If you’ve ever been in the market for some help with your nutrition, you’ve probably come across many different titles and professional designations along the way. Registered dietitian, professional dietitian, holistic nutritionist, and registered nutritionist are the most common. But what do they mean? In Canada, the title ‘nutritionist’ and ‘dietitian’ can mean very different things! This may come as a shock to most people who use the word dietitian and nutritionist interchangeably. When it comes to who you are trusting with your health and well-being, being educated on the qualifications of the person you are choosing to take advice from is a critical part ensuring you receive quality care.
What is the Difference Between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?
In Canada, the designation of ‘registered dietitian’ (RD) is regulated and protected. This means that unless you have completed the requirements outlined by the profession’s provincial regulatory body (The College of Dietitians of Ontario for example), you cannot by law call yourself a dietitian. All of the terms ‘registered dietitian’, ‘professional dietitian’ and ‘dietitian’ are protected under this law.
To become a dietitian, you need to complete a four-year undergraduate degree in a nutrition program approved by the College of Dietitians. After completing the degree requirements, the graduates must complete either an approved internship through a hospital or Master’s program to be eligible to write a registration exam to obtain their license. Whew, talk about rigorous! Think the fun stops here? Not quite! Every year, licensed dietitians are required to complete extra education to keep up their competence in the profession.
Lastly, dietitians have an extensive education in understanding and interpreting scientific research. They use this skill to take complicated and confusing scientific research and translate it into practical solutions for real people. As you can see, registered dietitians are more than qualified to provide advice on a wide range of nutrition topics!
In Canada, the term ‘nutritionist’ is not regulated / protected in every province. This means that in some provinces, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, regardless of their education or professional experience. This could apply to the terms ‘holistic nutritionist’, ‘registered nutritionist’ and ‘nutritionist’.
If there isn’t a governing body regulating the term nutritionist, there aren’t specific educational standards or practical experience qualifications required to use this term. If the title is not protected, nutritionists can have a wide variety of educational backgrounds, from university degrees to college diplomas to high-school diplomas. There are also ‘registered holistic nutritionists’ (RHN), who are trained by the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition (CSNN). They complete one-year of coursework and 50 hours of practicum experience, where they complete case-studies and learn interview skills, among other things. Lastly, to complete their training, they write an exam which is standardized across Canada.
If you are in Canada, the following is a list of nutrition titles that are regulated (or protected) by law or that dietitians may call themselves. For ease of reading, I’ve bolded the ‘nutritionist’ titles so you can easily see which provinces have strict standards surrounding it’s use.
|Province||Regulated / Protected Title|
|Alberta||Registered Dietitian, Dietitian, Professional Dietitian, RD (PDt, RDt, Dt.P), Registered Nutritionist|
|British Columbia||Registered Dietitian, Dietitian, Professional Dietitian, RD (PDt, RDt, Dt.P)|
|Manitoba||Registered Dietitian, Dietitian, Professional Dietitian, RD (PDt, RDt, Dt.P), Graduate Dietitian, Dietetic Intern|
|New Brunswick||Registered Dietitian, Dietitian, Professional Dietitian, RD (PDt, RDt, Dt.P), Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist|
|Newfoundland & Labrador||Registered Dietitian, Dietitian, Professional Dietitian, RD (PDt, RDt, Dt.P)|
|Nova Scotia||Registered Dietitian, Dietitian, Professional Dietitian, RD (PDt, RDt, Dt.P), Nutritionist|
|Ontario||Registered Dietitian, Dietitian, Professional Dietitian, RD (PDt, RDt, Dt.P)|
|PEI||Registered Dietitian, Dietitian, Professional Dietitian, RD (PDt, RDt, Dt.P)|
|Quebec||Diététiste, Nutritionniste, Diététicienne|
|Saskatchewan||Registered Dietitian, Dietitian, Professional Dietitian, RD (PDt, RDt, Dt.P)|
Please note: This list is subject to change. For the most up-to-date information please visit your province’s regulatory body website. You can find all of the website links at the bottom of this article.
Although there are many intelligent and well-intentioned nutritionists, proceed with caution. The fact that you may not need any specific qualifications to call yourself a nutritionist means there may be the odd person taking advantage of the title. If you are considering seeing a nutritionist where the title is unregulated, do your research and ask them about their education and experience that qualifies them to be giving you advice.
Why Work with a Dietitian?
So, you’re ready to get some help with your nutrition. Here are some reasons why I suggest seeking out the help of a dietitian.
RDs are regulated by a professional college. To keep their license and continue to practice they have to uphold ethical and professional standards. This means that they are accountable for their advice, which must be based on scientific evidence and always be in the best interest of their clients. The main role of a regulating College is to protect the public.
- Unique Perspective
One of the biggest advantages that RDs have is that throughout their training both in and outside of the classroom, they get a wide variety of experience working in multiple specialities. Governmental organizations, such as hospitals, public health units and community care access centres (CCACs) hire RDs for nutrition counselling. This means they acquire a wealth of experience counselling patients with very different needs and learn to work as part of a team with doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, social workers and other specialized health practitioners. These opportunities give RDs a unique perspective to serve you and your individualized health needs.
As previously mentioned, RDs have years of undergraduate education. They have to meet a number of educational requirements to qualify them to be able to counsel people on their nutritional needs.
- Research background
Lastly, having a background in research means that RDs can interpret the latest research on nutrition topics and use the information to create practical advice for their clients. You’d be surprised to know that not all research is ‘good’ research, some studies are poorly done and their results aren’t accurate. RDs are trained to know which research is well-done and deserves attention and which research the media has picked up just for the sake of sensationalized headlines.
While there are definitely some great nutritionists out there, I truly believe your best bet is seeing a registered dietitian to help you with your food and nutrition needs to feel your best. If you choose to see an RD, there isn’t any guesswork in whether they are qualified to give you advice. There is SO much misinformation surrounding nutrition circulating today, and some of this misinformation can be downright dangerous. You can rest easy knowing that RDs will always give you the best advice for your own individualized needs, based on lots of education and experience.
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Wishing you health & happiness,
Stephanie and the Team (article written by Sam Penlington)
PS. If you’re looking for support and more information to help you with the Low FODMAP diet, read more about the CLAIRITY Program. This is the best way to work with me in the program I offer to meet you where you are, provide you with credible, up-to-date advice and information to get you feeling better and get back to enjoying your life. I’d love to have you join us as a member.
College of Dietitians of Alberta: http://www.collegeofdietitians.ab.ca/
College of Dietitians of British Columbia: http://collegeofdietitiansofbc.org/home/
College of Dietitians of Manitoba: http://manitobadietitians.ca/home.aspx
New Brunswick Association of Dietitians: http://www.adnb-nbad.com/
Newfoundland & Labrador College of Dietitians: http://www.nlcd.ca/
The Nova Scotia Dietetic Association: https://www.nsdassoc.ca/
College of Dietitians of Ontario: https://www.collegeofdietitians.org/
PEI Dietitians Registration Board: http://www.peidietitians.ca/
Ordre Professionnel des Diététistes du Quebec: http://opdq.org/