What’s the Difference Between a Nutritionist, Health Coach, and Registered Dietitian?

January 19, 2022

Updated October 27, 2023

Distinguishing a nutritionist from a health coach or a Registered Dietitian can become difficult for individuals seeking nutrition services.

What is a Nutritionist?

A nutritionist does not need to have any specific schooling, certifications, or license. Anyone who claims any knowledge of nutrition at any level can call themselves a nutritionist.

Your friend who sells cold-pressed juices could call herself a nutritionist. The teenager who works at the supplement store could call themselves a nutritionist. The graduate student who decided not to pursue an RD-credentials could call themselves a nutritionist.

Some individuals may have great knowledge of nutrition while others may have limited understanding.

Since nutritionists are not required to have a nutrition degree, training, or internships to hold their title, an increasing number of nutritionists do not have related degrees.

What is a Health Coach?

A health coach is essentially an accountability partner. They help individuals stick to their goals. Similar to a nutritionist title, a health coach isn’t a regulated title. Some health coaches may hold a certification from ACE Health Coach Certification, Health Coach Institute, or Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

Health coaches should not prescribe diets or programs but should play a role in motivating individuals on how to put their goals to practical use.

Health coaches can work with RDs to help support clients in their goals between RD sessions.

What is a Registered Dietitian?

All Registered Dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are Registered Dietitians. A Registered Dietitian is the highest level of nutrition education an individual can obtain.

In outpatient settings, Registered Dietitians are health coaches. RDs are trained in motivational interviewing which is a key component of building rapport with clients.

In the foodservice and clinical setting, Registered Dietitians must stay on top of current evidence-based research and industry advancements. Registered Dietitians work in settings where it’s pertinent to provide updated and accurate nutrition information and interventions to clients and patients.

Registered Dietitians and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist are used interchangeably. Both of these titles are protected titles accredited by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).

To become a Registered Dietitian, one must:

  1. Have at least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, although many have higher degrees
  2. Complete 1000 hours* of supervised practicum, commonly referred to as a dietetic internship or DI for short- many DIs are unpaid rotations in clinical, community, and foodservice settings *this is a temporary change effective between January 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022; typically 1200 hours are required
  3. Pass the national RD exam which consists of at least 125 questions about the Principles of Dietetics, Nutrition Care for Individuals and Groups, Management of Food and Nutrition Programs and Services, and Foodservice Systems

Beginning in 2024, ALL new RDs will be required to have a master’s degree in addition to the three REQUIREMENTS listed above.

Nutrition is an important predictor of livelihood, disease risks, and health outcomes, it’s no wonder everyone wants a piece of the pie. It’s important to understand the titles because, in practicing nutrition, credentials matter. Misinformation and disinformation are so harmful to both individual, community, and public health.

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