It’s common for people to think that Dietitians and Nutritionists do the same thing, but the truth is these two professions are very different in terms of education, qualifications, and day-to-day roles. Let’s start by looking at what a dietitian does and how to become a dietitian, and then we’ll look at the same thing for nutritionists.
What does a Dietitian do?
Dietitians don’t just follow the newest diet trends and make standardized recommendations to their patients. Instead, they develop diet and nutrition programs tailored to an individual’s objectives and personal needs. However, Dietitians don’t just work with individual clients; they also work with stakeholders within the industry to ensure best health and nutrition practices are being followed.
Dietitians help improve the health of Canadians by working with:
- Doctors: to improve eating habits of individuals with complex health issues
- Policy makers: to help the government at all levels create health strategies for the Canadian population
- Industry leaders: to consult on food systems, food sustainability, food service management, production, and marketing
- Market researchers: to help conduct research to better understand food science
- Educators such as school teachers: to teach students about the Dietitian profession
But what do dietitians actually do in their day-to-day roles? Dietitians use their training in counselling and food sciences to perform the following duties:
- Help individuals make healthy food choices
- Influence food-related policy developments
- Educate individuals, governments, education facilities, and industries on nutrition programs
- Help public and private establishments manage quality food services
- Conduct nutrition research
- Create diet plans for individuals with health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, allergies, and obesity
- Provide education and advice for complex nutritional requirements such as intravenous feeding, negative nutrients, nutritional supplements, food safety storage, diet and drug interactions, and more
For more information about how Dietitians promote health through food and nutrition, visit this link.
How to Become a Registered Dietitian (RD)
The terms “Dietitian” and “Registered Dietitian” are protected titles across Canada. This means that in order for individuals to use the Dietitian or Registered Dietitian title, they must register with a dietetic regulatory body in the province in which they practice. In Ontario, this provincial regulatory body is the College of Dietitians of Ontario.
For an individual to become a Registered Dietitian, the following requirements must be completed:
- An undergraduate degree in human nutrition and dietetics from a program that is accredited by the Partnership for Dietetic Education and Practice (PDEP)
- At least 1250 hours of supervised hands-on experience in counselling, disease management, population health, and food systems
- The completion of the Canadian Dietetic Registration Examination (CDRE)
- Masters Degrees and PhDs are optional but are not a requirement
What does a Nutritionist do?
Unlike Dietitians, Nutritionists primarily work with individual clients. As an expert in food and nutrition, Nutritionists advise people how to live a more healthy lifestyle and achieve health-related goals. Nutritionists perform the following duties:
- Develop a diet and exercise plan for individual clients
- Support clients through regular meetings
- Track clients’ progress and motivate individuals to stick to diet plans
- Coordinate and lead group or individual cooking classes
- Promote health and nutrition by giving presentations about the importance of food nutrition
- Assess individuals’ overall health including sleeping habits
How to Become a Nutritionist
Individuals that refer to themselves as Nutritionists can have varying levels of education – and sometimes, may have no nutritional education at all. This is because there are no regulatory bodies governing titles such as:
- Health Coach
- Registered Nutritionist
- Wellness Coach
- Nutrition Specialist
There are some cases where the titles Nutritionist and Registered Nutritionist are protected, for example in Quebec, Alberta, and Nova Scotia, but these are the few exceptions.
You may see individuals with trademarked titles such as Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN); however, these titles do not indicate that the individual is a regulated health professional.
So, how do you become a Nutritionist? You can complete a college program like the Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyle Program offered at Humber College, you can do your own readings online, or you can do nothing at all. The main difference between Nutritionists and Dietitians is that Nutritionists are not held accountable by a regulatory college, so anyone can use the Nutritionist title. However, if you’re looking to make a career as a Nutritionist, it’s best to gain as much educational and hands-on experience as possible.
Even though Nutritionists aren’t regulated, it doesn’t mean that they don’t offer good advice. Some Nutritionists may actually have extensive education in diet and nutrition. Some may even have bachelor’s degrees, just like a Dietitian. However, for individuals to call themselves a Nutritionist, mandatory education is not required most of the time.