What is a CNS®?

Last Updated: May 12, 2024

My nutrition credentials are CNS and LDN. What do these credentials mean, and how do they differ from those of an RD (Registered Dietitian)? I am often asked this question. 

The credential CNS stands for Certified Nutrition Specialist. A CNS is an advanced personalized nutrition practitioner who must have a Master’s or doctoral degree in nutrition (most have a master’s degree in Human Nutrition, like me), complete a 1,000-hour supervised experience internship that achieves a set of clearly defined practice competencies, and pass the CNS exam. CNSs are required to recertify every five years and complete 75 hours of continuing education credits. Before obtaining the CNS credential, I completed my Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science and my Master of Science in Human Nutrition. 

The competencies covered in my 1,000-hour supervised practice experience (SPE) for the CNS include but are not limited to:

  • Practical application of evidence-based research 
  • Physiology of the digestive tract (motility, absorption, secretion, intestinal barrier function) 
  • Digestion, absorption, and transport of macronutrients and micronutrients 
  • Inflammatory pathways, including insulin, oxidative stress, and fatty acid oxidation 
  • Effect of microbiome on metabolism of macronutrients and micronutrients, including use of probiotics and prebiotics 
  • Nutritional considerations related to physiologic changes associated with life cycle stage 
  • Effect of microbiome on body composition and metabolism  
  • Tailoring of assessment and therapy specific to the life cycle stage 
  • Nutritional considerations pertaining to psychological and social factors associated with the life cycle stage 
  • Effects of age, gender, and physical activity on body composition and energy expenditure 
  • Disease risk and prevalence related to socioeconomic status, geographic residency, ethnicity, and life cycle stage 
  • Regulation of fluid, electrolyte, and acid-base balance 
  • Basic understanding of nutritional genomics research in practice 
  • Calculation of individual caloric requirements 
  • Estimation of caloric values of specific meals
  • Medical nutrition therapy (MNT) for MNT for gastrointestinal disorders, food allergies and intolerances, autoimmune disorders, mental health/mood disorders, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dyslipidemias, hypertension, endocrine disorders, obesity, cognitive and neurodegenerative disorders, hepatic disorders, neurodivergence, dermatological disorders, bone disorders, type 1 diabetes, cancer, renal disorders, hematologic disorders, mastication, swallowing, and nutrient absorption disorders, pulmonary disorders, surgical procedures, communicable diseases and sequelae, and bariatric surgery. 
  • Gauging and optimizing client compliance
  • Consideration of client’s personal and cultural beliefs when developing nutrition intervention plans 
  • Malabsorption and effects on macronutrients and micronutrient status 
  • Effectiveness and contraindications of various diets 
  • Drug/herb action, duration of action, purpose, and dose of a client’s current therapeutic regimen 
  • Interactions between drugs and foods, alcohol, vitamins, minerals, herbs, phytochemicals, and zoochemicals 
  • Nutrient depletions related to commonly used drugs 
  • Evidence-based dose and duration of nutraceutical use for common conditions  
  • Evidence-based use of common botanical supplements for health promotion and common conditions 
  • Synergistic effects and antagonistic interactions of nutrients in foods and supplements 
  • Effects of disordered eating patterns on nutrition status, body composition, and body functions 
  • Safety, toxicity, and interactions of botanical supplements  
  • Good manufacturing practices and other quality markers for nutritional supplements 
  • Application of national guidelines, policies, consensus recommendations, and evidence-based research in the development of personalized therapeutic interventions  
  • Linking childhood behaviors to obesity and other chronic health issues in adults 
  • Impact of nutritional genomics on health

The CNS credential demonstrates that certified individuals have the knowledge and proficiency required for advanced professional nutrition practice. The CNS certification program is administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists℠ (BCNS℠), an independent credentialing organization associated with the American Nutrition Association® (ANA). The ANA is the professional association for the science and practice of personalized nutrition. CNSs are qualified to provide Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) and advanced personalized nutrition care. 

Please see the following document for more information about the CNS scope of practice. 

The LDN (Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist) credential after my name allows me to practice nutrition in specific states, including Illinois, alongside my CNS credential. 

While the credentials RD (Registered Dietitian) and CNS (Certified Nutrition Specialist) both signify nutrition expertise, there are some differences between the two. An RD doesn’t need a master’s degree (though this has recently changed). CNSs have the same education, if not more, compared to RDs. The significant difference is that the CNS supervised practice experience doesn’t usually include rotations in a hospital, whereas hospital rotations are common for dietetic students during their dietetic internships. 

I chose the CNS route because I wanted to practice personalized nutrition, focusing on functional health. The CNS credential is the premier credential for nutrition professionals who practice personalized nutrition. The Registered Dietitian route doesn’t emphasize personalized nutrition unless one chooses to obtain additional education upon completion of their RD program. 

CNSs are not as well-recognized as RDs (yet), but we are a rapidly growing demographic of highly qualified and educated professional nutrition providers occupying positions in private nutrition practice, hospitals, medical clinics, industry, and research! 

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Lindsay Christensen Dietitian Nutritionist Colorado

Hi, I'm Lindsay

I help mountain athletes improve their performance through a holistic and inclusive approach to nutrition.

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