pile of citrus fruit and juice with stethoscope dietitian vs nutritionist food as medicine

Dietitian vs nutritionist – is there a difference?

People ask me all the time: dietitian vs nutritionist? Who should I choose to work with? Is there really a difference?

Well, yes there is a difference.

One might not be ‘better’ than the other. It might depend on what you’re looking for help with. But before making a decision about anything, it’s really important to understand. So you can make informed choices.

I don’t believe that there is any ONE definitive nutrition expert. I’m a Registered Dietitian, I spent 5 years learning about how the body works and how to use food as therapy through my university degree and internship program. Then another 8+ years working with older adults in long-term care. At the end of the day, what I’ve come across time and again is that ultimately, you know your body best and there is no ONE thing that will help everyone in every situation.

 

Anyone can call themselves a nutrition expert

Did you know there are countless people who call themself a nutrition expert? In this time of Google and Social Media, it’s almost impossible to click anywhere without seeing someone telling you they have THE ANSWER to all your health and dietary needs … usually for a price. They’re convincing, they sound like they know what they’re talking about. Does that mean you can or should trust them? Who am I talking about? Anyone from doctors to personal trainers, nutritionists to movie stars, naturopaths, lifestyle coaches, wellness gurus, ‘experts’ and more. Some are regulated, while many are not. You may also be interested to see my post about what Regulation means when you are choosing a nutrition care provider, RDs are Regulated Health Professionals.

 

Here’s a closer look at how different people learn and use nutrition in their work:

Title Regulated? Nutrition Knowledge Assets

Risks

Doctor, MD

Provincial College to practice medicine, not for providing nutrition advice Some exposure to nutrition through degree. Patient experiences · Expertise in how the body works

·  May not always understand how food is used by the body in a variety of situations

·  Consults are short and health issue-focused, not intended for in-depth individual nutrition assessment or treatment

Pharmacist Provincial college to give medication advice, not for nutrition advice

 

Food and medication interactions · Expertise on medications and treatments of health conditions · Consults are short and medication-focused, not intended for in-depth individual nutrition assessment or treatment
Naturopathic Doctor, ND Provincial college, depending on the province, to practice medicine not for nutrition advice

 

Some exposure to nutrition through degree. Patient experiences · Expertise on alternative/ natural treatments of health conditions, how the body works

 

·  May not always understand how food is used by the body in a variety of situations

·  Consults are short and health issue-focused, not intended for in-depth individual nutrition assessment or treatment

 

Holistic Nutritionist, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Nutrition Practitioner No, should not be using the term nutritionist for provinces where Nutritionist is a protected title

 

Privately owned training programs varying in length and comprehensiveness. May have short practicum program but not in certified medical or community settings

 

+

 

board exam for some training programs

 

· Have interest in nutrition and sharing information with others

· May choose to charge less money for private sessions, however usually don’t and may charge more than an RD

· Nowhere to check eligibility to work in this field. May be registered as having graduated from their training program. No regulatory body to make complaints to about the practitioner.

· Includes any person who feels they know about nutrition based on their own experiences or information found from a variety of sources

· Unable to work in hospitals, not trained for nutrition management of diseases

· May profit from selling or promoting products which could affect what they recommend

· Often promote alternative treatments that could be unsafe or inappropriate for some people

 

Personal trainer (who is not also an RD) No Sources found on their own, own or clients’ experiences · Expertise in role of exercise for health or improved mobility

· Convenient – may be in fitness centre or work privately

 

· Providing suggestions for diet or supplements based on their own experiences

· Incomplete understanding of possible side effects with medications or health diagnoses

· Often ask for food journals, create meal plans and assess nutrition which makes it seem that they know what they are looking for or know what they are recommending

 

Movie Stars No Sources found on their own, own experiences · Able to use media to promote their beliefs

· Often motivational, likable

· Confident in their message, sound credible and knowledgeable

·  May be considered influential because of their popularity but doesn’t mean the information they share is safe or appropriate for everyone

· Often have their own reasons for their recommendations – eg. they will make money selling products/books, etc

 

Lifestyle Coaches, Wellness Gurus or ‘Experts’ No Sources found on their own, own experiences · Often motivational, likable

· Confident in their message, sound credible and knowledgeable

· Usually not a specialist in one area, often generalists

· Often provide ‘blanket’ suggestions, not individualized care based on science or facts

· May be making money from selling or promoting products or from having a social media following – eg. brands may pay for promotion or to advertise to their following

 

Nutritionist* Not regulated in most provinces. See below for exceptions.

 

May or may not have a university degree in Human Nutritional Sciences · Have interest in nutrition and sharing information with others

· May choose to charge less money for private sessions, however usually don’t and may charge more than an RD

· Nowhere to check credentials or eligibility to work in this field. No regulatory body to make complaints to about the practitioner.

· Includes any person who feels they know about nutrition based on their own experiences or information found from a variety of sources

· Unable to work in hospitals, not trained for nutrition management of diseases

· May profit from selling or promoting products which could affect what they recommend

· Often promote alternative treatments that could be unsafe or inappropriate for some people

 

Registered Dietitian, RD or PDt (DtP in French)

 

Provincial college, to give nutrition advice. Note that residents of Alberta, BC, Ontario and PEI must work with an RD registered in the resident’s home province, in order for that college to accept complaints and start investigation

 

Bachelor’s of Science degree in human nutrition, minimum 4 years

 

+

 

10-12 month practicum/ internship in clinical and community nutrition settings

 

+

 

passing score on National Dietetic Registration Exam

 

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expectation of the College that life-long learning will continue to maintain and upgrade nutrition knowledge or focus areas

 

· Expertise on how the body uses food, how food can be used to manage health conditions

· Use facts to make a safe plan for care that may include traditional and/or alternative treatments

· Work in many settings including hospitals, private practices, long term care homes, schools, policy making, food industries, government, etc

· Services may be covered by your insurance plan

· Having personal / cultural differences with your care provider – just like any health professional (dentist, doctor, etc), you just may not feel like your RD ‘gets’ you. Their suggestions are safe and ethical but don’t feel like a great fit with your lifestyle

 

Some exceptions

Registered Nutritionist and Nutritionist are protected (ie registered) titles in some Canadian provinces: Quebec, Alberta, Nova Scotia. However, in other provinces, Nutritionist is not a protected title meaning anyone can use it to describe the work they do.

*It’s important to understand there are still people who call themselves a nutritionist, including holistic nutritionist and registered holistic nutritionist in provinces where Registered and/or Nutritionist is protected.

In all cases, if someone says they are a registered professional, they should be completely transparent and upfront about who they are registered with. If you have any questions or concerns about the person giving you nutrition advice, contact your provincial College of Dietitians.

 

 

Dietitian vs Nutritionist: Building your healthcare team

Is life just better when we all work together? Just as no one method is best for every person, a team approach to your health is a great idea. This means that your healthcare team can be made up of experts in multiple areas who work together, giving you the most specialized and individual care possible.

 

I’m a huge believer that the choice is yours, as long as you have all the information you need to make that choice. In healthcare this is referred to as ‘informed consent’. When building your team, it is important to me that you include the people that will give the best of their knowledge and care, leading to your best health … no matter who they may be.

 

If working with a Registered Dietitian is something you are considering, I’d love to chat more with you.

Free Q&A call

 

Learn more about how I might be able to help you along the path to your best health: Services

 

More about dietitian vs nutritionist

Is there a difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist (Dietitians of Canada): https://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Find-A-Dietitian/Difference-Between-Dietitian-and-Nutritionist.aspx

BC government website about regulated health professions in the province, including legislation points for restricting use of certain titles (such as dentist, dietitian, midwife): https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/health/practitioner-professional-resources/professional-regulation/title-protection

 

Who’s the Nutrition Expert?