Nutritionist vs. Dietitian and Other Nutrition Terms

There are a lot of people today trying to sell their services as “nutrition professionals” but what do all the different terms mean?

The term is not regulated. Many people, including myself, call themselves a nutritionist because they have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Nutrition. But, I've also asked nutritionists and been told they took only 1 nutrition class. Feel free to ask a nutritionist about her education and decide for yourself if she has enough education.

Nutrition Coach
The term is not regulated. Many people using it have only taken a few nutrition classes. They may have a certificate from an online program, such as Precision Nutrition or Integrative Nutrition. This person often does not have a degree in nutrition.

Nutrition Consultant
This term is not regulated. Anyone may call himself/herself this. 

Nutritional Therapist
This term may be used by someone who took in-person or online classes through the Institute for Optimum Nutrition. This person often does not have a degree in nutrition.

Nutritional Therapy Practitioner
This term may be used by someone who took in-person or online classes through the Nutritional Therapy Association. This person often does not have a degree in nutrition.

Some people providing nutrition advice may only have taken online nutrition classes without completing a degree.

Certified Nutrition Specialist
This term is used by professionals who have taken an exam through the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists. They are required to have a Master's or Doctorate degree in a healthcare-field, but they are not required to specifically have a degree in Nutrition or Dietetics.

Certified Nutrition Professional (CNP)
This is a credential through the National Association of Nutrition Professionals. Certified Nutrition Professionals must have a Bachelor's degree or higher in Nutrition and 1200 hours experience prior to taking the board exam.

Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD)
In Australia, this term is used by professionals with a Bachelor's or Master's degree in Nutrition through a program approved by the Australian Dietetics Council.

Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)
This person is credentialed through the Committee on Dietetic Registration (CDR) in North America or the British Dietetic Association in Britain.  

In the U.S., a RD or RDN has either a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Nutrition or Dietetics, completed at least 1400 hours experience in an internship, and has taken the board exam to become a RDN. They are required to complete continuing education credits to remain a RDN.

Nowadays the dietetic internship is a fifth year of school that includes graduate-level courses, but older dietitians may have only completed undergraduate courses. By 2025, incoming RDNs will have to complete a Master’s degree (not just certain Master's-level classes).

Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (LDN)
This credential is often used in addition to RDN. This person is licensed in his/her state. Depending on the state, this may require additional continuing education credits above that required by the CDR. Not all states have a licensing board for nutritionists and dietitians.

Certified Dietitian
Again, this credential is usually used in addition to RDN. This person is certified in his/her state. Indiana, Wisconsin, Utah, Vermont, and Washington state use this credential. Most other states use the LDN term above.

Who should I trust?
Someone with knowledge and experience.

In the United States of America, the people with the most education in nutrition are CNPs and RDNs. As I said above, these are the only two credentials that guarantee the person has a degree in nutrition. Furthermore, both require experience and an exam before the credential is granted. These ensure the person is knowledgeable and experienced.

How can I afford a RDN? Aren't they more expensive than other nutrition professionals?
Some grocery stores, including ShopRite, Giant, and Wegman's, offer a free RDN. If so, you may be asked to pay a deposit, which will be returned in the form of a grocery store gift card. (Giant Food and Wegman's do this.)

RDNs may also accept insurance, which will help bring the cost down.

You could also look at it as an investment in your health. Taking advice from someone who isn't properly trained or educated could hurt your health instead of help.

What should I consider before meeting with another nutrition professional?
If you do see another nutrition professional, ask about their education and experience. There are many nutritionists who do have a Bachelor's or even Master's degree in nutrition. They simply may not have been able to afford an internship or might not have been "matched" to an internship.

There are only a limited number of accredited dietetic internships in the U.S. (about 200), so many people who graduate with a Bachelor's or Master's in nutrition are unable to become RDNs. This does not mean they don't know about nutrition.

Can't I just ask my doctor about nutrition?
Although doctors and nurses may give nutrition advice, they do not have as much training in nutrition as RDNs. Remember, RDNs spent several years of college learning about nutrition. Doctors and nurses may have only taken one class on nutrition.

Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers may also not be able to spend the same amount of time with you to discuss nutrition. Doctors and nurses usually are handling other tasks, like taking blood pressure, drawing blood, prescribing pills, or explaining a diagnosis. They may provide a small amount of nutrition advice during an office visit, like, "Since you have Celiac disease, you should avoid eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, and rye." But, you may want to follow-up with a RDN who can spend a 30 minute or even hour-long session talking to you in more detail about the appropriate diet for your condition.

If you come across any other terms or have any questions, please feel to post them in the comments. 

I was not paid to mention any program or organization mentioned in this article nor was I paid to link to any of the sites.


The information provided in this blog is not intended to replace individualized medical advice provided by your own doctor, dietitian, or other healthcare professional.
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