7th November 2019

Nutritionist vs. Dietitian: know the difference

Dietitian and nutritionist are often used interchangeably. Lifestyle writer Cansel Hashim clarifies the difference
Nutritionist vs. Dietitian: know the difference
blueberries Photo: Andrew Welch @Unsplash

If you have ever wondered what the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian is you are not alone. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to encounter either of these titles on social media profiles of fitness and healthy lifestyle enthusiasts whose dietary recommendations we seldom question. However insignificant taking a small piece of advice regarding your diet may seem, it is important to make sure it is given by the right person – someone who is qualified to do so.

It is worth noting that both nutritionists and dietitians are individuals with a scientific academic background and are qualified to deliver evidence-based nutritional advice, and are able to participate in nutritional research. The major difference is that dietitians are legally recognized and therefore are regulated healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat diet-related health problems. They often work in both private and public clinics including hospitals, public health departments or pharmaceutical companies.

Nutritionists are not trained to diagnose, treat or manage medical conditions. They can provide information and advice about food and healthy eating, but not for special dietary requirements or digestive conditions. Nutritionists tend to work in non-clinical settings like public health institutions, the food industry, freelance consultancy or public relations such as in media positions. In many cases, nutritionists work under the supervision of a dietitian or another qualified healthcare professional.

The qualifications and training of nutritionists and dietitians vary. There are two paths one can follow to become a dietitian; either by earning a BSc Hons in Dietetics or BSc in a related science degree followed by a postgraduate diploma in Dietetics. Either path requires significant background in core sciences and a certain number of hours worked in a professional setting to be eligible to be approved as a registered dietitian by The British Dietetic Association.

Similarly, whilst nutritionists are required to obtain a BSc or MSc in nutrition, however not all nutrition degrees are accredited by the Association for Nutrition (AfN). While graduates of degree courses accredited by AfN are able to register with the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN), it is not a legal requirement for a nutritionist to be approved by this central body to work in the UK. The title ‘nutritionist’ is not protected by law, meaning anyone could, in theory, call themselves a nutritionist – even your favourite Instagram lifestyle influencer.  Individuals who are not registered with the association may not meet the recognized professional standards. Regardless they can still be called a nutritionist, which is the case with many online nutrition courses that have become increasingly popular.

To put it briefly, dietitians are healthcare professionals qualified to diagnose and treat diet-related health conditions with the appropriate nutritional recommendations. Nutritionists are professionals who are well-grounded in related scientific subjects, and aim to improve health by promoting a healthy diet and lifestyle. The professional needed will depend on the individual’s requirements and reasons for seeking dietary advice. However, always ensure that either professional meets the minimum qualifications set by a statutory body. Qualified nutritionists or dietitians can be found on the UKVRN or The British Dietetic Association website.

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