Nutrition can be confusing. There is a lot of information out there and a lot of people with different opinions as to what is best about your health. What’s the most frustrating is that even when you close the computer and seek a professional’s input, many do not know who exactly to turn to.
Many professionals in nutrition use different titles, but not all titles are the same or are even protected, meaning anyone can use them. Often, these titles are a variation of Nutritionist or Dietitian (sometimes seen Dietician). What isn’t known is that these two titles are not interchangeable, and which your professional uses could have major impacts on your health.
Technically speaking, anyone can use the title Nutritionist. In North America, the term is only protected in the provinces of Nova Scotia, Alberta and Quebec. Many times people who use this term, or a variation, have completed some sort of nutrition course that takes between a few months to a few years. These include Registered Holistic Nutritionists, Certified Nutritional Practitioner, Health Couch and Nutrition Consultant.
Due to the lack of regulation, “nutritionists” can have a variety of education and experience. Further, you will not find these individuals in medical centres as they are not clinically-trained.
Dietitian is a legally protected term used in the USA, Canada, Australia, UK and South Africa based on their own set education standards. In most cases, including the USA and Canada, dietitians must complete an accredited 4-year bachelor degree in nutritional sciences, a year-long internship and complete a regulatory test before using the term.
Many dieitians refer to themselves as nutritionists however, especially when working outside the clinical setting, due to the familiarity of the word and their focus on healthy nutrition. Dietitians can work in a variety of locations such as hospital, public health, sports and recreation, and government.
Dietitians are also held to standards of their regulating board, which they must register with each year. This ensures that they use best practices and only use evidence-based research in their recommendations.
Why you should care
Which professional you consult is really up to your personal preference. However, you should be aware of the types of questions you should be asking. What is their education? Where were they trained? Who holds them accountable? After all, nutrition can have a huge impact on your health so you and the professional you use should take it seriously and be safe.