The food we eat plays a major role in our overall health. Evaluating and identifying dietary needs can often require the support of trained professionals. Nutritionists can help guide you on a path to creating a wellness plan that targets certain goals when it comes to balanced meals and healthy behaviors with food.

Is There a Difference Between a Nutritionist and Dietitian?       

Defined by the most basic terms, the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian is determined by the depth of study into food and nutrition science a person has achieved and whether they have met relevant licensing and certification requirements. Becoming a registered dietitian (RD) or a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) in the United States involves earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree in addition to completing an internship and passing a national examination.

Nutritionists who are not also registered dietitians may complete a shorter certification course if it’s available in their state, but they generally have fewer regulations and requirements to satisfy. This also means that they are not able to diagnose eating disorders or formally treat diseases. They can, however, offer their clients opportunities to learn more about healthy eating habits and nutrition in food choices.

Common Services Provided by a Nutritionist

Whether or not a nutritionist is also a registered dietitian will determine exactly what sort of services they may offer their clients. Registered dietitian nutritionists may work in specialized fields that serve certain populations, such as overseeing food service in a skilled nursing facility or working with seniors in assisted living. RDNs who specialize in their chosen fields of study may have additional training and credentials associated with their titles.

These professionals can also evaluate a client for any potential eating disorders or medical conditions that are impacting the patient’s ability to gain nutrition from a balanced diet. They may diagnose and then form a treatment plan for any diet-related needs the patient may have, such as prescribing a specific type of food or a combination of foods that may be prepared in a special way.

A certified nutrition specialist (CNS) or certified clinical nutritionists (CCNs), while unable to diagnose conditions or treat diseases, can offer clients the guidance they need to improve their diets and their health through better choices and habits with food. In this role, nutritionists provide more generalized information for the sake of education rather than highly specialized treatment that targets a condition.

Medicare Coverage for a Nutritionist

Medicare Part B coverage provides medical nutrition therapy (MNT) under certain circumstances and through qualifying health care professionals. Only certain medical conditions meet the requirement of MNT being medically necessary when prescribed by a doctor. These conditions include diabetes, kidney disease and kidney transplants that have occurred within the last 36 months before nutritional therapy is ordered.

Registered dietitians or any nutritional health care professional who satisfies Medicare’s requirements in your state may assess your current dietary habits and evaluate your ongoing needs. You may receive services as an individual or in a group setting. They may address other important life factors that impact your ability to achieve nutritional balance and you may be required to attend follow-up visits to measure your progress with a nutritional plan.

Medicare coverage through Part B does not apply a coinsurance or deductible amount to these services when they are deemed medically necessary and follow the prescribed MNT plan. Services beyond those covered by Part B may result in out-of-pocket expenses. Some Medicare Advantage plans may enhance nutritional services by adding extra benefits such as meal or grocery delivery or additional nutritional counseling.

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