Registered Dietitian vs. Nutritionist
Difference between Registered Dietitians and Nutritionists
by Jenifer Tharani, RD, Integra Health Centre
REGISTERED DIETITIANS (RD)
Dietitians are a trusted source of nutrition advice because they are extensively educated and trained before they can register with a provincial regulatory body. They must complete an accredited undergraduate degree in nutrition, an accredited supervised dietetic internship program AND successfully complete the Canadian Dietetics Registration Exam to assess competence to practice in Canada. Some dietitians also complete Masters and/or Doctorate programs. Dietitian is a protected title across Canada, just like physician, nurse, and pharmacist. Nutritionist is also a protected title in Alberta, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
There are regulatory colleges in each province that oversee dietitians and hold them accountable for their actions. The purpose of the regulatory colleges is to protect the public, not dietitians. If a dietitian practices unethically they will lose their license. You can expect that dietitians in Ontario bring a high degree of skills, judgment and knowledge to their nutrition practice.
Regulated health professionals must practice ethically, are held accountable for their actions, and must complete annual professional development to stay up to date. They are also trained to consider how culture, traditions, values, beliefs, family and personal lifestyles all affect nutrition health. When you receive services from a dietitian, you can expect respectful and collaborative care.
Dietitians can provide both general nutrition education, medical nutrition therapy (e.g., for medical conditions such as diabetes, gestational diabetes, Celiac disease, and IBS) and provide individualized nutrition advice for health concerns like food sensitivities, allergies and weight loss. Dietitians are skilled in translating medical and nutrition information into practical healthy eating plans for you and your family. There is a misconception that because dietitians are regulated health professionals, they are only allowed to teach the food guide. This is simply false. A dietitian may sometimes use Canada’s Food Guide as a teaching tool for certain groups to educate generally about healthy eating. It is definitely not the only educational tool dietitians use. Dietitians don’t just focus on individual nutrients, but instead take a holistic view of your diet, health, and well-being. They consider all of the many factors that can influence health and take an research-based approach, which means all their nutrition recommendations are supported by quality research.
Dietitians work in many different areas, including hospitals, family health teams, public health units, community health centres, food service, and private practice.
There are various titles nutritionists use, including Nutrition Coach, Weight Loss Coach, Registered Nutritionist, and Holistic Nutritionist. If a nutritionist is not also a dietitian, they are not regulated by any provincial college, even if they include “registered” “certified” or “licensed” in their title. If a nutritionist acts unethically, there is no regulatory college to hold them accountable. Nutritionists are not qualified to provide medical nutrition therapy.
Some nutritionists have education/training in nutrition, but some do not. An online certificate in nutrition or a personal health success story is not equivalent to a university degree in nutrition. Individuals are welcome to choose between a nutritionist or a registered dietitian, but emphasizing the importance of always checking a person’s credentials and education before following their advice is critical.
WHAT AM I?
I am a registered dietitian and I worked very hard to earn that title! I have a four-year Bachelor’s and a two-year Master’s degree in Human Nutrition. I completed my dietetic internship at Emory University Hospital, one of the most renowned high acuity hospitals in Atlanta, Georgia. I am registered with the College of Dietitians of Ontario as well as Commission of Dietetic Registration, U.S.
As a dietitian, I will always act in an ethical manner and provide you individually tailored professional and evidence-based nutrition advice.
To sum up, a dietitian can call themselves a dietitian and a nutritionist, but a nutritionist can only call themselves a nutritionist in most Canadian provinces. A dietitian goes through rigorous training and is a regulated health professional just like a physician or a nurse. There are no standards or regulations for nutritionists in Ontario. If you have medical conditions such as a digestive disorder, heart disease, diabetes, etc., please talk to your doctor and seek the help of a registered dietitian to manage these conditions with a diet and lifestyle approach.
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