Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: Similar But Different

A registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) is a credentialed nutrition healthcare practitioner. An RD or RDN has a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, has completed a supervised practice program, and has passed a national registration exam.

In contrast, there are no standard requirements to call yourself a nutritionist. This article reviews the differences between a registered dietitian and a nutritionist, what credentials to look for, and who to look to for improving your health.

Dietitian explaining a Nutrition Facts Label

Stevica Mrdja / EyeEm / Getty Images

Nutritionists and Dietitians Are Not the Same Titles

This is a confusing topic, as the terms "dietitian" and "nutritionist" are often used interchangeably. In fact, registered dietitians may also be called registered dietitian nutritionists. To add to the confusion, all registered dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians.

While you may see "dietitian" spelled as "dietician," "dietician" is a variant spelling and not the preferred spelling in the United States or internationally.

The following are similarities and differences between a dietitian and a nutritionist.


Both registered dietitians and nutritionists focus their work on helping you eat healthier and find the right way of eating for you to improve your overall health.

Registered dietitians work in a wide variety of settings and industries, such as hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, businesses, industries, community/public health organizations, schools, gyms, sports, education, research, government agencies, media, communications, and private practice.

Nutritionists also work in various settings and industries, including community/public health, schools, health care, private facilities, gyms, sports organizations, and more.


The terms "registered dietitian" and "registered dietitian nutritionist" are protected titles, whereas the standalone term "nutritionist" is not. 

This means anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, but only those who have met certain qualifications may call themselves a registered dietitian and registered dietitian nutritionist. 

Some organizations certify nutritionists, such as the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS). However, training and requirements for different nutritionist certifications can vary widely, and many are unregulated.

Many states do not have nutritionist certification requirements. It is possible for anyone in those states to call themselves a nutritionist.

Education, training, and credentials are some of the main areas where dietitians and nutritionists differ.

Registered dietitians have the unique ability to provide medical nutrition therapy (MNT), which is the treatment of disease through nutritional interventions. In addition, many dietitians also offer counseling for disease prevention and overall health and wellness.

Conditions Dietitians and Nutritionists Treat

Examples of conditions dietitians can treat with medical nutrition therapy include: 

A nutritionist may:

  • Counsel for general health concerns 
  • Provide general food and nutrition information

A noncredentialed nutritionist may not provide medical nutrition therapy to treat a specific health concern through diet and nutrition.

Dietitians vs. Nutritionists: Which Is Better for Managing Weight?

Both registered dietitians and certified nutrition specialists can help you manage your weight. 

In some states, noncredentialed nutritionists are not allowed to provide individualized meal plans or specific guidance on health problems. They can give only general nutrition advice.

Because dietitians have been trained in the science and applications of food and nutrition, and also in human physiology and biology, they are highly qualified to provide education and guidance for weight management. 

A dietitian may be the best option for your weight management goals if you:

  • Have a chronic disease or health condition
  • Have a history of disordered eating
  • Have food allergies
  • Are breastfeeding, pregnant, or planning to become pregnant
  • Have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above

Nutritionists may provide general food and nutrition information. A nutritionist (including RDNs) may be a good fit for your weight management goals if you:

  • Do not have a chronic medical condition
  • Are looking for general advice for healthier meals and snacks
  • Are in overall good health but want to improve your health and wellness
  • Want a coach for support and accountability for your weight and health goals

Credentials to Look For 

Registered dietitian nutritionists receive credentials from the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). The minimum educational requirement for a registered dietitian is a bachelor’s degree from an Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) accredited program. However, many RDs and RDNs hold higher degrees. 

In 2024, the minimum degree requirement for eligibility to become a dietitian changes from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree.

In addition to earning a degree from an accredited dietetics program, registered dietitians must also complete a 1,200-hour supervised practice requirement and pass a national registration exam.

Dietitians must uphold set standards and a code of ethics and ensure their services are within their scope of practice (activities they are permitted to perform in their profession). They must also complete continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration. 

Certified nutrition specialist (CNS) is a credible nutritionist certification, certified by the BCNS. A minimum of a master’s degree and 1,000 hours of supervised practice are required. Eligible persons must take and pass a board exam, then receive continuing education on a regular basis.

Before taking advice about nutrition from someone, ensure they have the proper education and certifications. RDN and CNS are two pathways that require education, supervised practice, exams, and continuing education. 

If your dietitian or nutritionist does not hold credible certifications, you may be taking advice from someone who is providing inaccurate and possibly dangerous nutrition information.


Costs for meeting with a dietitian and nutritionist can vary a lot. An average cost per consultation may be anywhere from $50 to $200. Location, additional training and specializations, and years of experience can cause the price to vary.

With Insurance 

Services of nutritionists and health coaches usually are not covered under most insurance plans.

Many insurance companies allow for a certain number of visits with a registered dietitian each year. Depending on your coverage, you might have to pay a co-pay for your visit. Depending on the dietitian, they may or may not be in network with your insurance, which can affect what you must pay.

If you meet with a dietitian through a hospital or in a healthcare provider’s office, the chances are they are credentialed with insurance companies. However, always check with your individual insurance plan for coverage beforehand. 

If you meet with a private practice dietitian, they may or may not accept insurance. Always ask beforehand if you want your visit covered by your insurance plan.

Without Insurance 

If a registered dietitian does not accept insurance, they should be able to provide you with a superbill (a detailed invoice of the services received) that you can submit to your insurance to see if they (your insurance) will reimburse you for the visit. Providing a superbill is not a guarantee of insurance coverage.

Some private practice dietitians and nutritionists that only accept self-pay may offer packages with multiple visits at a discounted rate. This might be a good option if you know you want or need multiple visits and are trying to save money.

Nutritionists and health coaches are not usually covered by insurance and will most likely be self-pay. 


Registered dietitians (RDs), also called registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs), are food and nutrition experts that are uniquely trained in the nutritional treatment of disease, disease prevention, and overall health promotion and well-being.

RDs and RDNs have a degree from an accredited dietetics program, have completed supervised practice, have passed a registration exam, and must accrue continuing education hours.

Nutritionists are not regulated in many states, and, therefore, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Some nutritionists may hold a degree and are certified. However, certifications for nutritionists vary and are often unregulated. A certified nutrition specialist (CNS) is a credible certification for nutritionists.

Dietitians and nutritionists can both help with weight management, depending on your goals and health status. Visits may or may not be covered by insurance. Registered dietitians are more likely to be covered by insurance than nutritionists.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is a nutritionist a doctor?

    No, nutritionists are not medical doctors. There are no mandatory or standard requirements to become a nutritionist. Some medical doctors or physicians may hold nutritionist certifications.

  • How do you find licensed nutritionists?

    You can find credential registered dietitian nutritionists on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website.  You can also contact your health insurance to see if they can provide a list of covered licensed and certified dietitians and nutritionists in your area.

  • Are health coaches as good as dietitians and nutritionists?

    As training for health coaches varies, and there is no mandatory certification requirement, people in these professions may provide inaccurate or incomplete nutrition information.

    Registered dietitians have been credentialed and certified through a strict regulatory process to ensure proper education and practice requirements are met. Dietitians may specialize in different areas of health and nutrition, so it is best to research and find one who will make a good match for your individual needs.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Marcason W. Dietitian, dietician, or nutritionist? J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015;115(3):484. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2014.12.024

  2. American Nutrition Association. About the BCNS.

  3. Commission on Dietetic Registration. Registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN)* certification.

  4. Commission on Dietetic Registration. 2024 graduate degree requirement - registration eligibility.

  5. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Become a RDN or NDTR.

  6. American Nutrition Association. Nutritionist and health professionals eligibility requirements.

  7. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Find a nutrition expert.

By Brittany Poulson, MDA, RDN, CD, CDCES
Brittany Poulson, MDA, RDN, CDCES, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.