A dietitian is a health professional who is an expert in nutrition and the human diet. They help support people wanting and needing to make dietary and lifestyle changes to support their health, by using scientific research, behavioural change and coaching to support habit changes and healthy dietary choices. Here we dive into what is a dietitian, how can a dietitian help you, what sort of dietitian you may like to see, and how much dietitians cost.

Book a consultation with a dietitian here.

What is a dietitian?

Dietitians are qualified health professionals who use scientific nutrition knowledge to assess, and treat disease and certain health conditions. Many dietitians work with people who are unwell or have health conditions, where improving their nutrition could support their health and manage or even improve their conditions. For example, someone with heart disease or kidney disease can use dietary interventions to improve their health outcomes, or someone who is struggling with gastrointestinal discomfort or symptoms can use diet and lifestyle changes to improve their quality of life.

Dietitians ensure that all recommendations and support given is scientifically based on the latest evidence. Dietitians often work in acute hospital settings as a part of a team of health professions such as with doctors, psychologists, physiotherapists and speech and language therapists, to provide a multi-team support. Dietitians can work with adults of all ages, as well as children, infants and babies. Many dietitians also work in care homes, schools or can work freelance in the private sector.

What does a dietitian do?

What does a dietitian do

A dietitian can support you with better nutrition education, improving food related choices and improving the quality of your diet. If you are struggling with a chronic health condition, dietitians have the education to translate nutritional recommendations that can be made to support your condition. This may involve weight loss or weight gain, as well as understanding what foods to include more of and if any foods need to be reduced or avoided for certain health conditions.

A dietitian can help with meal planning and better understanding of developing healthier menus, and even create customised meal plans depending on your health concerns and goals. If some is struggling with their relationship with food and notices concerning behaviours, dietitians can support them to make changes to improve this relationship for the long term. Someone may be suffering with reactions to certain foods such as possible lactose intolerance or coeliac disease, so working with a dietitian can help with a better understanding of what dietary changes to make to support these restrictions, and ensure your diet is still as balanced and varied as possible.

Some dietitians can even prescribe medication. Since 2016, dietitians have been able to complete further education in specific Master’s courses for supplementary prescribers. This means, with this qualifications, dietitians can prescribe a range of medications for their patients. This may include diabetes medication, or enzymes for pancreatic disease, as examples. Not all dietitians will have undergone this extra course to become a supplementary prescriber, however.

Dietitian’s role in healthcare

Dietitians may work in clinical or community settings. Those who work in clinical settings often work in hospitals, with other health care professionals, such as doctors, physiotherapists and speech and language therapists, to collaborate when looking after patients needs. Patients may be in the hospital for several reasons, such as malnutrition or digestive issues, and it is the role of the dietitian to support the health care team and patient in symptom management and possible recovery.

Dietitians who work in a community setting may spend their days in schools or nursing homes, creating programmes of nutritional education, as well as supporting dietary goals and needs of individuals with specific requirements, perhaps with menu planning and food preparation.

Dietitians can also work privately, where there is a direct service between the dietitian and the client, either using face to face appointments, or online. These can be specific to the health goals of the individual, and dietitians may work with their clients for months or years to address their habits and work on changing their dietary outcomes for the better. Other private dietitians may work in corporate wellness, to help better educate staff and workplace on the importance of nutrition, as well as with food companies for dietary legislation, food labelling and product development.

Types of dietitians

Clinical dietitians

A clinical dietitian will work usually in hospitals, clinics and public health settings. Clinical dietitians will work on creating programmes or dietary plans to improve or maintain the health of their patients. Plans may be short term and acute whilst the patient is in hospital, though they may be longer term for those seen in clinic and public health settings, such as those with kidney disease or diabetes and high blood pressure.

Consultant dietitians

Consultant dietitians often have many years of experience, and frequently have a doctoral qualification in a subject relevant to their practice area. They will frequently work with complex health issues in their area, and may even help lead development of new health approaches and assess advances and research in their field.

Neonatal dietitians

These dietitians have a specific speciality of working with babies in the neonatal environment, to help assess, diagnose and manage the needs of neonates, which are newborn babies. This may include supporting with preterm infants, ensuring they meet their nutritional requirements in the neonatal units to improve health outcomes.

Paediatric dietitians

Dietitians who work with under 18’s are called paediatric dietitians. This may include babies, as well as young children and teenagers. Dietitians help to support families who may struggle with children on specific diets, such as allergies or fussy eating, or with certain illness such as cancer. A paediatric dietitian may support children in their development, whilst considering their religious beliefs and background.

Sports dietitians

A sports dietitian is a specialist in providing support to people who are looking to optimise their training, performance and recovery around exercise. Nutrition has a major impact on exercise performance, whether that might be with strength and muscle recovery, or improving speed for certain sports. Sports dietitians work with recreational exercisers, but many work with athletes or those training for specific sports events such as marathons or rowing events.  Advice on any sports supplements that may be required is also given, depending on the needs of the client.

Community dietitians

As the name suggests, these dietitians work closely in the community. They may see patients who visit hospital for outpatient appointments and clinics, as well as seeing patients in their homes, care homes or residential homes. Conditions that community dietitians can support with include malnutrition in the care home setting, or supporting those who need tube feeding or have trouble eating, but do not need to be in hospital.

Public health dietitians

Public health dietitians work with groups in the population, to improve their health through nutrition. This can be through nutrition education, as well as working on improving access to more nutritious food. They may work with organisations to improve the nutrition in certain products, such as soft drinks and ready meals, or perhaps work with companies to provide healthier meal and snack options for staff.

Food service dietitians

Food service dietitians work in the food and drink sector, looking at how nutrition can impact health in the food and supply chain, educating food service staff on the importance of nutrition, as well as helping food products meet nutritional standards. They may be involved in menu planning and nutritional analysis of foods available to people and patients.

Gerontological dietitians

Gerontological dietitians support people who are of older age, typically those who are 65 years and older. They may work with people to reduce risk of illness, or recover from any health difficulties someone is having, as well as supporting the ageing process and the influences that nutrition can have on health and wellbeing, as we age. Some older adults may struggle to eat due to loss of motor function, as well as other health factors having a negative influence on their appetite, leading to unwanted weight loss and malnourishment.

Gastrointestinal dietitians

Anyone who struggles with digestive issues or is having/planning on having or has had gastrointestinal surgery, will likely need dietary support. Dietitians in this area work with the clients to support their recovery or improvement of their symptoms, to optimise health and wellbeing. This can include those who struggle with irritable bowel syndrome, as well as coeliac disease or lactose intolerance.

Allergy dietitians

If you suspect you have an allergy to certain foods, then an allergy dietitian can support you with improving your symptom management, by understanding better how to eat to prevent reactions and symptoms related to the allergen. They can help you better explore what foods you may be allergic or hypersensitive to, and how to possibly avoid these foods whilst still maintaining a healthy and balanced diet.

Research dietitians

Dietitians who work in research are often involved in projects to provide essential research to improve world-wide health research and health policy. Research dietitians may work in improving the quality of food as well as food production, looking at the link between cancer and nutrition, diabetes research as well as global health trends and how nutrition can improve the health outcomes of different population groups.

Eating Disorder Dietitian

A dietitian who works with those with eating disorders will help in a number of areas, unique to the clients needs, with the ultimate goal to support a persons recovery and improve their relationship with food. This may include exploring a persons eating patterns and behaviours, supporting them with behavioural change and challenging food groups, providing meal plans to help clients include balance to meals, as well as reviewing food intake for overall quality and patterns of eating. An eating disorder dietitian may work with clients who have a history of, or are suffering with binge eating disorder or anorexia nervosa as well as other eating disorders.

Education and training of dietitians

All dietitians must have an undergraduate degree in Nutrition and Dietetics which is usually 4 years, or a postgraduate degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. Parts of the degrees will involve supervised placement, most of which are undertaken in the NHS, either in hospitals or community. This will provide hands on experience for the student to develop their clinical skills to be able to work in a professional and multidisciplinary team, once they qualify as a dietitian.  

Some dietitians may go on to further education, such as Masters degrees in specific areas such as sports nutrition.

Without a dietetics degree, you cannot become a registered dietitian and cannot call yourself a dietitian.

Once a dietitian is qualified, career opportunities can include working in the NHS in an acute ward setting or the community such as in nursing homes or schools, or some dietitians may decide to work privately and do freelance work. Health education to corporate companies is another route that can be taken, as well as working on nutritional policies and recipe development.

How can a dietitian help you?

Here are some of the ways that seeing a dietitian may help you:

  • If you are struggling to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way
  • You are looking to improve your relationship with food
  • You are considering weight loss surgery
  • You may want to gain weight after an illness or in relation to a certain health condition
  • You are struggling with digestive issues such as bloating, diarrhoea or constipation
  • You are diagnosed with a medical condition, such as high blood pressure, gout, acid reflux, high cholesterol or diabetes
  • You have been diagnosed with a food related health condition, such as a nut allergy, lactose intolerance or coeliac disease
  • You are struggling to meet your nutritional requirements through food alone
  • You may want to improve your exercise or athletic performance and recovery, as well as for general fitness goals
  • You are concerned about a child and their weight, or relationship with food
  • You are looking for nutritional support during pregnancy, to optimise mother and baby health
  • You are looking for reliable and creditable information on nutrition for yourself or those you care for

You may be referred to a dietitian by your NHS GP or another health professional, if you need support with a certain medical condition. However, waiting times can be long, due to the demand on the services. You do not need a referral to see a dietitian, if you are seeing a private or freelance dietitian. Many private dietitians will take self-referrals, where you believe that seeing a dietitian would help your health goals, and can then contact a dietitian to book in a consultation.

What to expect during a dietetic consultation?

If you are seeing a dietitian for the first time, it is good to know what you might expect and want to get out of the session, to us the time to your full advantage. Below is a breakdown of what to expect before, during and after the consultation.

Before the consultation

Before the session, you will likely be sent forms or questionnaires to complete. This allows the dietitian some insight into your general health and basic dietary habits, as well as medical history. There may be information about food preferences or a tick list of food items you consume often. This will help the dietitian to tailor the session to your health requirements, and use the time efficiently.

During the consultation

At the start, you will be taken through a number of questions, which will include exploring your goals and reasons for the consultations, your past habits and what you have tried previously to achieve the goals, the barriers you have in order to meet the goals, a review of supplements or medications you take and the reasons why, as well as discussion of bowel habits and any gastrointestinal issues.

The dietitian will likely ask for a dietary food intake recall, where you explain your typical daily diet, what it looks like in terms of meal timings, food choices, snacks, frequency of eating, as well as drink consumption. Differences in weekdays compared to weekends should be considered, to understand a better picture. Other factors, such as sleep quality, stress and energy levels, and mood may also be explored, as this can play a key role in our overall health and wellbeing.

Throughout the consultation, it is important that you are made to feel comfortable and relaxed to be sharing this information with the dietitian, who you are meeting for the first time. This allows a foundation of trust to be built, which is key for long term communication and success.

Towards the end

From the information shared in this session, the dietitian should be able to provide you with personalised and realistic health goals to work on, from this session. These may be based around eating habits or what specific foods to eat more or less of. There may be discussion around timings of meals and meal composition. This information should be specific to you and should feel manageable, rather than large, unrealistic targets.

The dietitian may put together a meal guidance, which gives guidance on portion sizes, structure of meals and what to eat, which can provide further support, if it is needed.

Following this, further sessions will be booked in or possible packages in an appropriate time frame, depending on the agreement with the nutritionist and the client.

How much does a dietitian consultation cost?

To understand how much a dietitian costs, here is an average price breakdown depending on the appointment time. Keep in mind these are the average costs and prices will vary.

Time Cost
30 minutes £50-150 ($39-118)
60 minutes £90-200 ($70-158)
90 minutes £190-300 ($150-237)

Dietitian cost in UK compared to other countries

Prices can vary country by country, to see a dietitian, when we compare to that in the UK. Here is a table to summarise the average cost of seeing a dietitian per hour for a consultation, in certain countries:

Country Cost per hour in local currency
UK £90-200
USA $100-200
Canada $CAD125-150
Australia $A100-350
UAE AED 250-400

How to choose the right dietitian?

If you are looking to work with a private dietitian, there are key considerations to make, before booking. Firstly, ensure you are booking in with a registered dietitian. You can check registration of any dietitians via the HCPC website.

After this, look to see if the dietitian you want to book in is specialised in the field of nutrition that you are looking for support with. For example, a gastrointestinal dietitian may not be well experienced in supporting in eating disorders, so it is important to look for relevant experience. You may want to look at the years of experience the dietitian has also, and in which areas of nutrition they have worked in previously.

Think about if you would like an in person meeting, or are happy to work with your dietitian via a video call online. Typically, online consultations can be most convenient, though in person meetings can be good to establish a connection with your dietitian, to ensure you can work well with this dietitian going forwards. After meeting them at the initial consultation, you may consider online follow up appointments for convenience, with in person sessions booked in between. If you wanted to have any body measurements done such as weight and body fat percentage, an in person appointment would be important.

What is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

The title ‘Registered Dietitian’ is legally protected in the UK, which means they are the only nutritional professionals to be regulated by law. All dietitians must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), which ensures they are held to a code to work to a high standard. Being a dietitian means that you have to undertake continued professional development (CPD) so that you are able to keep up to date with the latest in nutritional related research. You can always check if a dietitian is registered, by checking the online register on the HCPC website.

A professional body known as the British Dietetic Association (BDA) is also available for dietitians to be registered with, however this is not compulsory. The BDA help to provide structured education for CPD, as well as providing speciality groups within dietetic communities for career support.

Here is a table to express the differences between a dietitian and nutritionist.

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


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 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.


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.


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.

Book a consultation with a dietitian here.

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