Choosing between seeing a dietitian or nutritionist can sometimes be very confusing. Many people claim to be experts in nutrition, yet have very limited education, knowledge and expertise. The professions of nutritionists and dietitians have been put in the same category for years and there are many misconceptions around both titles. Both professions revolve around nutrition, though the roles of a dietitian vs nutritionist are slightly different. It is important to understand the differences, so that you can choose who is right to help you with any health and nutrition concerns.

Dietitians are regulated and registered nutrition professionals who are able to provide medical nutritional therapy and counselling, to help support someone with various illnesses or health conditions.  Nutritionists help provide information about food and healthy eating, but are not trained to provide specific information around illness and health conditions, unless they have completed further education. Compared to dietitians, nutritionists are not required to be professionally registered in the UK, so anyone can claim to be a nutritionist, even if they are not qualified. Read on to find out more about the differences between dietitians vs nutritionists.

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What is a dietitian?

  • Dietitians are regulated nutrition professions, that are governed by law. This regulation means that you must be registered with the HPCP (Health and Care professionals Council). This adheres them to the highest standards and a code of ethics for clients.
  • To become a dietitian, you must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree (4 years of university) in Nutrition & Dietetics at an accredited university.
  • You can also become a dietitian through post graduate courses, such as a Masters in Dietetics. For this, the person will need to have a relevant undergraduate degree. This means that dieticians are highly educated and regulated to give the most evidence-based nutrition recommendations.
  • All degrees in the UK require a supervised placement within the NHS. Only after the degree and all placements are completed, individuals are eligible to apply for registration with the HCPC.
  • The British Dietetic Association (BDA) is the professional body and Trade Union for dietitians. It is also responsible to maintain the highest standard of the profession.
  • To check that you’re seeing a registered dietitian you use their Health & Care Professional Council (HCPC) number to identify them. This can be checked online through the HCPC website and most dietitian’s will have their registration number in their email signature or on their website.

What does a dietitian do?

Dietitians can have a range of different job options due to the nature of their education. They are also the only nutrition professional who can complete additional training to legally supply and administer certain prescription medication. A small number of dietitian’s take advantage of this especially if they are in specialties such as diabetes, allowing for insulin prescriptions and dosage advice. Dietitians can spend much of their time advising about specific medical conditions and their nutritional management such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), kidney disease, malnutrition and cancer. This is a distinct role of registered dietitians as other nutrition professionals are not qualified to give medical counselling.

What is a nutritionist?

  • A nutritionist provides information about food and healthy eating
  • Unlike a dietitian, nutritionist’s do not always have a protected title, which means that anyone can call themselves a nutritionist.
  • Because of this, information provided may be unsubstantiated or biased depending on the individual and their education.
  • You may find that nutritionists have job titles such as ‘health coach’ or ‘nutritional specialist’ and ‘wellness coach’. These are all unregulated terms.
  • However, to ensure you are seeing a nutritionist with degree level qualification, you can check if they are registered with the  Association for Nutrition (AfN). Only individuals registered with the AfN are allowed to call themselves a Registered Nutritionist (ANutr or RNutr).
  • To be eligible to register with the AfN, a nutritionist must have graduated with a BSc undergraduate degree in nutrition. They may also have completed courses and extra learning that meet strict standards of professional education in nutrition that are accredited by the Association for Nutrition (AfN).
  • It is not a legal requirement for nutritionists to be registered, and any nutritionist who is not registered may not have been able to meet the AfN’s required competencies and standards in professional skills and knowledge.
  • Registered nutritionists are unable to call themselves dietitians by law.

What does a nutritionist do?

Nutritionists can work in many different areas dependent on education and specialisation. Some nutritionists work in manufacturing and policy whilst others focus on a clinical role. Clinical nutritionists, especially registered nutritionists, have a primary role of helping individuals improve their health and wellbeing through proper nutrition, improving their eating habits and nutritional status. This may involve education around principles of nutrition  such as portion control, eating habits and the importance of a balanced diet, and customised plans with support to motivate clients.

Nutritionists can also work in non-clinical settings such as the food industry, sports and exercise industries, media and communications and teaching. Nutritionists may work in the NHS alongside Registered Dietitians, or they may work as freelance nutritionists.

Nutritionists are not qualified to work with hospitalised and acutely ill patients, or those in the community requiring therapeutic interventions. They are also not qualified to provide specific information around special diets for medical or health conditions.

The differences between dietitians vs nutritionists

Dietitian Nutritionist
Qualification 4 years bachelor’s or master’s degree in dietetics No mandated requirements (unless registered, then a minimum of bachelor’s degree is required)
Scope of practice Licensed to practice and provides advice and possible treatment for specific medical conditions ONLY Information around food and healthily eating
Bias They cannot offer advice where there would be personal financial benefit Can promote products for financial benefits with no validity
Regulation Mandatory to be regulated by the professional body HCPC NOT mandatory to be regulated

Price

Due to the nature and complexity of dietitians’ education and experience, the price of appointments can be significantly higher than nutritionists. This is also because dietitians are most commonly seen for more intense nutritional counselling, compared to nutritionist with general healthy eating advice.  This can mean a range of prices dependent on the experience and specialist area of the dietitian.

On average, nutritionists tend to be less expensive due to the scope of knowledge and practice that they have. The lack of regulation also will be reflected in the price of appointments. There is a larger price fluctuation between different nutritionists, as registered nutritionists have the education and knowledge to justify higher prices.

Both nutritionists and dietitians will have a rate per appointment that is normally available on request or published on their relevant website. You can read more here about specific comparisons of nutritionist prices.

Qualifications

Qualifications are one of the key differences between the two professions.  All dietitian’s will have to undergo an accredited degree, usually a minimum of a BSc Hons in Nutrition & Dietetics. They may have a related science degree and then complete a postgraduate or masters course in Dietetics.  be it post or undergraduate. All courses require clinical placement experience, usually in NHS settings, to allow the student to demonstrate key professional and clinical competencies, in order to qualify as a dietitian and be able to register with the HCPC.

Not all nutritionists will have qualifications. However, there are many nutritionists who will have completed nutrition degrees, which will allow them to apply for accreditation by the AfN. It is not a legal requirement for a nutritionist to be registered with the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN), which is run by the Association for Nutrition (AfN).

A nutritionist who is not registered with the UKVRN may not have met or be able to meet the AfN’s recognised standards and competencies in underpinning knowledge and professional skills.

Approach

When seeing a dietitian, a detailed lifestyle and medical history is taken, as well as looking at certain factors such as the home environment, in order for the dietitian to get a full picture of your overall habits. A dietary history will be taken, with detailed questions around foods consumed, in what quantities, timings in the day, snacks eaten, drinks and any other relevant information. Any areas of medical concern will be detailed, especially around certain conditions that may be influenced by food and lifestyle. The dietitian will discuss how small changes to your diet or certain aspects to your lifestyle can help you towards your nutritional or health goals. Any medical or health conditions are also taken into account when providing the support and recommendations. Follow ups are then booked in for the future, to monitor progress and adherence to the targets set.

During a consultation with a nutritionist, they are likely to gather a health history, look at your eating patterns in detail as well as any lifestyle factors that influence your nutrition related goals. Advice and guidance will be given based on what the nutritionist believes to be most realistic to the client, to help develop strategies in place to work towards the goals set out during the consultation. Follow ups are then discussed, as and when needed, to check progress and provide ongoing support to reach goals.

Regulations

A dietitian is a board-certified food and nutrition expert who can provide medical nutrition therapy and counselling. Some dietitians refer to themselves as nutritionists. But nutritionist isn’t a regulated term, so anyone can call themselves one. In short, a dietitian can be a nutritionist, but a nutritionist can’t be a dietitian.

If you’re seeing a UK dietitian, they will also be registered under the HCPC. This is the professional body and Trade Union for dietitians, responsible for maintaining the highest standard of the profession.

Nutritionists in the UK have the AfN, but due to the term nutritionist being an unprotected title, anyone can still use the title even if they are not a part of the AfN. If you want to find a reputable nutritionist it’s best to use one that is part of the AfN register.

Who is more qualified, a nutritionist or dietitian?

When looking for a person who is more qualified, it is important to look at the types of qualifications. 

Nutritionists do not need to be qualified, however, many nutritionists will choose to obtain a degree level nutrition qualification, to meet high standards and show that they follow certain professional standards. It is important therefore, to look for ideally a Registered Nutritionist (RN’s) or if not, a Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr). A ANutr would have typically graduated with a BSc or MSc in nutrition, and has the scientific knowledge to provide evidence based nutrition. However, to become a RN, they need to demonstrate significant experience of the practical application of this knowledge.

Registered Dietitians (RDs) are the only qualified health professionals that are able to assess, diagnose and treat nutritional problems at an individual and wider public health level. So whilst RN’s and ANutr’s can provide evidence based nutrition advice around food and healthy eating, dietitians can provide specific guidance for those who are looking to improve their health status and treat nutritional problems, through diet and lifestyle.

Therefore, although both RD’s and RN’s/ANutr’s are qualified with a minimum of a BSc, dietitians are often better qualified to provide support for both healthy and unwell individuals and groups.

Dietitian vs nutritionist for weight loss

Dietitians focus mainly focus on medical guidance and evidence-based advice that can support people’s dietary/ medical needs. This includes many conditions like eating disorders and cancers but also people in less acute conditions like weight management.

Nutritionists don’t typically work in a healthcare setting or target specific medical conditions. Most nutritionists are concentrated on assisting people with their overall health goals/ lifestyle changes.

Due to the qualifications that dietitians have gained they are the most proficient to advise about weight management especially related to conditions like eating disorders, diabetes or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). These conditions and others have specific evidence-based dietary recommendations that nutritionists are not qualified to provide. Dietitians are also qualified to create personalised meal plans based on a persons individual goals and taking into account any health and medical conditions, whereas nutritionists are not qualified to do this.

Nutritionists can help provide overall health and lifestyle support and assist in more general weight loss guidance but may lack the personalised and evidence-based plan that dietitians can give.

Dietitians and nutritionists compared to nutritional therapists

Diet and lifestyle changes are used by nutritional therapists to alleviate or prevent health issues. It is often based on complementary ‘medicine’, but these are not recognised as a valid treatment in conventional medicine as they are not based on scientific evidence.

Anyone can call themselves a nutritional therapist in the UK, there are no specific qualification requirements to use the title. Nutritional therapists can register themselves with Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). This is self-regulated rather than independently regulated.

Some training for nutritional therapists is provided by the Institute of Optimum Nutrition (ION). The ION awards ‘Foundation Degree’ to those who complete certain courses of a certain level, but these are not university degrees and are not recognised by universities.

Differences in Nutritionists, Dietitians and Nutritional Therapists

 

Should you choose a nutritionist or a dietitian?

The answer to this can largely depend on your health goals. Both dietitians and nutritionists work to help people improve their health through diet. However, dietitians have specific training compared to nutritionists, allowing them to be able to diagnose and treat people with more specific advice related to medical conditions, which nutritionists are not qualified to do.

If you are looking to focus on healthy weight loss or weight gain, we recommend seeing a registered dietitian, as this will allow them to consider any possible health issues or concerns that can also influence weight.

If you would like to have some guidance around improving your general health and lifestyle without concerns of medical issues, a nutritionist can support you with this.

If you have any health concerns and are unsure how your dietary habits may influence these concerns, it is better to see a dietitian, who will help ensure your needs are being met, as nutritionists are unable to advise specifically for health concerns.

Overall, when you look at a dietitian vs nutritionists, you want to ensure the person you are receiving advice from is appropriately qualified, can prove that they are continuing their professional development, and are registered with a governing body. 

If you are still unsure about which professional to seek help with, you can contact us. Rest assured that working with a private dietitian on our team will help you to reach your goals and meet your concerns. They are the only nutrition professionals to be regulated by law, and are governed by an ethical code to ensure that they always work to the highest standard.

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