A Dietitian does many things, but to put it simply we promote health through food. We work with people, families, communities, cities, media, healthcare professionals and anyone you can possibly think of to achieve this. There are many types of Dietitians that function in many roles, but the primary objective is to promote health through food. This is not to mean that Dietitians are the food police, we are far from that. In fact Dietitians will often be the first to advocate for all foods belonging in all diets, we promote responsible eating to achieve better health.
You may be confused at this point because you may think that a Nutritionist or Holistic Nutritionist does the same thing. Well, you’re partially right, but a Nutritionist doesn’t have anywhere near the same amount of training, liability or qualifications that a Dietitian does. In Canada, the term Dietitian is a legally protected term. This means that anyone calling themselves a Dietitian has received a degree from an accredited university program, has completed either a strenuous Dietetic Internship or Master’s Program and has completed a competency exam to protect the public and to ensure a high standard of care. Unfortunately a Nutritionist is not a protected title and does have defined standards of training. Someone with no formal education, a person who took a weekend course at a local gym, or someone with a PhD could call themselves a Nutritionist. It is not a regulated term, and therefore can be used by anyone. Additionally, a Nutritionist does not have the same level of liability in their practice that a Dietitian has. Dietitians make recommendations to manage your health using evidence-based practice guidelines. Unfortunately this standard of care is not the same for anyone that calls himself or herself a Nutritionist. What this also means is that a Dietitian is legally and financially responsible for your health through food. We can be fined and have our licenses revoked should there be any malpractice. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about a Nutritionist.
Now at this point you may think that I’m being a bit hard on those who dish out dietary advice who aren’t qualified and/or regulated. This is because as a Dietitian, I believe that people should have the right to accurate and scientifically proven information and not be prey to whatever new trend is being touted by the likes of Dr. Oz, Hollywood celebrities, personal trainers or anyone else not fully qualified to give nutritional advice. Think of it this way, if you were renovating your house would you ask your carpenter to fix your plumbing or electrical? I’m hoping your answer would be ‘no’ because that’s exactly what’s happening when you take recommendations from someone that isn’t qualified to give you dietary advice.
Now at this point you may be wondering what a Sports Dietitian is. This is a Dietitian who has received training in addition to their dietetic license to gain specialized skills in understanding how food interacts with the body to promote the best athletic performance possible. Following the same legal, professional, and financial responsibilities that a Dietitian has, a Sports Dietitian exists to give you the best information that research has to offer. Now I bring you back to the renovation example I used earlier, because the fitness industry is notorious for taking advice from unqualified individuals that call themselves nutrition experts. I’m not saying that they don’t have any information; I’m saying that they don’t have the same knowledge or training. After all, we live in a world of information overload it’s hard to know what’s right and what’s not. Think of it this way, the fitness industry will promote hundreds of dollars in supplements to either ‘burn fat’ ‘bulk up’ ‘tone up’ or ‘enhance immunity’, but they never promote REAL food. It is not uncommon for uneducated fitness lovers to purchase hundreds of dollars in supplements each month, but completely neglect the therapeutic value of food and consume a poor diet.
If you want concrete, scientifically proven information to enhance your athletic performance through food go see a Sports Dietitian. Nutrition is the like foundation of your house or the gas to your car, so if you truly value your health and athletic performance it’s well worth the investment.
Emilie Trottier, RD, Sports Dietitian