If you’re looking to work with a health professional to create a customized nutrition plan, one of your first steps will be to choose whether to work with a registered dietitian (RD) or a holistic nutritionist. Both types of nutrition professionals bring a unique set of skills to the table, and working with either can help you figure out how to best fill your plate. This guide will help you determine which specialist can best serve you.
What is a dietitian?
A Registered Dietitian is a food and nutrition expert. They must meet strict educational prerequisites in order to call themselves RDs. Every dietitian must pass a minimum of a 4-year Bachelors of Science in Nutritional Sciences, a 1-year internship and a nationwide exam before they can register with the Commission of Dietetic Registration (CDR) and attain their license to practice diet and nutrition consultation. Some dietitians have further degrees, such as Masters Degrees and PhDs. The majority of RDs work in the treatment and prevention of disease in hospitals, clinics or private practice; a large number also work in community and public health settings, as well as the food and nutrition industry.1 Their recommendations and treatment plans must be evidence-based and rely heavily on scientific studies. Most dietitians in Canada are free under provincial health plans (and in the United States take insurance). In some Canadian provinces (Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Quebec) registered dietitians can also call themselves registered nutritionists.
If you are interested in learning how to become a dietitian, check out the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics Guide. If you would like to find a dietitian near you, check out this guide (US) or this search engine (Canada).
What is a nutritionist?
While you may hear some dietitians call themselves nutritionists, not all nutritionists can call themselves registered dietitians. “Nutritionist” is an unregulated term in both the United States and Canada, and practitioners may have varying degrees of education in nutrition. Some may have no nutrition education before enrolling in a certificate program, others may have masters or PhDs. Nutritionists don’t work with hospitals and aren’t clinically trained to treat patients with diseases. They often work in private practices and deliver larger group nutrition and cooking classes. However, nutritionists often receive more training uniquely tailored to delivering alternative therapy than the average dietitian. Note that the term “Registered Nutritionist” is regulated in Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Quebec and is used there interchangeably for “Registered Dietitian.”
These are the most commonly seen types of nutritionists in North America:
Registered Holistic Nutritionists
A Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) is a professional trained by the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition (CSNN) to educate individuals and groups about the benefits of nutrition.2 After a 1 to 2 year program at CSNN, students are required to complete 50 practicum hours and pass a board exam, which is the same across Canada. However, this designation is not regulated by a governing body. If you are interested in becoming an RHN, check out the Canadian School for Natural Nutrition. Find an RHN here.
Certified Nutritional Practitioner
Certified Nutritional Practitioners (CNP) are graduates of the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. To receive a diploma, graduates must complete 19 courses at campuses in Canada (including a 100 hour co-op program). The courses range from metabolism to principles of Ayurvedic nutrition. You can learn more about becoming a CNP here. To find a CNP near you search here.
Graduates of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) become health coaches- wellness authorities and mentors who work one-on-one with clients. They expand beyond nutrition and include life and business coaching to address all aspects of life and health. This online program takes several months to a couple years to complete and has no prerequisites. To learn more about becoming a Health Coach, check out IIN. Find a Health Coach here.
Bauman College offers a Nutrition Consultant Training Program. Students leave the campuses in California or Colorado or distance learning program with foundations of whole food nutrition. A supervised internship allows students to gain experience in private practice, community centers, health clubs, and schools. Hire a Bauman College graduate here.
The most important aspect of finding a nutrition professional is that you feel connected and able to communicate with them. At the end of the day, your health comes first – it’s important to find someone you trust to help guide you on your journey, whether that’s an RD, RHN, or other nutrition practitioner.