What Are Dietitians, and What Does S/He Do?
“Do dietitians just help people lose weight?” If I had a penny for every time someone asked me that, I’d be rich by now. My answer is always; they can do so much more for you!
What are dietitians?
Registered Dietitians are university-trained health professionals that undergo internship/practicums in the community and hospitals, and are regulated by a professional college. In Alberta, this professional college is the College of Dietitians of Alberta. When choosing a dietitian, choose a health professional with the title of “Registered Dietitian”, “Dietitian” or “Registered Nutritionist” to ensure that you are provided with trustworthy food and nutrition advice!
“Nutritionist” is not regulated by the government or a professional college, and so can be used by anyone. So “Buyer Beware.” There are also other health practitioners who use terms that sound like they are regulated by the government, but are not. “Registered Holistic Nutritionists” are not Registered Dietitians, and do not have the same training as Registered Dietitians.
So…what do dietitians do?
Last year my friend heard on the radio that coconut oil is the new superfood. Hearing this, she decided to cook all her meals in coconut oil, unknowing of its high saturated fat content and the inconsistent research on its health benefits. As you can see, people can be easily misinformed! A large part of a dietitian’s role is translating complex, scientific information about human nutrition and diet into nutritional advice for patients, clients, family members, and other healthcare professionals. Dietitians counsel and provide nutrition advice using scientific evidence-based information.
You can find dietitians working in a variety of settings including hospitals, schools, community centres, governments, restaurants, and private practices. Dietitians are:
· Food Experts - Dietitians counsel individuals on how to manage their diet and nutrition needs. Whether individuals have chronic diseases (i.e. diabetes), complex health problems or just want to improve their eating habits dietitians are there to support them!
· Advisors – Have you ever been confused by the different nutrition labels on all the food you buy? Dietitians are working hard with the government to make reading food labels easier! They also advise the government on public health issues such as marketing junk food to children or lowering the amount of sodium in your bag of chips.
· Leaders – You can find dietitians in hospitals, restaurants, or schools making sure the food is nutritious, safe and of high-quality.
· Researchers – Dietitians are involved in monitoring health trends like heart disease or working on preventing diseases such as obesity. They are always working to discover new ways to promote healthy lifestyles!
· Educators – Dietitians often work with health professionals (i.e. doctors), school teachers, and maybe even your local fitness instructor to increase awareness of healthy and affordable food choices.
What can a dietitian do for me?
Dietitians don’t just give you Canada’s Food Guide, they aim to help you achieve a healthy and balanced lifestyle by motivating you to become invested and engaged in your nutrition! To name a few things, dietitians can:
· Help you set healthy eating and weight goals
· Analyze and adapt your diet to meet your health and lifestyle needs
· Treat and manage diseases through individualized nutrition care plans
· Help you with label reading, saving money at the grocery store, and grocery shopping
· Give you practical ideas for meals and snacks, adapting recipes, and cooking tips
How can I access a dietitian?
If you’d like to see a dietitian you can ask your family doctor for a referral. You can also go to the Dietitians of Canada website (http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Find-A-Dietitian/Find-a-Dietitian.aspx) and search by location or by name. The names of dietitians in your area will show up along with their areas of focus so you can find a dietitian that fits your needs the best!