What’s the Difference Between a Nutritionist and a Dietitian?

It’s always a positive step when you are open to making necessary improvements about your diet and nutrition plan. Professional help can certainly help you along your path to better health; however, who do you choose? Do you choose a holistic nutritionist or a dietitian?

It can be quite the headache trying to decide the best option for you, but the decision shouldn’t be stressful because after all, you want to be healthy, and your stress can cause health conditions as well.

It comes down to personal preference, your health and wellness belief system, and your understanding of the differences between dietitians and nutritionists.

I am training to become a holistic nutritionist (certified nutritional practitioner) and it has definitely been an eye-opening experience so far. Here is an overview of the health professionals to help you decide which one would be a better fit for you.

What is a Holistic Nutritionist?

Holistic nutrition, as the name suggests, is a practice based upon holistic principles. It is about holistic health and it focuses on the whole person. Holistic nutritionists will take into account how diet and nutrition affects a person’s mentality, emotions, and spiritual perspective rather than only the physical body. Holistic nutritionists focus a lot on overall health and wellness rather than a medical point of view when it comes to food and nutrition. Holistic nutritionists will look at the overall health picture including preventative nutrition, food sensitivities, and allergies.

The holistic nutritionists’ belt may also include additional methods of health that they use within their holistic nutrition practice such as iridology (examination of the iris), Ayurvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, energy medicine, or homeopathy.

Some doctors and regular nutritionists may bring these methods into their practice; however, the philosophies are usually conducive to the holistic health approach. Herbal medicines, homeopathic remedies, and natural supplementation will also be part of the holistic nutrition outlook.

The holistic nutrition approach will also consist of many aspects of food and they will recommend foods based on various qualities to their clients. They will look at the client’s diet and may recommend a food journal. They recognize the importance of eating organic whole foods and avoiding processed foods, genetically modified foods, pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones. Dietitians may be familiar with the dangers of factory farming practices but that doesn’t stop them from using processed foods in hospitals.

In Canada, you can become either a registered holistic nutritionist or a certified nutritional practitioner (through a one-year full-time program or two years part-time). They also require 50 practicum hours and some holistic nutrition schools require you pass a board exam. In the U.S., there are nutrition consultants and health coaches with a holistic approach to health and wellness. There are holistic nutritionists with further education such as Bachelor’s degrees and culinary training, although it’s not required. There is currently no regulatory governing body for the term “nutritionist.”

What is a Dietitian?

A registered dietitian is also a food and nutrition expert; however, they may have more formal education. This means they have a Bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences or dietetics. They must also complete a one-year internship and a nationwide exam before they can be licensed to practice diet and nutrition consultation and must be registered with the Commission of Dietetic Registration. Some may have further education such as a Master’s degree or a PhD.

Registered dietitians will typically work in hospitals, hospital kitchens, or the school sector in the kitchen. There are some registered dietitians who also call themselves nutritionists and they will have a private nutrition practice. They may also be called consultant dietitians. Holistic nutritionists usually won’t work with doctors or within a hospital setting.

A dietitian will follow food guides and refer to calorie requirements to help with your nutrition and diet goals. This approach allows unhealthy foods to become part of your diet because the focus is on the calories and not necessarily the type of calories. On the other hand, holistic nutrition will focus more on food quality and the intake of specific macronutrients and micronutrients. Deficiencies with specific vitamins and minerals can lead to health issues that the holistic nutritionist also takes into account.

Registered dietitians and holistic nutritionists will both focus on nutrition research studies; however, dietitians will follow treatment plans that rely heavily on scientific studies that could have biased funding.

Registered dietitians may be more accessible because the service is covered by health plans with a referral from a doctor and a holistic nutritionist would only be covered by some health insurance plans.

Who Should You See?

When it comes to choosing either a holistic nutritionist or a dietitian, the main factor is the approach rather than their overall educational background. A holistic nutritionist may work with more alternative practices to help heal and improve your health. They are both taught some of the same things from a scientific approach but they may have different outlooks from a nutritional mindset. Whether you choose a holistic nutritionist or a dietitian, it will depend on your financial situation, mindset, and comfort level when it comes to the medical profession versus the health and wellness field.

Which food and diet professional would you see?

Kwan, K., “Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: Which Should You See?” HuffPost Living web site, Oct. 17, 2011; http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/10/05/dietitian-vs-nutritionist_n_996570.html#s406095&title=Check_Your_Budget.

“Dietitian vs. Nutritionist,” Diffen web site; http://www.diffen.com/difference/Dietitian_vs_Nutritionist, last accessed March 6, 2014.
“Dietitian or nutritionist: What’s the difference?” Dietitians of Canada web site; http://www.dietitians.ca/find-a-dietitian/difference-between-dietitian-and-nutritionist.aspx, last accessed March 6, 2014.
“Registered Dietitian vs. Nutritionist — What’s the Diff?” Vega web site; http://myvega.com/vega-life/vega-blog/registered-Dietitian-vs-nutritionist/, last accessed March 6, 2014.
“What is Holistic Nutrition?” Total Balanced Health web site; http://www.totalbalancedhealth.com/nutrition/what-is-holistic-nutrition/, last accessed March 6, 2014.