Nutritionist or registered dietitian — what’s the difference?

Using the power of food to improve your health and enhance your life

You might think that nutritionists and dietitians are one and the same.

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

Dietitians and nutritionists may seem similar at first glance, 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 and differences to give you an idea of who you should see for your particular needs.

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    What is a nutritionist?

    Nutritionists advise people on matters related to nutrition and how food choices impact their personal health. Nutritionists mainly work in private practices with individual clients and advise people on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

    Nutritionists do things like:

    • Assessing clients’ overall health and lifestyle habits
    • Creating diets and exercise plan for clients
    • Coordinating and host cooking classes
    • Tracking clients’ progress and adjust their diet plans
    • Giving presentations about the importance of healthy food and nutrition

    Nutritionist education, restrictions and limitations

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

    In Canada, nutritionists are neither regulated nor protected for the most part. In fact, the only provinces where nutritionists are regulated are Quebec, Alberta, and Nova Scotia.

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

    Unlike dietitians, who can work alongside doctors, 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. They are licensed and qualified to assess, diagnose and treat nutritional problems, medical conditions, and eating disorders. 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.

    So, what does a dietitian actually do from day to day? That depends on what specialty a dietitian has chosen for their practice. They can perform a wide range of duties, including:

    • 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 storage safety, and food and drug interactions

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

    There are several different types of dietitians, including:

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

    Depending on which path they 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 disease prevention.

    Dietitian education, training and licensing

    Since dietitians are registered health care professionals, they must have a high level of education and meet rigorous practice standards. 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:

    • Nutrition
    • Sciences
    • Humanities
    • Administration

    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. Finally, after completing their education and internship, they need to pass the Canadian Dietetic Registration Examination.

    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. Once fully registered, dietitians may use the title of registered dietitian (RD).

    All dietitians must participate in the college’s quality assurance program to ensure strong professional development skills and continued competence. 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.”

    The registered dietitian profession is the only regulated nutrition-related role in the province of Ontario. Nutritionists are not regulated.

    Our registered dietitians can help

    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.

    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. Choose someone from whom you feel comfortable receiving nutritional advice.

    But to be sure you’re accessing the most qualified nutrition professional, look for the initials RD or PDt (DtP in French) after the health professional’s name. Dietitians are committed to stay up to date on the latest scientific, medical and nutritional research to deliver reliable, evidence-based advice. They’re not influenced by the latest fads and dieting gimmicks.

    At Elysian Wellness, we believe in the power of food to enhance lives and improve health. Our registered dietitians turn the science of nutrition into practical, healthy meal plans. We’re here to help empower you to embrace food, to understand it and to enjoy it.

    Contact us today to schedule an appointment