28. Feb, 2018

Nutritionist or dietitian?

What is the difference, anyway? By far and away this is the most common question I'm asked by the general public. 

Both are educated in nutrition science and are hence able to apply nutrition principles. 

Nutritionists mostly focus on healthy eating advice. In particular advising otherwise healthy individuals and groups about the best way to prevent disease through good nutrition. Nutrition Australia puts it in these terms: "The main role of a nutritionist is to help people achieve optimal health by providing information and advice about health and food choices."  

Dietitians are qualified to work with diseased individuals within our health system, which includes tasks such as tube-feeding.  

The difference between our training at university is that dietitians spend an additional year completing their hospital placement and assessment, and studying dietetics, which includes food service management and medical nutrition therapy. Nutrition scientists spend their third year focusing on the food system, health promotion, and nutrition research.

Dietitians are almost all APDs (Accredited Practising Dietitians), which is a trademarked term of the DAA (Dietitians Association of Australia). 

Nutritionists have a couple of associations to choose from, including the NSA (Nutrition Society of Australia) and CMA (Complementary Medicines Association). The latter enables us to provide private health insurance rebates, so it's quite common. All dietitians are also nutrition scientists/nutritionists, as we share exactly the same training in the first two years at university, however our final year gives us a depth of insight into the Australian food system and food technology which dietitians may not have unless they did a nutrition science undergrad. That would mean they have a Masters in Nutrition & Dietetics, not a Bachelors. 

Professional nutrition practice is not regulated in Australia, so anyone can call themselves a nutritionist or dietitian.  They are highly unlikely to call themselves a nutrition scientist though, so that is why I like to make it a point of distinction. 

Bottom line: a university-qualified, evidence-based nutritionist/ nutrition scientist will discuss your medical history, genetic background and environment including dietary habits, to ensure that their healthy eating advice is tailored to you as an individual. If you are not in a hospital, you do not need to see a dietitian, a uni-qualified nutritionist/nutrition scientist will suffice.