Registered Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: What’s the difference?

A Registered Dietitian (RD) is a regulated health professional that is qualified to provide advice on nutrition, food and making healthy choices to improve your health or manage a medical issue/ condition. Registered Dietitians translate the complex science of nutrition into terms you can understand. They also help you to unlock food’s potential to make everyday health eating realistic, understandable and enjoyable.

A dietitian would not just hand you a diet or a list of foods not to eat and send you on your way or promote/sell you unnecessary food or supplements. Dietitians look beyond fads and gimmicks to deliver reliable, life-changing advice that is individualized to your personal goals and challenges. Registered Dietitians are your trusted experts in nutrition.

The titles “Dietitian” or “Registered Dietitian” are protected by law across Canada, just like Physician, Nurse and Pharmacist. This means that only someone who has met the specific educational and professional requirements is legally allowed to use these titles and the initials, RD. In Ontario, the title “nutritionist” is NOT protected legally- meaning that anyone can self-proclaim themselves as a nutritionist. Some provinces in Canada have introduced legislation (I.e. Alberta) to also protect the title of “nutritionist” to reduce confusion and keep the public safe.

All Registered Dietitians are regulated health professionals. Dietitians in Ontario are members of the College of Dietitians of Ontario (every province has its own college). As a member of the college, an RD must practice according to set standards and laws that protect the public. In Ontario, titles such as nutritionist, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Nutritional Practitioner etc. are not accepted legally as an experts and they are not regulated by a legal body thus there are no standards for their quality of care.

To become a dietitian, you need to complete an accredited four-year undergraduate degree in a nutrition. After completing the degree requirements, graduates compete for a limited number of spots in either an Internship or combined Graduate program. The Internship/Graduate programs provide practical training and further learning in a multitude of settings. Upon completion of either program, candidates must write and pass a national registration exam to obtain their license. Like all regulated health professionals, Dietitians are required to complete additional education and engage in ongoing learning to maintain their competence in the profession. In contrast, Nutritionists are not required to complete any formalized training or education and are not regulated by any provincially recognized governing body.

Sources: Dietitians of Canada, College of Dietitians of Ontario, Unlock