Canadian dietitians and nutritionists offer healthy eating and living advice in a number of capacities, but it is important to understand the distinct differences between these two professionals. International rules vary but, in Canada, a dietitian refers to an individual who has received official registration status through a provincial regulatory body. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition as well as specific, supervised training, most provinces also require the successful completion of the Canadian Dietetic Registration Examination (CDRE) in order to achieve registration status. The titles ‘dietitian,’ ‘registered dietitian,’ and ‘professional dietitian’ are all legal terms that assure you an individual has received official registration to practice as a dietitian.

In contrast, the term ‘nutritionist’ does not have any official legal status in most regions, as there are few government-mandated regulatory standards for nutritionists, so individuals with varying levels of education, experience, and accreditation will use this title. A nutritionist does not hold the same official authority of a registered dietitian, but may nonetheless be highly trained and have a valuable service to provide. Nutritionists most commonly work within community-based programs. A dietitian may also use the title ‘nutritionist’ but only a registered dietitian may use the title ‘dietitian.’

A dietitian’s education will include specific, accredited university training in science, human development, disease, community nutrition, and communications, among other core topics. Dietitians work in many different areas. Some work with clients on a one to one basis, providing customized advice regarding diet and lifestyle changes in order to manage or prevent certain diseases, such as GI conditions, diabetes, or heart disease. Dietitians often work within different levels of government, advising and participating in the development of public policy around such topics as food availability, safety, and marketing, as well as large government initiatives to spread health and nutrition awareness (e.g., school nutrition guidelines). Some dietitians choose to devote their careers to research in the areas of health promotion and disease prevention, or as teachers dedicated to training the next generation of dietitians.

To learn more about the steps to becoming a registered dietitian or finding one in your area, visit the Dietitians of Canada website at

Education/Training Dietitian Nutritionist
Bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition Yes Maybe
Completed supervised training within recognized university, hospital or other healthcare setting Yes Maybe
Registered with provincial regulatory body Yes No

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 184 – 2012