I recently posted a lengthy response to people asking me if I think they should make a career change to become a Registered Dietitian. I get that question a lot. Another question I encounter frequently online and in my work is along the lines of “So are you a dietitian or a nutritionist? What’s the difference?” Well technically where I live, I’m both. But I’ll explain that further down.
It’s not new that lots of people get dietitians and nutritionists mixed up. I don’t blame them, how else would they know? So today I’m here to clear up some confusion and hopefully help you understand a bit better.
So, what is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?
Well, in Canada, there may not be one! Across the country, the title “dietitian” is protected for those who have an accredited undergraduate degree in nutrition (something like a Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition), who have completed their dietetic internship/practicums, and have passed the Canadian Dietetic Registration Exam (CDRE). These individuals will have the initials RD (Registered Dietitian) or PDt (Professional Dietitian) after their name.
Once the “dietitian” title is obtained, dietitians become regulated healthcare professionals – just like physicians or pharmacists. This means that we’re required by regulatory bodies to stay up to date with emerging scientific research in nutrition, and specific skills for our areas of practice. This way, we’re able to translate nutrition science and research into easy to understand nutrition recommendations and guidelines for our patients, clients, and communities.
Like physicians or pharmacists, dietitians can be found in hospitals, doctor’s offices, or pharmacies. They may also be located in community health centres, wellness clinics, grocery stores, in the media, food services and food industry, research labs, working for themselves, and more.
Now, to make things a little complicated, certain provinces in Canada (Alberta, Quebec, and Nova Scotia – where I live) have also protected the title “nutritionist” for the individuals who have completed the above as well. So in these provinces, you may only refer to yourself as a nutritionist if you are a dietitian as well.
In the other 7 provinces and 3 territories of Canada, the title nutritionist is fair game.
So in 10/13 provinces and territories, what is a “nutritionist”?
Really, anyone who wants to be. When the term is not protected, anybody can use it. So in these 10 provinces/territories you do not require any specific education/training/examination to deem yourself a nutritionist.
Additionally, there are existing titles such as Nutrition Therapy Practitioner and Registered Holistic Nutritionist, among others. These titles are often used by individuals who have completed nutrition training programs that may vary in length of time and depth of training but the words “Registered” or “Practitioner” does not indicate that they are regulated health professionals. Remember, “Dietitian” is the Canada-wide protected term for the nutrition professional who has undergone a nationally accredited, rigorous university degree, dietetic internship training, and exam who is continuously upheld to the highest standard of education and training by their provincial regulatory body. And don’t forget, in 3 provinces (Alberta, Quebec, Nova Scotia) “Nutritionist” is has the same meaning as “Dietitian”.
I hope this has been helpful to you in differentiating between dietitians and nutritionists. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail. Thanks for reading!