Dietitian vs. Nutritionist
What's the difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?
I can't count the times I have been asked, "so, are you a Nutritionist or Dietitian?", "Or are you both?" "Is there actually a difference?" "Don't you both help people with nutrition?" "If I need help with my diet and nutrition who do I search for?"
These are all valid questions! The differences between Dietitians and Nutritionists is not well known, but it is important to know the difference and be empowered to make an informed decision about who you see for your healthcare.
The quick answer is, there are two main differences between a Dietitian and Nutritionist. These are the qualification, and the presence of a governing body. Let's explore these differences in more depth.
An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) spends a minimum of 4 years studying at University, completing both an undergraduate degree (usually in health, science and nutrition) and a postgraduate degree (in dietetics). The postgraduate degree includes clinical experience, also known as professional placement, where students work in hospitals and other clinical areas to gain dietetic experience and skills. Dietitians are, therefore, the only nutrition professionals that Medicare recognisesto provide medical nutrition therapy as they translate scientific nutrition information into personalised, practical dietary advice. They are well suited to advise patients on specific nutritional management for health conditions.
So, a Dietitian is technically a Nutritionist (from their undergraduate degree). Still, a nutritionist is not also a Dietitian - they must complete the postgraduate degree and Practical, hands-on placement experience to gain this title. Because there is no governing body (we will get into this more later), there is no requirement for any specific qualifications. Therefore a nutritionist might have completed a 1-hour course online. They are not required to undertake any clinical practice before graduation or course completion. Basically, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist because there is no regulation to prevent this.
All APDs are members of Dietitians Australia, a governing body that advises who can call themselves a dietitian and ensures we stay up to date with current guidelines and recommendations to ensure safe practice for our patients, among other regulatory rules. Unfortunately, nutritionists do not have a mandatory governing body, meaning they lack regulations about what and how they practice. This means there is no one regulating who is calling themselves a nutritionist, their qualifications, and the advice they provide to their patients.
Being a Dietitian and subsequent member of Dietitians Australia also requires all APDs to complete a certain amount of ongoing training and education every year to ensure we stay abreast of new research and utilise scientific principles to guide and support patients, using evidence-based practice. We are also required to adhere to a code of conduct. For example, as registered health providers - we can never ask or utilise a patient's testimony to promote our services. The same cannot be said for nutritionists because they lack a governing body; they are not required to participate in further education or any codes of conduct and, therefore, can be at risk of providing out-of-date, incorrect and possibly harmful advise to their patients.
So there you have it
Nutritionists may help provide generic nutrition advice; however, ask them about their qualifications if you see a nutritionist. In most circumstances, it is usually best to see an Accredited Practising Dietitian who can provide tailored, evidence-based advice for you, especially if you have a chronic health condition or specific health issue.