What is a Dietitian?

What is a dietitian?

A dietitian (RD) is a regulated health professional who believes in the power of food to enhance lives and improve health. Dietitians translate the science of nutrition into terms you can understand. They can empower you to embrace food, to understand it, and to enjoy it.

Watch these short videos for career stories of dietitians working in a variety of settings.

Why would I need to see a dietitian?

Whether you are trying to manage a medical condition with a special diet, control your weight, feed your family, or interpret nutrition facts on food labels, a dietitian can help.

Contact a dietitian if you need help with:

  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Prevention or management of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, osteoporosis and kidney disease.
  • Menu planning for busy families, physically active lifestyles, vegetarian diets and budget conscious individuals.
  • Feeding your baby or toddler
  • Sports nutrition
  • Digestive problems
  • Food allergies
  • Making the right food choices to get enough calcium, iron, folate and other vitamins and minerals

Dietitians are held accountable to the highest standards of education and ethics, which means they look beyond fads and gimmicks to deliver reliable, life-changing advice. Dietitians are committed and required to staying on top of emerging research, skills, and techniques. They have the knowledge, compassion, and flexibility to help you achieve your goals based on your overall objectives as well as personal needs and challenges.

Is there a difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

Dietitian is a protected title across Canada, just like physician, nurse and pharmacist.  Nutritionist is also a protected title in Alberta, Quebec and Nova Scotia. Refer to this table for details by province.  Some dietitians have a job title that includes nutritionist such as "community nutritionist".  To be sure you are accessing the most qualified nutrition professional, look for the initials RD or PDt (DtP in French) after the health professional's name.  

Dietitians have a degree in foods and nutrition from an accredited university program and undergo comprehensive and rigorous training, both on the job and in universities. Just like all regulated health professionals, dietitians are committed and required to stay on top of emerging research, skills, and techniques. They adhere to Principles of Professional Practice.
Why see a provincially regulated professional? 
It’s one way you can be assured the advice and information you are receiving is sound. You wouldn’t ask a celebrity how to build a safe bridge, you’d ask a professional engineer. You wouldn’t ask your neighbour who has an interest in medicine to provide you with medical advice. The same thinking should apply for nutrition advice.  Dietitians, just like engineers and medical doctors, are accountable to provincial regulatory bodies for the highest standards of education and ethics. These provincial regulatory bodies are in place to protect the public. They also serve as a point of contact for consumer complaints and malpractice. For more information or to verify if your nutrition provider is registered, contact the regulatory body in your province.

Titles like Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Nutritional Practitioner, RONP, RNCP, ROHP, RHN, CNP are not the same as Registered Dietitian and do not indicate the person is a provincially regulated health professional. They are often used by those who have completed privately owned training programs that vary in length and rigor. 

Make sure to check the qualifications of any health professional that provides advice on health and nutrition, especially when it comes to children.  Getting the wrong advice could be harmful.

Where do dietitians work?

Dietitians are working everywhere - whether collaborating with other healthcare professionals, undertaking scientific research, driving innovation in the food industry, informing public policy, or working with patients and communities across the country.

See the chart below for some examples of what dietitians do in different work settings.


What do dietitians do?

In hospitals

Assess and plan nutrition care for ill patients

Counsel patients who require special diets for their medical condition

Ensure patient meals are high quality and prepared and delivered safely

In nursing homes

Plan menus that will provide the best nutrition for residents

Ensure meals are prepared and delivered safely

In community health centres and public health units

Identify health problems in the community

Assess the nutrition needs of population groups and communities

Plan and deliver nutrition education programs

Develop nutrition education materials and tools

Increase access to food for those with limited income, transportation or who are isolated

Help individuals and communities stay healthy

In diabetes education centres

Educate and counsel clients who are living with diabetes or trying to prevent diabetes

In people’s homes

Counsel people who are housebound on special diets

Train and educate people who are on feeding tubes

Help families plan healthy menus

In the pharmaceutical industry

Educate doctors, nurses, pharmacists, sales staff and other dietitians on new products and research

Plan and deliver continuing education opportunities for health care professionals and consumers

In the food industry

Research and develop healthier food products

Educate consumers on food, nutrition and health

Consult with marketing and food service associations

Develop, promote and market better food and nutrition products

Ensure manufacturers follow regulations around food labeling and nutrition claims.

In government

Develop food and nutrition policies

Provide strategic advice on nutrition issues for different levels of government and different ministries

In education

Teach nutrition to students in dietetics, nursing, medicine, kinesiology, etc

Mentor future dietitians

Teach nutrition to pharmacy, nursing, medicine, and dentistry students

Support development of nutrition research skills

In research

Plan and direct research projects to increase knowledge of the relationship between nutrition and health

In sports and recreation

Help recreational and professional athletes get the most out of their activity

Counsel recreational athletes on weight loss, hydration, eating for competitions, and other nutrition concerns related to physical activity.

How do you become a dietitian?

Dietitians undergo comprehensive and rigorous training, both on the job and in universities.

To become a dietitian, one must have a university degree specializing in food and nutrition; complete a period of practical training either through an internship or Masters Degree program; and pass a national licensing exam.

Find out more about a career as a dietitian.

I’d like to see a dietitian. How do I find one in my area?

There are several ways to connect with a dietitian:

Provincial Call Centres:

These provinces have call centres where you can speak with a dietitian at no cost:

In British Columbia, call 8-1-1

In Manitoba, call toll free 1-877-830-2892 or 204-788-8248 in Winnipeg

In Ontario, call Telehealth Ontario toll free at 1-866-797-0000.

In Newfoundland & Labrador, call 8-1-1

Local Services:

  1. To find a local dietitian for individual fee for service appointments, visit Find a Dietitian and search by postal code, city and/or specialty. Your employee benefits may cover dietitian services.
  2. If you belong to a Family Health Team in Ontario, ask to speak to the dietitian.
  3. If you have diabetes or are at risk for diabetes, you can ask your doctor or self-refer to a publicly funded Diabetes Education Program.
  4. Your family doctor or specialist may be able to refer you to an outpatient clinic with access to a dietitian.
  5. Public Health Units and Community Health Centres offer counselling, free programs and workshops with access to a dietitian.  Criteria to access these services will depend on the program and organization.
  6. If you receive homecare services, you can call your case manager to see if they can have a homecare dietitian come to the house.  A physician's referral is typically not required.
  7. Some grocery stores offer fee for service appointments with dietitians along with some free programming like cooking demonstrations and workshops.  Check with your local store.


Last Update – November 2, 2018

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Dietitians look beyond fads to deliver reliable, life-changing advice. Want to unlock the potential of food? Connect with a dietitian.