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Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: What’s the difference?

These two titles often get confused, so this article helps clarify their differences

The difference between a dietitian and nutritionist  depends where you live. In both Canada and the USA, in order for someone to call themselves a “dietitian” (or “registered dietitian”, “RD”) they need specific education and qualifications,  whereas the term “nutritionist” doesn’t always require the same qualifications (depending where you live). Essentially, all dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.

This is explained further below, but just know that the title “dietitian” is always protected by law (and indicates a qualified health care professional). 

In Canada...

Throughout all of Canada, “dietitian”, “registered dietitian”, and “RD” are protected titles (meaning they must go through specific education and training, and are accountable to provincial regulatory bodies). “Registered” (and “RD) means they have passed a national registration exam. 

“Nutritionist” is a protected title only in some provinces (Alberta, Quebec, and Nova Scotia). In these provinces, a “nutritionist (or “registered nutritionist”) has the same qualifications as a dietitian (the titles are synonymous). In all other provinces and territories, “nutritionist” is not a protected title, meaning that anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist” (even if they don’t have any nutrition education). This is why “nutritionist” is a less reliable indicator of education/qualifications than the term “dietitian” 

In the United States...

Generally, in the US the title “dietitian” indicates more extensive education and qualification than the title “nutritionist”.

Canadian dietetics education

Below is the education that dietitians in Canada must undergo before using the protected title:

  • Accredited university program: A 5 year integrated program (where there’s 4 years of undergraduate academic classes and 1 year of internship). Depending where you live in Canada, a masters degree may also be required.
  • 1 year internship (including hospital, community, clinical, and community rotations).
  • Pass the national registration exam
  • Register with their provincial College of Dietitians
  • Complete yearly continuing education requirements

Read more about how to become a dietitian in Canada here.

What do dietitians do?

Dietitians are passionate about food and its relationship to physical and mental health. They work in many different environments (hospitals, private clinics, communities, food service) to provide evidence-based nutrition advice, education, and support to clients.

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