Nutritionist - What They Do

Dietitians and nutritionists plan, implement and oversee nutrition and food service programs. They are employed in a variety of settings including hospitals, home health-care agencies and extended care facilities, community health centres, the food and beverage industry, educational institutions, and government and sports organizations, or they may work as private consultants.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Develop, administer and supervise nutrition and food preparation and service programs in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, company cafeterias or similar settings
  • Provide nutrition guidance, label interpretation and consultation services to health professionals, individuals, dietetic interns, community groups, government and the media
  • Evaluate nutritional status of individuals and aid in the prevention and/or treatment of inadequate nutrition
  • Plan, evaluate and conduct nutrition education programs and develop educational materials for various audiences
  • Practice on an individual basis or as a member of an interdisciplinary team to determine nutritional needs of patients and to plan, implement and evaluate normal and therapeutic menus to maintain and enhance general health
  • Analyze current scientific nutritional studies, conduct research and evaluate program effectiveness to improve the nutritional value, taste, appearance and preparation of food
  • Work within industry in the development, testing and evaluation, and marketing of food and nutrition products or as a company representative supplying product related information to health professionals
  • Confer with other health professionals, community groups, government and the media to provide consultation and advice in areas of nutrition interpretation, intervention and policy
  • Supervise training of dietetic interns.
  • Dietitians and nutritionists may specialize in areas such as administrative dietetics, clinical dietetics, community dietetics, public health nutrition or research dietetics.

Job titles

  • public health nutritionist
  • dietitian-nutritionist
  • public health dietitian
  • research dietitian
  • nutrition specialist
  • administrative dietitian
  • clinical dietitian
  • community nutritionist
  • consultant dietitian
  • dietitian
  • nutritionist
  • registered dietitian (RD)
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Dietitians require a bachelor's or master's degree in dietetics, nutrition or a related field such as food and nutritional science or biochemistry and A period of supervised practical training.
  • Registration with a regulatory body is required in all provinces for dietitians.
  • Membership in the national association, Dietitians of Canada, may be required for dietitians to practise.
  • Nutritionists usually require similar education and training as dietitians.
  • Registration with a regulatory body is required for nutritionists in Nova Scotia, (as a registered dietitian-nutritionist) in New Brunswick, Quebec and Alberta.
  • Membership with the national association, Dietitians of Canada, and/or a provincial regulatory body is available for nutritionists who have the same education and practical training as dietitians.

Essential Skills


  • Read e-mails from clients and co-workers about a variety of nutrition and health-related topics. (1)
  • Read notes on forms found in clients' charts for information needed to counsel clients and to design care plans that will meet the clients' needs. (2)
  • Read relevant standards of practice, codes of ethics and guidelines set out by regulatory bodies and national and provincial professional organizations so that they can work in a professional and safe manner. (3)
  • Read articles in magazines, journals and other trade publications to stay informed about nutritional trends and topics and to be better able to advise clients about nutritional issues. For example, they may read about topics such as the benefits of eating organically grown foods, the dangers of consuming pesticides, or the health hazards of trans fats. (3)
  • Scan textbooks and journals to refresh memory and to find new information about specific diagnoses or types of diseases so that they can develop appropriate care plans for clients. For example, when treating women who are pregnant, they read textbooks to find out which herbs can be taken safely during pregnancy and which natural food sources will provide women with the folic acid which is essential for rapid cell division and cell growth. (4)
  • May read or review current or draft legislation and regulations. For example, they may read the Guidelines for the Safety Assessment of Novel Foods published by Health Canada to identify the safety assessment criteria for genetically modified micro-organisms and genetically modified plants. They may read draft legislation on labelling of food products to give feedback to Health Canada about how legislation will affect various stakeholder groups. (4)

Document use

  • Analyze and take information from work schedules. For example, they may analyze the schedule of staff to determine how best to reassign resources given a high level of absenteeism or revise their own schedule to accommodate visits with clients. (1)
  • Take information from a variety of tables such as nutrition analysis tables and food labels to understand the nutritional value of food products and their appropriateness for specific therapeutic diets. (2)
  • Take information from a variety of graphs. For example, they may use Body Mass Index graphs to determine whether clients are at risk of developing health problems or a scan graph of weight by age percentiles to determine if children's rates of growth present potential health concerns. (2)
  • Complete a number of forms to record critical information that will be used to design the most appropriate therapeutic diets for clients. They collect information about clients' current and past eating habits, current diets, medication regimes, medical and social histories, and physical data such as heights and weights. (2)
  • Enter information into workload measurement system table. The tables record details of the number of clients counselled, the number of consultations per client, and whether the consultations were delivered by phone or person to person. (2)
  • Take information from a variety of different forms. For example, community nutritionists may review application forms for restaurants which would like to be approved and promoted as facilities offering healthy menu choices. The nutritionists scan the forms to gather detailed information about what is available on the menu, what can be provided at no additional cost to the clients upon request and nutritional, food safety and non-smoking standards. (2)
  • Plot values on an existing grid or template to keep a record or to make analysis possible. For example, they plot weight gain on graphs to demonstrate the positive impact of food supplements in clients' diets. (2)
  • Enter information on nutritional analysis tables to document findings that will help determine the success of an intervention. For example, they enter information into nutritional analysis tables for clients with eating disorders to show lab values, anthropometric values such as weight and body mass index, intake of food, intake of fluids, and whether the clients binged or purged since their last visits. (3)
  • Review clients' status report tables for particular units or wards. The tables display information such as bed numbers, names, genders, admission diagnoses, medical histories, diet orders and allergies, if any. This document provides a comprehensive overview of the clients' status and is used to prioritize the visits to clients and plan the actions required for each client. (3)


  • Write notes in clients' files to document sessions, including details of conversations, assessments, recommendations and required follow-ups. (1)
  • Write e-mail messages to clients who ask for nutritional information or to other members of the health care team who need current information about clients. (2)
  • Write easy-to-read nutritional plans for clients who are being discharged. The plans include recommended diets, food preparation instructions and general information about how nutrition will affect a positive change in the clients' underlying medical conditions. (2)
  • Write about a variety of nutritional issues and topics for publication in newsletters, pamphlets and fact sheets. Usually, the purpose of their writing is to inform clients about healthy food and lifestyle choices. For example, they may write fact sheets which provide clients with step-by-step instructions for assessing weight using Body Mass Index. (3)
  • Write nutritional reports for physicians which provide information about clients' general health, activity levels, appetite levels, food intake, nutritional risk factors, and food preferences. The reports may also contain specific recommendations. For example, they may recommend food supplements for clients based on the clinical evidence presented in the reports. (3)
  • May write responses to questions on Health Canada evaluation forms. For example, they may be asked to provide additional information on a particular product being considered for introduction into the Canadian market. (3)
  • Write food service procedures and policies. For example, they write detailed procedures for the delivery of meals and snacks. They write policies for the proper handling of food and for the prevention of food contamination. (4)
  • May write technical and research reports and discussion paper which target professional audiences or public decision makers. The evidence presented in these reports may be used to develop or support public policies that contribute to the building of healthier communities. For example, they may publish research findings in professional journals which demonstrate the importance of ensuring that all Canadians have the financial resources needed to buy healthy food and make healthy lifestyle choices. (5)


Money Math

  • May calculate travel expenses for reimbursement. They multiply kilometres travelled by a rate, add other expenses and total the claim. (1)
  • May calculate invoice amounts and receive payments. For example, they may prepare invoices for counselling services by multiplying the number of hours of counselling by the hourly professional rate, adding relevant taxes, and calculating totals. They may approve payments. For example, they may verify that the amounts of products invoiced have been received and are billed at the negotiated prices. (2)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

  • Establish the costs of items to be sold in cafeterias based on all direct and indirect costs. They replace items on cafeteria menus if they are not profitable. (2)
  • May determine staffing requirements and create work schedules for large hospital and institutional kitchens based on the number of meals to be prepared in each facility. (3)
  • May plan and monitor budgets for research projects based on the amount of funding granted. They determine how to implement research activities to complete research within budget. (3)
  • May analyze annual financial reports to determine the profitability of food preparation services in hospitals, schools and other large institutions. (3)
  • Compare proposals from competing food product suppliers to determine which provides the best value based on price for nutritional content. (3)

Measurement and Calculation Math

  • Measure the height, weight, muscle mass and percentage of body fat of clients using tapes, scales, and skin fold callipers. (1)
  • Assess the viscosity of foods by using information collected during a line spread test. This involves putting food in the middle of a diagram and seeing how far the food flows. The diagram consists of a series of concentric circles which indicate the viscosity of foods. (1)
  • Convert measuring units. For example, they convert clients' weights from kilograms to pounds according to clients' preferences. (2)
  • Calculate the nutritional requirements of clients to develop care plans. Calculate energy needs in kilocalories by multiplying body weight in kilograms by twenty-five. (2)

Data Analysis Math

  • Compare sets of data taken at different time periods to determine if the values are decreasing or increasing. For example, they compare the weights of clients at the first consultation visit to weights six weeks later to determine whether they have achieved the desired weight gains or weight losses. (2)
  • Analyze data from electronic cash registers such as the number of cafeteria users, amount of money spent, activity level during various time periods and sales by item. They use this data to make decisions about staff requirements, scheduling and menu planning. (2)
  • May analyze the results of client satisfaction surveys, plate wastage surveys and similar data. For example they may use survey data to improve methods of providing institutional clients with nutritious, satisfying meals, to determine the effects of an educational program which encourages healthier food choices or to decide whether the intake of a new food supplement has helped high-risk, long-term care clients gain weight. (3)

Numerical Estimation

  • Estimate the typical daily calorie intake of clients based on information such as types of food eaten, portion sizes, and meal frequencies. These rough estimates can be used to make general recommendations regarding clients' eating habits. (2)
  • May estimate revenue projections for the food services. These estimates are based on financial results for previous periods. (2)
  • Estimate amounts of products to order based on current inventories and expected daily usage rates. (2)

Oral communication

  • Interact with suppliers to obtain information about the nutritional value of their products, to check the availability of alternate products which meet specific nutritional criteria and to negotiate prices. (2)
  • Participate in regular meetings with co-workers to coordinate work, discuss program developments, evaluate work unit performance and schedule shared resources. (2)
  • Discuss nutritional histories with clients to develop individualized nutritional care plans. For example, they may meet clients recovering from throat cancer who have a poor appetite and who suffer nausea from treatments to determine the kinds of food they are able to eat and like to eat. It is important that the clients' preferences be respected and relayed to the food service staff. (2)
  • Consult peers, colleagues and co-workers about nutrition and diet. For example, they may ask colleagues at nearby hospitals for advice on the most appropriate nutritional strategy to recommend to clients presenting with unfamiliar conditions. (3)
  • Make presentations and deliver educational seminars to small and large groups on a wide range of nutritional issues. For example, a nutritionist may make a presentation to factory workers on the importance of healthy diet; deliver a food safety seminar to community volunteers cooking meals for seniors; facilitate a workshop for teachers on the nutritional needs of children; or speak to high school students about the health dangers of poor eating habits. (3)


Problem Solving

  • Find that clients fail to keep scheduled appointments but don't take the time to cancel. To reduce the number of missed appointments, they develop and publish cancellation policies or set up procedures to call clients a day prior to their appointments. (1)
  • May have difficulty teaching clients or offering them nutritional therapy because of language barriers. They try to find written materials in the clients' languages or ask family members or others to act as interpreters. (2)
  • Discover that clients cannot buy the nutritional products that they have recommended. For example, they may find that clients live in areas where the product is not distributed. They contact the suppliers to find out if wholesalers can supply distribution centres in these areas.
  • Sometimes clients cannot afford the cost of the nutritional products. They consult with other professionals to locate financial resources offered by various levels of government and community groups. When specialized nutritional products are not readily available, they call the manufacturers, other hospitals and networks of colleagues to see who has the products or knows where to locate them. (2)
  • Receive complaints from clients regarding food services. For example, institutionalized clients write to the administrator to say that the menu choices in the cafeteria are inadequate and unhealthy. The dietitian meets with the clients to discuss the complaints, reviews menus and budgets, and talks to kitchen staff. The dietitian introduces a salad bar, adds more fresh fruits and vegetables to the menu and displays nutritional facts about menu choices with a visual card system. (3)
  • Encounter clients with problematic beliefs or practices. For example, a nutritionist may counsel a vegetarian who insists on using nutritional supplements which are of questionable value while avoiding healthier foods. The nutritionist develops a unique treatment plan which respects the client's choices but still provides a balanced diet. To ensure the success of the plan, the nutritionist also provides the client with detailed information which informs good nutritional choices. (3)

Decision Making

  • Decide which products to purchase for food services programs based on nutritional value, price and client preferences. (2)
  • Decide to renew contracts with suppliers. They consider the ability of the suppliers to supply products which will meet new nutritional value requirements and suit the changing tastes of the public. They compare the cost of the products to similar products available in the market and check the availability of similarly priced products with higher nutritional values. (2)
  • May decide on the research activities assigned to interns based on the number of weeks the interns are available, the interns' learning goals, and the relevance of the learning outcomes to their organizations. (2)
  • Decide which clients to see next and which clients to make a priority. They base such decisions on the criticality of clients' problems and the procedures scheduled for them by hospital staff. For example, if a client is being discharged earlier than planned, the hospital dietitian must see that client first to provide him or her with the discharge teaching required. The hospital dietitian might also be informed that a client has just been admitted and is scheduled for an emergency procedure and decides that this client now takes priority over other clients who can be visited later in the day. (3)
  • Decide what type of information and the teaching methods to use so that clients are not overwhelmed and are able to integrate the information given. Dietitians build on clients' existing knowledge and, if clients have multiple medical conditions, they address one condition at a time. (3)
  • Decide to modify and revise care plans based on evaluations of outcomes. For example, they introduce new diet treatments to address medical issues, when clients are not responding as expected. (3)
  • Decide to reassign staff to ensure that food preparation and service programs run properly. For example, when a number of staff are absent from work, dietitians reassign staff from other areas. (3)

Critical Thinking

  • Judge the suitability of nutritional supplements based on a number of critical considerations such as the availability of the products in the areas where clients live, the cost of the products and the nutrients they contain and clients' specific nutritional needs. They may also consult other dietitians to validate their final assessments. (2)
  • Assess the value or health benefits of food products. For example, they may consider the potential health benefits of consuming soy products, whether organic soy products are healthier choices than processed soy, whether soy can trigger allergic reactions and what is the optimum intake of soy. (2)
  • Determine optimal nutritional and therapeutic menus to meet the needs of their clients. For example, a nutritionist may develop a diet to help an elite athlete achieve optimal performance. The special menu is based upon an analysis of the athlete's existing diet, cooking methods, and eating habits. (3)
  • Identify strategies that will promote healthy eating habits in specific populations. For example, a school nutritionist may evaluate strategies for reducing fat consumption or increasing the daily intake of fruit, vegetables and whole grain products by students. The nutritionist investigates factors that affect behavioural change, analyzes current diet trends, and reviews best practices of similar programs. (3)
  • The dietitians must weigh and evaluate which nutritional plan will be most beneficial to the client. For example, clients in acute care settings are often admitted with multiple conditions, each presenting unique nutritional challenges. Dietitians analyse data collected during assessment interviews including medical diagnoses, medication regimes, dentition, swallowing abilities and energy requirements to identify optimum nutritional plans for clients. (3)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Dietitians and Nutritionists schedule their own daily work activities but must be prepared to modify these schedules as unexpected events occur, whether it is the deteriorating condition of a client, the absence of employees or co-workers, or new government priorities.

Planning and Organizing for Others

Dietitians and Nutritionists may plan the work of other nutritionists and other workers if they are overseeing research projects or public health programs.

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember a number of frequently-used equations such as the Harris Benedict Equation.
  • Remember nutritional values of specific food products.
  • Remember Canada's Food Guide recommendations specific to gender, age group, body size, activity level, and reproductive status.

Finding Information

  • Search the Internet for information about the latest diet trends and fads. (1)
  • Find information about clients in records such as assessment forms, laboratory result forms, medical records, and notes by various health professionals involved in cases. May access institutional databases for clients' medical records and laboratory results. (2)
  • Interview clients' family members and friends when conducting nutritional assessments for clients who are unable to participate because of poor health or language barriers. (2)
  • Consult other dietitians, health professionals and members of interdisciplinary teams, both within and outside their organizations, to discuss general or case-specific nutritional topics. (3)
  • Read books, professional journals, nutritional magazines, government publications and reference manuals to find information about health conditions, new medical treatments, new food products, dietary supplements and emerging trends. For example, a dietitian may review literature on trans fats to gather ideas for an action plan that will reduce trans fats from cafeteria menu products. (3)

Digital technology

  • Use databases. For example, in larger institutions, they access specialized databases to review client records and to document details of client care. They may also use databases to keep statistics on the type, frequency and duration of consultations. (2)
  • May use bookkeeping, billing and accounting software. For example, dietitians involved in the development, administration and supervision of nutrition and food preparation and service programs use specialized accounting software to track and forecast business revenues and expenditures. (2)
  • Use communication software. For example, they use e-mail to advise client, and exchange information with peers and colleagues. They may attach documents in PDF format, sort and save e-mail messages in appropriate folders, or send out messages using distribution lists and personal mailing lists. (2)
  • Use other software. For example, they navigate the Internet to locate information in online databases to find answers for specific nutrition questions. (2)
  • Use other software. For example, they use specialized nutritional software to calculate clients' nutritional demands based on age, weight and daily energy requirements. (2)
  • Use word processing. For example, they write letters, reports to physicians and instructions for nutritional treatment programs using basic word processing features. They create and design posters, brochures, sample meal menus and newsletters by combining text with clip art, tables and pictures. They may create longer reports or research papers with tables of contents, footnotes, bibliographies. (3)
  • Use graphic software. For example, they use Powerpoint to create slide presentations for seminars and training sessions. They insert tables, charts, video clips and diagrams into the presentation to build more effective presentations. (3)
  • Use spreadsheets. For example, they enter data in existing spreadsheet templates to create monthly activity summaries. (3)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Dietitians and Nutritionists work in a variety of settings and wide range of professional roles. Depending on their work setting they can practice as independent practitioners or as members of multidisciplinary health care teams, which may include nurses, physicians, physiotherapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, palliative care nurses and pharmacists. As administrators of nutrition and food preparation services or programs, they meet with supervisors to plan and organize financial and human resources and establish operational strategies and procedures. When supervising food preparation activities they plan and oversee the work of kitchen staff and dietary technicians. (3)

Continuous Learning

¬Dietitians and Nutritionists are committed to continuous learning and participate in a number of activities to increase their knowledge. They exchange information with co-workers and peers, read books, professional journals and nutritional magazines, and attend professional conferences. In many provinces, dietitians and nutritionists must demonstrate their continuing education and skill development either by submitting portfolios, or by completing self-assessments and reporting educational and professional development undertakings. (3)