The difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

Updated: Feb 11, 2020

I am a Registered Dietitian, and so when my friends (and sometimes family) refer to me as a Nutritionist it really bugs me... and here's why.

Whilst there are many excellent Nutritionists out there who have gone to university to obtain their qualification and who can provide excellent nutrition advice, there are also 'Nutritionists' who have done an online course one afternoon when they are feeling bored to provide them with that title. Would you trust the latter? How would you ever know the difference when choosing to see one? There is a way which I will mention in a moment.

A Registered Dietitian (RD) is a qualified healthcare professional whose professional title is protected by law, meaning no-one can call themselves a Dietitian unless they actually are one. That’s why you will see RD after all Dietitians’ names. In order to become a Dietitian not only do we have to do a tough university course (including biochemistry, physiology, social and behavioural sciences), we also have to complete a set number of supervised practice hours in order to demonstrate clinical and professional competence. We are regulated and governed by an ethical code to ensure our work is to the highest standard, and we have to be registered with the Health Care and Professions Council (HCPC). If you ever want to check the credentials of a Dietitian you can ask them for their registration number and check on the HCPC website. Dietitians can work with individuals in hospital and clinical settings, education, research, sport, media, government and other environments. A Dietitian is able to call themselves a Nutritionist if they wish.

So what can Dietitians do that Nutritionists cannot?

We are the only qualified nutrition experts who can assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems for both healthy and sick people. Nutritionists are not specifically trained to be able to provide advice to people who are ill.

Nutritionists do not have a protected title with the HCPC and are certainly not allowed to call themselves a Dietitian unless they have done an additional qualification.

There is a regulatory body for Nutritionists – the Association for Nutrition (AfN) which maintains a voluntary register of competent qualified individuals who have graduated from an AfN accredited degree as well as 3 years recent postgraduate experience. They are able to put RNutr (Registered Nutritionist) after their name. If they haven’t got all the postgrad experience yet, they can put ANutr (Associate Nutritionist) after their name.

Does that clear things up a little bit? I hope so!

For more information check out this article by the professional association for Dietitians: The Association of UK Dietitians (BDA):

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