8 Facts About Dietitians

Food is something that each and every one of us needs to survive. However, if you have an illness or an allergy this can make planning meals difficult.

Can I eat this? Is this healthy for me? Does this food contain the thing that I am allergic to?

Although we might think we know the answers to these questions there is more to your diet then what you actually eat. Diets reflect our lifestyles so outside perspectives are valuable and therefore help us achieve our diet goals.

Family and friends are good perspectives but sometimes you need better help. This “help” is actually a career and the people doing it are dietitians.

This week FoodGrads is examining the helpful role of Dietitians and how they use nutrition and food science to help people improve their health.

1. Dietitians are experts in human nutrition

Dietitians are:

qualified professionals who are experts in the field of nutrition. They work in a variety of settings including hospitals, long term care facilities, community/public health facilities and businesses. Dietitians speak with clients one on one evaluating their lifestyles, nutritional, and health needs. Using this information they can develop meals tailored to their patients.

In addition, these professionals translate nutritional science into understandable, practical eating advice that patients can use to improve their health. This information can be used in national campaigns like the Canadian Food Guide or be used to develop government, educational and industry policies. However, this knowledge translation is traditionally used to demystify the complexity of nutritional science for patients.

Some dietitians work with food businesses to develop products which are nutritionally healthy. They so this by working with Research and Development teams, advising on ingredient choices and manufacturing processes.

There are huge opportunities for dietetic students in the food industry.  Students are trained for clinical and industry jobs.   Regulatory positions would be an obvious career path.

2. Dietitians are not the same as nutritionists

Many people interchange the terms “nutritionist” and “dietitian” without realizing the two are not the same terms. Some dietitians can have nutritionist in their job title but the title of “dietitian” is a protected title across Canada.

Dietitians have degrees in food and nutrition from accredited university program and have extensive training working in the field. You can tell if someone is a registered dietitian by the initials RD or PDt (DtP in French) after the health professional’s name. Overall, dietitians work under a regulated body.

Nutritionists in comparison have varying levels of nutritional education with some not having any education at all. You can become a “self-taught” nutritionist and even start your own practice. Being a nutritionist does not require you to have a special title with the exception of Quebec, Alberta, and Nova Scotia.  These provinces also require you to have educational backgrounds in accredited food and science university programs.

Overall, the main difference between Nutritionists and Dietitians is that Nutritionists are not held accountable by a regulatory college, so anyone can use the Nutritionist title.

3. Dietitians have this education

Although there is a bit of variance across countries generally to become a dietitian you first need to obtain an undergraduate degree. In Canada the degree must be accredited by the Partnership for Dietetic Education and Practice (PDEP). These programs include a range of subjects such as:

  • foundational science (chemistry, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology)
  • social sciences and communications
  • profession-related courses such as nutrition needs throughout the human lifecycle, specific disease and chronic disease interventions, community nutrition and population health, and food service management.

As well as education, dietitians need work experience in the form of at least 1250 hours of supervised, hands-on training in food systems, disease management, population health, communications and counselling. Some undergraduate programs include opportunities to complete the necessary practicum/ experiential components and others do not. Finally, they must pass a registration exam to become a regulated health professional.

For more information please check out: Dietitians of Canada

4. Dietitians work in diverse roles

When you think of dietitians it is is likely you think of them sitting with a patient talking to them about their diets and setting up meal plans. There are so many other places that a dietitian can work. They aren’t just limited to that field of work! Here are some of the roles that a dietitian can take in the field:

Practitioners: specializing in working with individuals and groups to improve eating habits and address the nutritional needs of people. These dietitians work one on one with clients figuring where they need help most with their diets.
Policy Makers: Using a solid understanding of nutrition, policy makers advise governments at all levels to develop for population health strategies and regulatory measures. They map, review and monitor food/ nutrition security priorities, policies and objectives. As well, coordinate the development of a nutrition research agenda and oversee if it is implement correctly.
Communications Specialist: This role refers to the broad category of dietitians who perform research, management, and support. They work in the areas of corporate communications, public relations, and government relations. They translate complicated nutrition science into something that can be used by even laypeople.
Educators: They teach future dietitians what they need to know to become dietitians. This role includes health professionals, professors and teachers.

5. Dietitians share good information

In a world of social media and online influencers it is difficult to know who to trust for information surrounding your diet. Dietitians are a smart place to look when you have doubts. After all these trusted sources have gone to school for this so they know what they are talking about!

Dietitians help to dispel the incorrect information which circles around from unregulated and unqualified sources. These sources include social media, magazines and even family/friends. This is dispelled using scientific evidence and their years of work experience.

6. Dietitians continuously perform research

According to the Dietitians of Canada not only is ongoing professional development a core value but also a requirement. Food research is continuously occurring around the world and new studies can lead to new insights for nutritional science.

For example, a new research study could provide an understanding as to why an individual develops a particular disease. A dietitian could develop a diet plan based on the results of these new studies. Continuous learning is an exciting part of this profession!

7. Dietitians work with one on one with clients

At the core it is a dietitians job to help people meet all their nutritional needs and lead happier, healthier lives. Patients want healthcare workers who are passionate and feel as though they are being taken care of. Many dietitians greatly enjoy this aspect of their jobs.

8. Dietitians have these set of skills

Being a dietitian requires a range of skills however there are a few which are more essential than others. These skills include:

  • Communication- Dietitians need to have the ability to break down the complex science and explain it in a way which a client will understand. For example, explaining to a client why they need to eat a reduced sugar diet for their hearts or such. These professionals communication is the ways of public speaking, informational writing and simply talking face to face.

  • Interpretation skills-  Dietitians need to take complex scientific information and it into an accessible diet for clients. Dietitians that work for big companies use this same information and create new food products out of it. Professionals who can read, understand, and interpret research data are better able to communicate that information clearly and provide context for laypeople.
  • Organizational- Dietitians often work with a numerous amount of clients. In order to manage all these clients, dietitians must be organized. This is done through careful records, staying on top of routine administrative takes and managing their time. One dietitian working at a long term care centre could have to manage meal plans for over 10 people!

Author: Veronica Hislop – Veronica is a recent FoodGrad working as Quality Assurance Technician at a snack food company. She graduated with a Chemistry degree at Ryerson University and has a passion for bringing awareness to sustainability in the food industry. When Veronica is taking a break from her food endeavors you will find her at home reading a great novel and playing with her cats.


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