Happy Dietitians' Day!

Today is March 16th. Today is also a very special day. Not only is today the day before St. Patrick's day, it is also Dietitian's Day; a day that officially celebrates all of the hard work that my colleagues and I put into getting the Registered Dietitian (RD) credentials, and helps bring awareness to what an RD is and what they can do to help you reach your nutrition goals. 

I often get called an nutritionist. While I am a dietitian, nutritionist is actually not a completely wrong title. In fact, you could say that all dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.

Dietitians (or RD, or RDN- Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, or P. Dt- Professional Dietitians) are regulated health professionals, which means that they must:  

  • Have an undergraduate degree from a nutrition program accredited by Dietitians of Canada
  • Complete a 1-year intensive nutrition internship program, following that undergraduate degree, (also accredited by Dietitians of Canada), usually based at a large, academic teaching hospital under the supervision of RDs, 
  • Pass a nationally accredited exam for registration in their province's regulatory body (here in Ontario that is the College of Dietitians of Ontario), 
  • Hold Liability insurance,  
  • Practice ethically (meaning within the guidelines of their college- the College of Dietitians of Ontario exists to protect you as the public),  
  • And complete mandatory continuing education each year which is assessed by the College of Dietitians of Ontario. 
The title 'Dietitian' is protected by law, just like physician or pharmacist which means only individuals who have completed ALL of the requirements above can call themselves a Dietitian. 

Dietitians take all of this education and experience to sort through the fads and hooky claims to present you nutrition facts based on the best research available and then translate the research into information that is practical for your everyday use. While nutritionists may do this too, you have to be careful. Nutritionist is NOT a regulated profession anywhere in North America. This means that absolutely anyone, and I mean anyone, can put a sign up over their door, start a website, or go on the Dr. Oz show and provide nutrition advice. And I get it. We all have to eat and so nutrition is something that people often take a special interest in, but just because someone says they are a nutritionist, it does not mean they have the education to provide sound, evidence-based information about the food that you are (or not eating). There are no specific requirements, or legal or ethical guidelines for the credentials of a nutritionist.  Nutritionists can advise anything they want regardless of whether that advice is based on any evidence at all. 

Dietitians can provide you with practical information and tools to make it easier for you to eat well. Contrary to the name DIETitian, we are not out to write you a strict meal plan or put you on a diet. Instead, like what many think a nutritionist might do, we look to work with you, counselling you to make changes that are meaningful and helpful to the nutrition goals you have for yourself.

Depending on the concern you have, we may focus on certain types of foods, or nutrients, but we are also considerate of your overall eating behaviours and your lifestyle. We don't usually promote quick-fixes, but instead help you develop behaviours that are lasting, sustainable and practical for you as an individual. We also usually have a 'food first' policy (unless you have a nutrient deficiency or other health concern), meaning that the best nutrition comes from whole foods, not supplements. We aim to help you develop balance- an all foods fit in moderation mentality and thus we also help you examine your behaviour surrounding your eating habits. 

You can be confident that any counselling or advice provided to you by a dietitian is backed by the best available evidence and clinical research.  

Wondering if your nutritionist is a Dietitian? 

Dietitians work in many different settings including in the community, health care centres, food service, private practices, or academia. To find out if your nutritionist is a Dietitian, look for the credentials, RD, RDN, or P. Dt (Dt. P in Quebec). You can also search for them on your province's college. For example, here is the link to the College of Dietitians of Ontario Registry (you can search for me if you want!). 

Happy Dietitians' Day!

I'm off to eat some celebratory cake (because all foods really do fit!). 

- Kath  

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