Nutritionists vs Dietitians vs Everyone Else

As the fields of nutrition and wellness grow, it’s more important now than ever to be sure you’re seeing qualified health practitioners. The education, requirements, and specialties of nutritionists vs dietitians are nuanced, as is a health coach vs nutritionist and so on.

From RDs to NDs, Physio Logic’s Clinical Nutritionist, Michelle Miller, MSACN; and Diana Fleeter, MS Candidate have tried to make sense of a few of the most common nutrition and wellness professionals, and what requirements are needed in each field.

Acronyms to Look For

Clinical Nutritionist

• CCN, CNS – Certified Clinical Nutritionist or Certified Nutrition Specialist

Registered Dietitian

• RD – Registered Dietitian

Certified Health Coach

• NBC-HWC – National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach


• RH – Registered Herbalist

Naturopathic Physician

• ND* – Naturopathic Doctor (not to be confused with Naturopath)

Education and Training Required

Clinical Nutritionist

• Bachelor’s degree in science with specific nutrition courses

• 56 hours of dedicated online instruction OR a Master’s degree in human nutrition

Registered Dietitian

• Bachelor’s degree with Didactic Program coursework (anatomy & physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, etc.)

Certified Health Coach

• Year-long programs run by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, the Institute for Functional Medicine, American counsel on Exercise, to name a few.

• There are many different programs depending on one’s interest.

• Coursework ranges between coaching methods, nutrition, exercise science, prevention, and psychology.


• Training in the field of herbal medicine

• 1600 hours of study at an herbal medicine school; including 400 clinical hours as recommended by the American Herbalist Guild.

Naturopathic Physician

• Bachelor’s degree

• 4-year Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine Program

• Pass Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Exam (NPLEX)


Clinical Nutritionist

• Focus on different areas of nutrition research that are best for the individual- not necessarily what is standard recommendation for the general public at large.

• Specialize in digestion, gastrointestinal health, neurotransmitters, immune function, detoxification pathways, allergies/sensitivities and metabolic health.

• Often have more testing modalities in-house (such as testing stool, saliva, and biochemical markers)

Registered Dietitian

• Focus on calories, micro and macronutrients, meal planning, specific diets for medical conditions, eating patterns, food groups, and food sanitation.

• Follows food guidelines based on daily food intake outlined & approved by health organizations.

Certified Health Coach

• Focus on assessing client’s health issues, developing health goals, providing psychological or counseling services, setting and working to achieve goals, documenting a client’s change, and establishing a treatment plan1.

• Health coaches often work in tandem with other practitioners or help provide a positive outlook on food, exercise, lifestyle, and relationships.


• Focus on herbalism or botanical medicine used for thousands of years2. They use herbs (seeds, roots, bark and flowers of plants) as a means of natural medicine, instead of pharmaceuticals.

Naturopathic Physician

• The following six tenants govern naturopathic physicians3:Do No Harm

  1. Do No Harm
  2. The Healing Power of Nature
  3. Treat the Whole Person
  4. Treat the Cause
  5. Doctor is Teacher
  6. Prevention is the Best Cure

• Focus on holistic therapies, putting prevention at the forefront of treatment.

• They often practice  “manual therapy, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, acupuncture, nutritional counseling, orthomolecular medicine and botanical medicine, and order lab testing”1

Additional Information

Clinical Nutritionist

• This credential is the only non-dietetics credential and exam named in state nutrition licensing laws1.

Registered Dietitian

• Many times, an RD is complemented by a Master’s of Science or another Master’s degree. However, by 2024, all RD-candidates will need a Master’s degree before sitting for the RD exam

Keep in mind, many of these fields can overlap and many individuals can have different philosophies! It’s important to find a healthcare practitioner that addresses your needs and is a good fit for you, regardless of the label.



If you still have questions, or are wondering which healthcare is right for you, contact our Clinical Nutrition team. You can start by filling in the form below.

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