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CNS© vs. RD: What's the Difference?

By: Ashleigh G. Whittington | Jan 9, 2024

I have been asked this question a few times, so I thought I’d put some more detailed information on here to help people understand the difference between a CNS© and an RD and what reasons might cause you to seek out one over the other.

Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)© from the American Nutrition Association 


The following prerequisites must be fulfilled to become a CNS©:

  1. Possess a master’s or doctoral degree in nutrition or other related field (examples include public health, biochemistry, nursing)
  2. Have successfully completed 1,000 hours of supervised practice in a clinical setting
  3. Pass the CNS© exam as administered by the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board 
  4. Maintain continuing education and recertification every five years


The CNS© program emphasizes clinical nutrition through a science-based and integrative approach, understanding how the body’s complex systems interact and affect one another. Areas of study include, but are not limited to

  1. In-depth nutrient metabolism, nutritional biochemistry, organic chemistry, and human physiology
  2. Mastery of assessing and managing nutrition-related diseases
  3. Rigorous training in research methods and critical analysis of clinical studies
  4. Behavioral science study including motivational counseling, principles and practices of behavior and self-care, and foundations of health education

Registered Dietician (RD) from the Commission on Dietetic Registration 


as of January 1, 2024, the Commission on Dietetic Registration has implemented a change in the education requirements to become a Registered Dietetic Nutritionist (RDN):

  1. Hold a master’s degree in nutrition or other related field (the previous requirement was a bachelor's degree)
  2. Pass the Registration Examination for Dieticians Test
    1. There are a number of pathways available for exam qualification, including supervised practice and Dietetic Internships. More information can be found via this outline from the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics 


RD programs are comprehensive and feature a broad range of subjects related to nutrition. Areas of study include, but are not limited to:

  1. In-depth exploration of nutrient metabolism, anatomy and physiology, and biochemistry
  2. Mastery of medical nutrition therapy*
  3. Thorough understanding of food science and food service management
  4. Education on human behavior and counseling

*Licensed nutritionists (like me, in the state of North Carolina) are also qualified to practice medical nutrition therapy. Per the North Carolina Board of Dietetics, “medical nutrition therapy is defined as the provision of nutrition care services for the purposes of managing or treating a medical condition”.

Both Certified Nutrition Specialists© and Registered Dietitians are highly trained nutrition experts with specialized areas of expertise. It’s important to consider your specific needs when seeking out nutrition guidance. I have relationships with several RDs whom I refer out to when the clients’ needs are beyond my scope of practice. An instance where this has occurred is with a client who required guidance with tube feeding, an area that I am neither educated nor skilled in, where an RD would be. Always be sure that the nutrition professional you choose is licensed, certified, or registered by a reputable credentialing organization in order to receive the most accurate and reliable guidance.

As both a CNS© and LN in North Carolina, I am uniquely qualified to cover a broad range of nutrition services, and my overarching principle is to provide care that focuses on your individual biochemistry and needs through an integrative approach. I can also assure you that if I am unable to provide you with the guidance and support you need, I am committed to helping you find the right practitioner who can. I hope you’ll consider working with me, book your 15 minute call to learn more!

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