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Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: is there a difference?

October 10, 2023

There can be a BIG difference depending on where you live.  Here’s what you need to know…

If you live in Canada or the United States, the terms dietitian and nutritionist can have very different meanings! I suggest you do your due diligence to know the difference where you live before you seek out nutrition counselling or spend any of your hard-earned money.

Hi, I’m Krista! I am a Registered Dietitian on a mission to show people how to feel better in their bodies without diets! Healthy eating shouldn’t be so restrictive + complicated. Instead, I preach balance. Eating balanced means nourishing your body and your soul so you can optimize physical health without sacrificing your mental health.

What is the difference?

Dietitian is a protected title by law throughout Canada and the United States. Therefore, when you meet with a dietitian you can trust that the nutrition advice you receive is sound (although let me be honest: there are a few bad apples in every profession!). Dietitians must meet rigorous practice standards, including an accredited 4-year or equivalent degree with appropriate courses in sciences and nutrition; an accredited dietetic internship or equivalent supervised practical training, and successful completion of the national Dietetic Registration Examination.

Nutritionist is not a protected term throughout Canada and the United States. There are some provinces and states that do protect the term Nutritionist for Registered Dietitians to use, so they’re called “Registered Dietitian Nutritionists” (RDNs). However, many provinces and states still don’t protect that term.  Where I live, in Ontario, the title nutritionist is still not protected. Therefore, anyone can call themselves and practice as a nutritionist here – whether they have a nutrition degree or not! Yes, you read that right. As it stands today while I write this, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist in Ontario.

What does that mean for you?

It means you need to know the difference and you need to do a little research before booking your appointment.  Any Registered Dietitian I know would be happy to tell you about how many years it took to complete our degree(s), how many hours we spent at our unpaid internships, and what additional training(s) we’ve done. If someone gets offended by you asking about their background or experience, I’d say run the other way.

The other significant difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist depending on where you live is the regulatory body. For me in Ontario, I am a member of the College of Dietitians of Ontario (CDO) whose job is to protect you – the public. Our college regulates Dietitians throughout the province to protect you – so that you can know that when you’re speaking to a Registered Dietitian in Ontario they are qualified. For our regulatory body, we must do yearly learning plans, goal setting, and continued education, we must hold liability insurance, complete jurisprudence exams, and we must follow all the policies and procedures outlined for us.  There is currently no nutritionist regulatory body here in Ontario.

What else should you know?

With that said, I want to make sure I get one more point across. My advice is not that all dietitians are *good* and all nutritionists are *bad*!
I am certain there are numerous examples of exceptions to this statement.  Some nutritionists could be very qualified with bachelor degrees, masters degrees and phD’s but decided not to become a Registered Dietitian.  I know someone personally who refers to herself as a nutritionist who completed her degree but had difficulty finding an internship in dietetics (as it’s super competitive) and therefore, never went on to become a dietitian. She is still very educated.

So instead, my advice is this: when you are seeking advice from a nutrition professional, before you pay any money – do your research! Check out their educational background, certifications, professional experience, coaching style, personality, etc to make sure it fits exactly what you’re looking for. I’m an open book – if you would like to see more about me and my background, click here!

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