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Nutritionist Vs. Registered Dietitian – What Is the Difference?


When You Should Consult a Nutritionist or Registered Dietitian Whether you have health concerns and need some direction regarding nutrition, or you’re looking for some […]

antique nutrition document with food groups and vitamins

When You Should Consult a Nutritionist or Registered Dietitian

Whether you have health concerns and need some direction regarding nutrition, or you’re looking for some more information about how to maintain a proper diet – you may want to consider speaking to a professional nutritionist or dietitian. But whom do you see?

Dietitians and nutritionists may seem similar, but there are some pretty major distinctions between the two that you’ll need to understand before making a decision.

To help you better understand each title and what they can do for you, we’ve broken down the main similarities, differences, and other key components to give you an idea of who you should see for your particular needs.

What Is A Nutritionist?

A nutritionist is someone who advises people on matters related to food and nutrition along with the impact they have on their personal health.

Job Description

Nutritionists mainly work in private practices with individual clients and advise people on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Here are some examples of the standard duties performed by a nutritionist:

  • Assess clients’ overall health and lifestyle habits
  • Create a diet and exercise plan for clients
  • Track clients’ progress and encourage them to follow their diet plans
  • Coordinate and host cooking classes
  • Give presentations about health and the importance of healthy food and nutrition

What Education and Training is Required?

Since there is no regulatory body governing nutritionists, there are no official education or training requirements to become one.

In fact, theoretically, anyone can give themselves the title of a nutritionist regardless of their level of education and training.

However, in order to actually have a career as a nutritionist, it’s important to gain as much education and experience as possible.

The best way to do this is to complete a college training program or university degree in nutrition.

Restrictions and Limitations

In Canada, nutritionists are not regulated nor protected for the most part. In fact, the only provinces where nutritionist are regulated are Quebec, Alberta, and Nova Scotia.

This means that in most provinces across Canada, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist as there are no requirements when it comes to education or professional experience.

Compared to dietitians who can work alongside doctors and government officials, nutritionists are not qualified to provide medical nutrition therapy or help diagnose and treat any diseases.

What Is A Registered Dietitian?

Dietitians are regulated healthcare professionals that are licensed and qualified to assess, diagnose, and treat nutritional problems, medical conditions, and eating disorders, and can work in a variety of different areas.

Dietitians can either work with individual clients to develop diet and nutrition programs similar to nutritionists, or work with industry stakeholders to ensure best health and nutrition practices are being followed.

Dietitians are also able to work with:

  • Doctors to improve dietary habits of patients with complex health problems
  • Policymakers to assist all levels of government in creating health-related strategies for Canadians
  • Industry leaders as consultants regarding food systems, food sustainability, food service management, production, and marketing
  • Market researchers to help with research on food science

Job Description

So, what does a dietitian actually do from day to day? That depends on what areas a dietitian has chosen to practice in. However, the typical duties of dietitians can include:

  • Developing nutrition plans for clients with health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, allergies, and obesity
  • Developing nutrition plans for clients with under/over-weight issues
  • Working with infants and children with weight or medical conditions
  • Working with governments to influence food-related policy
  • Educating people, governments, educational institutions, and industries on proper nutrition and health
  • Helping both public and private establishments manage and maintain quality food services
  • Conducting research on nutrition
  • Educating people and providing expert advice regarding nutritional requirements such as intravenous feeding, negative nutrients, nutritional supplements, food safety storage, and diet and drug interactions

What Education and Training is Required?

Since Dietitians are registered health care professionals, rigorous practice standards and a high level of education must be met. This includes completing a 4-year (or equivalent) undergraduate degree in human nutrition and dietetics from a program that is accredited by the Partnership for Dietetic Education and Practice (PDEP) with appropriate courses in:

  • Sciences
  • Nutrition
  • Administration
  • Humanities

Registered dietitians wishing to become a public health nutritionist must obtain a master’s degree.

Dietitians must also successfully complete an accredited dietetic internship or at least 1,250 hours of supervised hands-on experience in counselling, disease management, population health, and food systems. Plus, they need to pass the Canadian Dietetic Registration Examination.

Requirements for Practicing in Canada

As previously mentioned, dietitians must meet strict standards in order to practice in Canada and must register with the provincial regulatory body in their province in order to practice.

These regulatory bodies assess your academic and practicum experience to determine your eligibility to become a registered dietitian in that province.

Once fully registered, dietitians may use the title of Registered Dietitian (RD). However, in some provinces, other protected titles may exist.

In Ontario, all Registered Dietitians must meet the standards for academic and practical training, ethics and professional conduct set out by the College of Dietitians of Ontario.

All dietitians must participate in the college’s Quality Assurance Program to ensure strong professional development skills and continued competence.

Protected Titles Across Each Province

In Canada, just like with doctors and nurses, the title of “Dietitian” is protected by law in every province; meaning only Registered Dietitians can actually call themselves “dietitians.”

In Ontario, all dietitians must be a member of the College of Dietitians of Ontario.

Registered Dietitian is also the only regulated nutrition profession in the province of Ontario, as nutritionists are not regulated.

Advanced Responsibilities

Besides being trained to offer basic nutritional advice, dietitians are also skilled in translating medical and nutrition information into eating plans for clients.

Dietitians can also develop specialized plans customized for a variety of nutritional concerns, including food sensitivities, allergies, and diseases.

Registered Dietitians are also trained to consider a person’s culture, traditions, values, beliefs, and personal lifestyles when developing these diet plans.

Opportunities/Career Path

There are several different types of dietitians, including:

  • Clinical dietitian
  • Administrative dietitian
  • Community dietitian
  • Public health dietitian
  • Consulting dietitian
  • Research dietitian
  • Sports dietitian

Depending on which path you choose, a dietitian can find employment in any level of government, the private sector, the food industry, or in schools.

These positions can involve developing nutrition/food policies, marketing food products and services, developing new food products, and educating people about the importance of healthy eating and preventing diseases.

Despite the fact that dietitians are the only regulated nutritional profession in most provinces, that’s not to say that nutritionists are not skilled at providing nutritional guidance.

At the end of the day, whether you work with a dietitian or nutritionist, it’s important to look at their credentials and level of experience when deciding who to go with and choose someone you feel comfortable receiving nutritional advice from.

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