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What is the difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

When looking for someone to help you improve your nutrition, how do you know who to talk to? There are a lot of titles out there, and it can be confusing to choose someone to trust. To make things more confusing, the use of titles differs between provinces and countries.

Since I live in Ontario, Canada, I will outline the rules for my province, but if you live elsewhere, these rules may not apply! You can check with your province’s (or country or state) regulatory college (college of dietitians of Ontario, for example) to see what the rules are where you live.

The term ‘Dietitian’ is protected in Ontario, which means that only someone with a Registered Dietitian’s licence can call themselves a dietitian, or use the designation RD. RDs must maintain a licence in good standing with their regulatory college, which means meeting rigorous practice standards. They hold a 4-year university degree from an accredited university that includes courses in science (biology, chemistry, physiology), nutritional science, and the humanities. They then must complete an accredited internship that lasts approx. 1 year and pass the registration exam.

In contrast, the term ‘Nutritionist’ is not protected in Ontario (some provinces do protect this title), so anyone can legally call themselves a nutritionist. There is therefore no minimum education requirements or minimum practice standard needed to work as a nutritionist. There are ‘holistic nutritionists’ who have completed a program (usually online) and have therefore earned this unregulated designation.

When looking for nutrition advice, who should you choose? The saying ‘you get what you pay for’ is true with nutrition, as services from a Registered Dietitian usually cost more than from a nutritionist. That said, when seeing an RD, you know you’re getting expert, science-based and individualized advice. When seeing a nutritionist, you may or may not get nutrition advice that is safe for you. Just because everyone eats, doesn’t mean that everyone knows how to advise others on what or how to eat.

The bottom line is that Registered Dietitians are the experts in providing safe and effective nutrition advice. RDs would be happy to discuss their training with you, and their licence information is publicly available online, so do your research before receiving nutrition counselling!

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