First off, as of right now a nutritionist even with advanced education, cannot get a license in the State of Wisconsin. Only registered dietitians can get a license to practice in Wisconsin. Currently, all surrounding states like Illinois, Minnesota, even Michigan offer pathways for a nutritionist to get a license however, it requires an advanced degree, internship and passing of exam by a certification board.
So if someone states that they are licensed nutritionist they are not unless they have completed the registered dietitian program along with their “nutrition” degree.
Currently the field of nutrition consulting is not highly regulated in some states; Wisconsin being one of them. In these states there are many different educational pathways that a person can follow. Some as simple as learning from a script when signing up with a company that sells nutritional products, like Usana. Or, attending a “seminar” and now they are “certified” nutritionists basically interested in selling their products. They then offer free nutritional consulting. Obviously, they are earning their money when they sell you products that are usually over priced.
On the other hand, they are many different educational institutions offering everything from 3 months to 1 year education and now you can consult. And, then there Health Coaches – which does not require any or little educational background in nutritional science. Unless they have a degree in science like nutrition, biochemistry, etc. with their coaching certificate, I would be very wary taking nutritional advice from them – coaching you to better health is one thing but advising on health conditions is another.
Due to this lack of regulation and to protect the consumers, some states have instituted what is referred to as the “dietetic law” where only a registered dietitians can practice nutrition consulting. Some states like Illinois and Michigan have amended this law allowing people with an advanced education and completed an internship to get a license and practice nutritional consulting. The titles that are currently eligible for this are Certified Clinical Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Specialist. So you can see where all of the letters are coming from; CCN, CNS, RD and so on. This is just the tip of the “iceberg” – there are now certifications in diabetic care, functional nutrition – all mean more letters. Always ask about the letters after their name; what do they mean? What is their educational background? Look at what organizations that they are members of as professional organizations only allow people with the right credentials to join.
When hiring a nutritionist, it all depends on what you are looking for – general nutrition advice or specific nutritional advice regarding a condition or concerns over developmental nutrition (children, aging adults, etc.) as most run of mill education in nutrition do not cover developmental nutrition, proper use of supplements, nutrient interaction with medications and advanced biochemistry in human nutrition.
In states with “in title only” legislation like Wisconsin – it is definitely buyer beware. And, it all depends on what you looking for; basic nutrition and lifestyle consulting or something more personalized and not just the latest diet fat, like gluten free, pH diets or cleansing. It is pretty much a buyer “beware” environment. Be careful here as they often offer advice that is based on incorrect information, offer only the latest nutrition marketing hype and/or is not evidence based. You get what you pay for.