, candidates will complete coursework in the following areas:
Public & Community Nutrition
Because dietitians are more regulated by governmental bodies than nutritionists are, they must complete coursework that allows them to understand nutrition as it relates to public health care. Public and community nutrition provides candidates with the skills needed for successful management and delivery of nutrition services in community and public health care settings. Aspiring dietitians will learn the essentials of assessing health through nutrition as well as how to plan and implement programs designed to provide patients with the education they need for continued care.
Medical Nutrition Therapy
As part of their clinical studies, candidates pursuing a degree in dietetics will need to complete advanced patient case studies and apply their nutritional knowledge to medical therapeutic treatments. Candidates will learn how to apply specific nutritional interventions in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, eating disorders, and other health care concerns. This coursework should be clinical in nature, meaning candidates will achieve hands-on, clinical experience through its completion to better prepare them for their careers.
Nutrition & Human Development
Food and nutrition have an incredible impact on how individuals develop physiologically and biologically. Candidates will need to understand how nutritional needs change from infancy through adulthood. Additionally, aspiring dietitians will learn how to adjust nutritional recommendations during specific life events, such as during pregnancy or when presenting with advanced diseases.
Choosing Between Dietetics & Nutrition
The decision between dietetics and nutrition ultimately boils down to the level of certification the candidate wishes to achieve as a result of her studies. Dietetics program participants will usually graduate as registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) so they may pursue a career in the prevention and treatment of disease through nutrition. Coursework in dietetics tends to be more demanding than the curriculum for nutrition degrees; this is due to the fact that dietetics is regulated by the government more than nutrition is. While a degree in nutrition may be easier in terms of scholastic requirements, salaries for program graduates tend to be lower due to the less specialized nature of their program studies. Candidates should consider their professional goals prior to committing to one program over the other.
Available Careers in Dietetics & Nutrition
While dietitians and nutritionists are technically not the same thing, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups them together for employment information and statistics. With this in mind, the BLS reports that employment within this segment is projected to grow 11% from 2018 to 2028. Those working in this field can expect to earn about $60,370 annually according to the median pay statistics for May 2018. Those earning a degree in dietetics can also pursue the following careers:
Those studying nutrition can find career success as the following: