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?

Nutritionist
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. Feel free to ask a nutritionist about her degree.

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.

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.

Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN)
This person is credentialed through the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.  

A RHN has either a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Nutrition, has taken the board exam to become a RHN, and has at least 1000 hours experience.

Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)
This person is credentialed through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 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, 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 also complete a Master’s degree.



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. Not all states have a licensing board for nutritionists and dietitians.
Who should I trust?
Someone with knowledge and experience.

The people with the most education in nutrition are RHNs and RDNs. As I said above, these are the only two credentials that guarantee the person has a degree in nutrition. Furthermore, both require at least 1000 hours experience and an exam before the credential is granted. These ensure the person is knowledgeable and experienced.


What if I can't find or afford a RHN or RDN? Can I see another nutrition professional?
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.

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 find or afford 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 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 RHNs and RDNs. Remember, RHNs and RDNs spent several years of college learning about nutrition. Doctors and nurses may have only taken one class on nutrition.


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.

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