Dietitian vs. Nutritionist – What’s the Difference!

A common question I always get asked is, “what’s the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?” Many people are under the false impression that these titles mean the same thing when in fact they don’t. Before I explain the difference between the two, I want to first point out that I am not here to criticize anyone who is not a dietitian because I truly praise anyone who is trying to improve the health of this world! My goal, however, is to educate and empower you all to make informed decisions, especially when it comes down to where and who you seek your nutrition information from. After all, just because someone has 10K followers on Instagram, a nice set of abs, and claims they are a “nutritionist” does NOT mean they are qualified to be providing nutrition advice.

(Of note, the information below is specific to Canada since I am a Canadian citizen.)

Registered Dietitian (RD) is a protected title across Canada, which means that only individuals who are registered with a provincial regulatory body can call themselves a dietitian. Just like physicians and nurses, dietitians are regulated healthcare professionals and required to follow the highest standards of education and ethics. These provincial regulatory bodies (e.g., College of Dietitians of Ontario) control for malpractice and ensure public protection.

What is a Nutritionist?

In most provinces including Ontario, the title “nutritionist” is not protected by law. In other words, anyone can legally refer to themselves as a nutritionist and provide nutrition recommendations regardless of their education or training, and with no accountability to uphold safe standards of practice. So your old neighbour who told you they were a nutritionist may or may not have done absolutely nothing to obtain this title. Scary right?

Despite being unregulated, this is not to say that some nutritionists do not have extensive education in food and nutrition. For example, Registered Holistic Nutritionists in Ontario complete a 1-2 year program and board exam with Canadian School of Natural Nutrition (CSNN). I have many friends who pursued this route and they have incredible knowledge and skills so if you are currently working with a nutritionist or interested in working with one then all the power to ya! Rather I am emphasizing the importance of always checking for credentials, education, and overall credibility before someone tells you what and how to eat.

But just to confuse you even more, nutritionist IS a protected title in Alberta, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, meaning only dietitians can call themselves a nutritionist in these provinces. You’re probably wondering why this isn’t standardized across the country and with the lack of understanding from the public and potential risk of harm, I totally agree, but that’s a whole other discussion within itself.

What is a Registered Dietitian?

Simply put, dietitians are the nutrition experts as they undergo comprehensive and rigorous education. To become a Registered Dietitian, one must:

  • Complete an undergraduate degree in human nutrition and dietetics from an accredited university program
  • Complete at least 1200 hours of supervised practical training in clinical, population/public health and food service settings
  • Complete and pass the Canadian Dietetic Registration Examination
  • Some also complete Masters and/or Doctorate programs, although this is optional in Canada

Dietitians are required to practice ethically and stay on top of emerging research, skills, and techniques. They can provide medical nutrition therapy for medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, celiac disease, irritable bowel disease, etc. whereas nutritionists cannot. Moreover, you’ll catch dietitians working in hospitals, nursing homes, family health teams, public health units, community health centres, the food industry, academia and more.

Contrary to popular belief, dietitians do not “put people on diets” (especially not fad diets) or sell supplements. With that being said, if anyone is trying to sell you a weight loss supplement or promote some magical food that boasts easy and fast changes… laugh out loud (please don’t fall for gimmicks). Instead of investing in bogus, dietitians can help you live a healthier and happier life by providing non-judgemental, practical, and evidence-based advice that will lead to long-term success. They take into account all aspects of health and use an individualized approach based on your needs. Lastly, dietitians are not the food police – in fact, many dietitians take pride in the philosophy “all foods fit” (myself included). If you want to nourish your body while continuing to enjoy the foods you love, click here to work with me:


Dietitians can call themselves a dietitian and/or a nutritionist but nutritionists cannot call themselves a dietitian in most Canadian provinces. A dietitian is a regulated healthcare professional with comprehensive education and training; therefore, you can be assured the advice and information you are receiving is sound. This also applies to nutrition information you find on social media – do not trust everything you read! Always consider your sources.

Interested in working with a dietitian? Find one here.

Considering dietetics as a profession? Learn more here.