When I tell people about my job, a common question I am asked is “what’s the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist in Canada??” Many people are under the false impression that these titles mean the same thing. Depending on where you are in the world, these titles will mean different things and have different laws. This article is specific to Canada, since I’m Canadian myself.
In Canada, Registered Dietitian (RD) is a protected title, which means that only individuals registered with a provincial regulatory body can call themselves a dietitian. Dietitians are regulated health professionals, just like doctors and nurses. In Ontario, the provincial regulatory body is the College of Dietitians of Ontario.
In most provinces (except for Quebec, Alberta, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), Nutritionist is NOT a protected title. This means that ANYONE can call themselves a nutritionist in Ontario. A dietitian can call themselves a nutritionist, but so can everyone else.
Note: in Quebec, Alberta, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia only dietitians can call themselves a nutritionist.
Dietitians are the experts in nutrition and food. 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 dietetic internship program AND complete the Canadian Dietetics Registration Exam. Some also complete Masters and/or Doctorate programs.
Regulated health professionals must practice ethically, are held accountable for their actions, and must complete annual professional development to stay up to date. Dietitians can provide both general nutrition education and medical nutrition therapy (e.g., for medical conditions such as diabetes, Celiac disease, and IBS).
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.
Despite the name, dietitians do not promote fad diets or sell supplements. Instead, dietitians help you to make practical and sustainable changes to improve your long-term health. 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 wellbeing. They consider all of the many factors that can influence health and take an evidence-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 terms for dietitians around the world. In the US, it is sometimes spelt “dietician”, and in Australia, the title is Accredited Practising Dietitian.
There are various titles nutritionists use, including Registered Nutritionist, Holistic Nutritionist and Nutrition Coach. 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. I am not telling you to not see a nutritionist, but emphasizing the importance of always checking a person’s credentials and education before following their advice.
What am I?
I am proud to be able to call myself a registered dietitian; I worked very hard to earn that title! I have a four-year Bachelor’s degree in nutrition (University of Guelph), and a two-year Master’s degree in public health and nutrition (University of Toronto). I completed my dietetic internship as part of my Master’s degree and my primary placement was at Sherbourne Health Centre in downtown Toronto. Now I am registered with the College of Dietitians of Ontario. and I passed the Canadian Dietetics Registration Exam.
As a dietitian, I will always provide professional and ethical service and will be held accountable for my actions by the college. I will never try to sell you food products or supplements. I became a dietitian to help improve the health and wellbeing of Canadians, not to make money by selling supplements.
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. There are no standards or regulations for nutritionists in Ontario.
If a person is trying to sell you products such as supplements or diet foods, I would recommend you get a second opinion from a health professional. You should make sure those products are truly necessary/healthy for you before giving them your hard-earned money.
Please talk to your doctor and seek the help of a registered dietitian if you have a medical condition such as a digestive disorder, heart disease, diabetes, etc.
You can learn more about dietitians from the College of Dietitians of Ontario.
Considering dietetics for your career path? Learn more about how to become a dietitian here.
I’m always happy to answer any questions about nutrition, dietetics, etc. Leave a comment down below or on any of my social media accounts.