For a long time, there have been reports of a huge divide between nutritionists and dietitians. But, is this divide real or just a lack of understanding on what each discipline can offer and do?
Through this article, we will help to explain the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist and dispel some of the myths surrounding both professions!
A dietitian must complete a 4-year university degree and demonstrate core competencies, which can be done via a one-year internship or by completing a master’s degree. At that point, they are eligible to write a Registration exam, which would permit them to work in the field. The term “dietitian” is a protected title that guarantees someone has undergone all of the above education and training, and is properly registered.
Nutritionists receive a diploma after one or two years of schooling, which usually includes case studies, a co-op placement and/or exam. Although there are great nutrition schools in Canada, not everyone who calls themselves a nutritionist, has adequate training. The title “nutritionist” is not a protected title in most provinces, meaning that someone who has taken a weekend course or basic training can legally call themselves a nutritionist. This information is not meant to serve as a deterrent to consulting with a nutritionist, rather as reason to understand an individual’s specific training.
Dietitian training is academic, quite theoretical, science and institutional based and provides nutrition approaches that have been already proved through research. Nutritionist training is also evidence based with theory and science, although tends be a more holistic, with a more hands on approach and with more practical tools and strategies.
Another important distinction is that dietitians are regulated and nutritionist are not. The job of regulation is to protect the public, not the practitioner. So, to become regulated in Ontario for example, a profession must prove to be a danger to the public. This is a major factor into why nutritionists are not regulated, as they do not break the skin (with needles, for example)
Many people hold regulated health professionals in higher regard, however regulation does come with its drawbacks. In addition to the high costs associated with regulation, dietitians are bound by very strict guidelines and rules. Since nutritionists are not regulated, they are not bound by the same restrictions or regulations and have more freedom to recommend nutrition strategies that are newly emerging in science but as yet to have the vigorous studies to consolidate specific outcomes.
Dietitians can recommend supplements such as vitamins and minerals based on the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), and only in certain circumstances where the need is higher can they recommend an increased dose, but once approved, it can only be prescribed by a doctor. Though they can recommend a supplement where there is a known deficiency, they are not allowed to recommend orthomolecular/therapeutic doses of nutrients, herbs such as adaptogens, enzymes, or essential oils, while nutritionists can. Unlike nutritionists, dietitians are prohibited to make profit from the sale of supplements.
Dietitians tend to rely on supplementary products such as Boost and Ensure since these are accessible in hospitals, stores, and the local pharmacy, as well as long term care facilities. Nutritionists often avoid these products and tend to rely on more natural options, taking care to avoid sugars, additives, and preservatives found in local health food stores.
Canadian Food Guide
Canada’s Food Guide has, in the past, been the template for the actions of dietitians; while nutritionists rely on the information divulged by the client to build an individualized protocol. That said, individual dietitians vary in their approach with the Canadian Food guide, some follow it “loosely” and others who follow it completely. However, the newest version of Canada’s Food Guide is actually a much better representation of a healthy diet plan and brings the two disciplines closer from an overall nutrition perspective.
Medical Versus Alternative Medicine
Dietitians are trained to work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and supermarkets, often alongside or under family doctors and tend to follow a more medical approach to adjusting dietary habits. Dietitians can, at times, be more calorie focused and make macronutrient recommendations regarding protein, fat and carbohydrate amounts in the diet. That said, many of the “new school dietitians” are now focusing on a more holistic approach and consider more than just “calories in versus calories out”.
Nutritionists are often seen working alongside Naturopathic Doctors or Chiropractors, in health food stores, or in private practice. Most nutritionists follow a holistic approach which focuses on implementing therapeutic foods, supplements, lifestyle recommendations, and trying to support the body through addressing underlying root causes of health imbalances. Most frequently, people turn to a nutritionist when they feel their health needs were not met by conventional medicine.
The distinct approaches lead to the realization that dietitians use their expertise to address medical conditions and have a tendency to follow a medical model, while nutritionists have freedom outside the medical model and are focused on restoring or maintaining optimal health and finding root cause.
Making the decision to consult with a nutritionist or a dietitian is based on your individual needs, comfort level, and values.
We have both nutritionists and dietitians on our team at Koru Nutrition! It is hoped that the information above has helped provide insight into what would be the best approach and clinician for you!