what is the difference between a registered dietitian, health coach, and nutritionist?

With so many programs circulating in the media, it can be hard to determine who to go to for nutrition counseling, and how to know what someone's credentials really mean. I would like to try and help clear up some of this confusion, and explain some of the key differences between a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and someone who refers to themselves as a health coach, holistic nutritionist, etc.


A RD or RDN (used interchangeably) is an individual who has undergone a rigorous scientific based education to understand how the body utilizes, and metabolizes food. These individuals are trained to treat disease from a nutrition focus, and have a deep understanding of how vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients work in the body.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are the only board certified and licensed nutrition practitioner in the United States. RDN's are licensed through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and their state government, and are required to complete continuing education in order to maintain there license. 

In addition a RD/RDN is able to refer to themselves as a health coach, or a nutritionist if desired BUT a nutritionist or a health coach are not able to call themselves a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.

Note: Registered Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals who can provide nutrition services capable of being reimbursed by insurance companies.


Health Coaches and Holistic Nutritionists generally receive a broader training in nutrition, with minimal focus on hard sciences, nutrient biochemistry/metabolism, and the medical treatment and management of disease through nutritional therapy.

There are however many nutrition professionals with higher degrees (even PhD's!) who do not have the title of Registered Dietitian, but may be very knowledgeable about nutrition and simply chose not to pursue the path to being clinically credentials as a Dietitian. 

Remember to always ask for or research the credentials of the person whom you are seeking nutrition counseling, and make sure you understand the education required for that person to become qualified to give nutrition related care.  

* Note: Health Coaches/Nutritionists services are not able to be reimbursed by insurance companies, as they are not clinically licensed medical nutrition professionals.

The Take Away

Overall it is exciting that so many people want to learn more about nutrition and help people live healthier lives. But since the terms "nutritionist" and "health coach" seem to be thrown around, without any regulations or minimum scientific background requirements, I urge you to research the credentials of the person providing your nutrition counseling.

If you are going to put your health and well-being in the hands of another person, just do your due diligence to make sure they are truly a professional, who has the expertise you need to reach your healthiest self.