Dietitians vs. Nutritionists

What is the difference? Turns out, a lot.

What is a Registered Dietitian?

Just like physicians, nurses and pharmacists, not just anybody can call themselves a Dietitian! All of these titles are government legislated, regulated and protected titles under the Health Professions Act. There are a few ways a dietitian can refer to themselves – Registered Dietitian, Registered Nutritionist, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, or simply Dietitian. In order to use any of the above titles, one must:


Complete a 4-year bachelor’s degree with a specialization in human nutrition


Complete a 1-year internship with rotations in hospital, community, clinical and food service settings


Pass a national registration exam


Meet annual continuing education requirements (Yay to audits!)

Regardless of which term one chooses, a dietitian is an expert in the science of food and nutrition. We work in a variety of clinical and community settings, and are dedicated to evidence-based practice in nutrition and food. Many Dietitians work in the treatment/prevention of disease in hospitals, clinics or private practice. Some Dietitians also work in community/public health settings as well as food and nutrition industry.

Some Dietitians have further degrees, such as Masters Degrees and PhDs. Our recommendations must be evidence-based and we are well-versed in scientific studies. Since Registered Dietitians must go through rigorous academic programs that focus on patho-physiology, metabolism, and biochemistry, only dietitians are legally able to provide medical nutrition therapy (think tube-feeding and IV nutrition) in hospital or medical clinics. If you’re unsure, look for RD, RDN or Dt.P (French) behind a name.

For more information on the training and legislation of our profession visit: the College of Dietitians of Alberta and Dietitians of Canada‘s page on “Difference between Dietitians and Nutritionists“.

What is a Nutritionist?

Note that “Nutritionist” is an unregulated term in most provinces and states in North America. Other commonly seen titles are used by those who have completed training programs that vary in length and rigor and are privately owned. Such training programs are not delivered or accredited by a recognized institution.

Fortunately, as of September 2016, “Nutritionist” is a protected and regulated title in Alberta, Quebec and Nova Scotia. This means that only Registered Dietitians can call themselves Nutritionists in these provinces!

The downside is, the protection only applies to the above-mentioned areas. In most provinces and states in North America and abroad, the term “Nutritionist” remains unregulated.


The Key Distinction?

While all dietitians are nutritionists, not all nutritionists are dietitians.