Registered Dietician vs. Nutritionist - What’s the Difference?

By Vega on May 9, 2013, categorized in Health

Registered Dietician vs. Nutritionist - What’s the Difference?

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. A minimum of a 4-year Bachelors of Science in Nutritional Sciences, a 1-year internship and a nationwide exam must be passed before they can be registered with the Commission of Dietetic Registration (CDR) and licensed 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. In addition, a large number of RDs work in community and public health settings as well as 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 are often more trained than the average dietitian to to deliver more alternative therapies than dietitians. 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

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 through this school of nutrition, 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, which also include 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.

United States

Health Coach

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 to also 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.

Nutrition Consultant

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.

Whether you decide to see an RD, RHN or another nutrition practitioner, the most important things is that you feel connected and able to communicate with your health professional. They need to know the intimate details of your life to better serve you, so be sure that you feel comfortable enough to trust them. Good luck on your journey to health.


No matter what better means to you, Vega shares the knowledge, nutrition, and inspiration to support your quest to thrive.