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Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: What's the Difference?

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Dietitian vs. Nutritionist | What's the Difference?

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Key Takeaways

  • Dietitian and nutritionist are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are important differences between the two titles.
  • Registered dietitians are required to undergo more training and education than nutritionists. 
  • Dietitians can treat certain medical conditions through nutrition therapy, and in some states, only dietitians can advise people to follow individualized meal and diet plans. 

Many people seeking help with their diet from an expert assume that dietitians and nutritionists are similar in regards to training and expertise. Some people may even expect the two titles to be interchangeable. But there are important differences to consider between the two when choosing whether to work with a dietitian or nutritionist

Dietitians, or registered dietitians, are required to complete specific education, training, and pass the Commission on Dietetic Registration exam to earn credentials. Some states also require additional licensing benchmarks to earn the title of dietitian.

By comparison, there is far less regulation of the term nutritionist. In some states, people can call themselves a nutritionist without any formal education or training. In this article, you’ll learn about the differences between dietitians and nutritionists and which one may be best for your needs.

Nourish helps you to connect with experienced registered dietitians that are covered by your insurance. If you’re ready to take the next step in your health, consider booking a virtual appointment with a registered dietitian.

What is a Dietitian?

Dietitians (also referred to as registered dietitians, RDs, or RDNs) are experts in food, nutrition, and health. They can help individuals or larger populations with nutrition and food concerns. RDs also work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Clinical settings, like hospitals, clinics, or nursing homes. 
  • Government settings, like local health departments.
  • Educational settings, including working with policymakers to enact school nutrition standards.
  • Private settings, such as private practice or small food supplement companies.
  • Sports nutrition and corporate wellness programs.
  • Research organizations, like pharmaceutical companies or universities conducting trials to learn more about the possible benefits of nutrition in specific applications.
  • Food service and management, including large food companies, schools, universities.
  • Retail dietetics (grocery stores).

Dietitians can also help treat certain conditions, including eating disorders, substance use, or other conditions that are often managed with specific diet and meal planning, like diabetes. It’s not uncommon for RDs to collaborate with mental health specialists in clinical settings, including hospitals and long-term care facilities.

What is a Nutritionist?

Nutritionists can also work with individuals or larger populations to advise on general nutrition and food principals. In many cases, their focus is on food behavior. They work in similar fields as dietitians, but may not be able to perform the same actions as dietitians, depending on the state in which they practice.

Dietitian vs Nutritionist

There are important differences that separate dietitians or RDs from nutritionists. These include differences in their education, credentials, cost of services, the actions they’re able to perform and which conditions they’re able to treat.


Unlike nutritionists, dietitians are required to complete a formal education program approved by the Dietetics’ Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Education requirements for RDs include:

  • Earning at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college in the United States (or foreign equivalent) including coursework through an ACEND, accredited Didactic (DPD), Coordinated (CP), Graduate (GO) or Foreign (GPE) program. Many people choose to earn a degree in clinical nutrition, dietetics, or public health nutrition that includes a verification statement from a Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD). 

Education requirements for nutritionists are less regulated and can vary from state-to-state. In some states, there are no educational requirements in order to call oneself a nutritionist. 

However, nutritionists pursuing a certified nutrition specialist (CNS) or certified/clinical nutritionist (CN) title must receive a master of science or doctoral degree in nutrition or a related field and complete 35 hours of relevant coursework in the field.


After meeting the educational requirements, prospective dietitians must:

  • Complete a minimum of 1,200 hours of internship supervised under a licensed professional.
  • Pass a national examination given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). Starting January 2024, a master’s degree will be required to take the CDR exam.

Depending on the state in which a RD practices, there may be additional qualifications they have to meet to earn the title of RD or RDN. Additionally, RDs must complete continuing education courses throughout their career to maintain their title and certifications.

Prospective CNSs and CNs must also complete a minimum of 1,000 hours of supervised work experience and gain experience with the Personalized Nutrition (PN) Case Data Collection & Case Report database to learn how to deliver high-quality care to their clients.

Notably, nutritionists not pursuing a CNS or CN title are not required to attain additional credentials in most states.


The cost of services performed by a dietitian or nutritionist will vary depending on several factors, including where the professional lives and practices.

Average out-of-pocket expenses for a single nutritionist visit can range between $74-142, according to which state you live in:

  • California: $90-$135 
  • Florida: $80-$119
  • Illinois: $84-$124
  • Kansas: $72-$107 
  • Maine: $74-$110
  • Maryland: $87-$129
  • Massachusetts: $89 - $133 
  • Michigan: $82 - $122
  • Montana: $76 - $113 
  • New Jersey: $96 - $142
  • New York: $90 - $134
  • Ohio: $75 - $112
  • Pennsylvania: $85 - $126
  • Tennessee: $72-$108 
  • Texas: $78 - $116 
  • Washington: $87 - $129

Keep in mind that meal plans will cost an additional fee, usually ranging from $75-$250 per week.

Conditions treated

Only dietitians work in what is known as medical nutrition therapy, which involves diagnosing and treating medical conditions. Medical nutrition therapy is often covered by insurance and can be offered in hospitals, clinics, or other healthcare facilities. Two of the most common conditions treated in these settings are eating disorders and substance use disorder. 

Nutritionists may help to educate and inform people with similar conditions, but they are unable to diagnose and treat illnesses.  


  • Has to meet certain education and credentials requirements.
  • Can practice in certain states without any formal education or training.


  • Can help treat illnesses, including eating disorders and substance use disorder.
  • Cannot treat illnesses.

If you’re looking for help with your diet and meal planning, Nourish can connect you with a registered dietitian covered by your insurance. If you need help optimizing your diet, consider booking a virtual appointment today.

Should I See a Nutritionist or Dietitian?

It’s important to consider your health and nutrition needs when deciding to seek help from a nutritionist or dietitian. However, you may want to keep in mind that regardless of where you live, dietitians will have more experience, training, and education in the field.

If you’re seeking nutrition counsel to help manage or treat a chronic condition, working with a dietitian will help to ensure that you get the care that you need. Plus, most insurance plans cover medical nutrition counseling or therapy with an RD.

Book an appointment with Nourish and see a registered dietitian through your insurance.

Other Nutrition Professionals‍

When searching for nutrition professionals in the field, you may come across additional titles, including:

  • Holistic nutritionist.
  • Health coach.
  • Wellness coach.
  • Health and wellness nutritionist.
  • Corporate wellness consultant.

However, these professionals are not regulated the way RDs, CNSs, and CNs are and will vary greatly in regards to their expertise and education. To ensure you’re working with a qualified professional, limit your search to a RD.

See a Dietitian Covered by Insurance

Most insurance plans cover nutrition counseling provided by a RD, including Medicare Part B. With Nourish, 94% of patients pay $0 out of pocket. 

To learn whether or not your plan covers counseling provided by Nourish, visit this page to find out.

Frequently Asked Questions


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