Nutritionist vs Dietitian: What’s the Difference?
The difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian might seem hard to spot.
They might sound like two different terms for the same thing – professionals who offer advice in public health.
“Dietitians and nutritionists apply the art and science of nutrition to help people better understand the link between food and health.
Further, they assist by encouraging dietary changes to achieve and maintain optimal health and prevent and treat illness and disease. Nutrition professionals are qualified to understand food science, interpret nutrition science, assess individual nutritional requirements, counsel on diet for ideal health or various illnesses, perform nutrition research, and instigate nutrition services and programs.”
But there are clear distinctions that separate the two career paths, and if you’re thinking of becoming a nutritionist, you should understand what they are. They have different job descriptions because their qualifications offer different types of services according to their levels of qualification.
Both have seen strong employment growth over the past 20 years.
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Nutritionists vs dietitians
“In Australia, there is a clear difference between dietitians and nutritionists,” Joel says.
“Accredited Practising Dietitians (APDs) have often studied for at least four years and completed a qualification in human nutrition. They undertake supervised and professional experience in clinical nutrition, community health and food service.”
“Nutritionists do not complete this professional experience as part of their study. All dietitians are obliged to undertake regular professional development to maintain their accreditation. All APDs are considered to be nutritionists. However, nutritionists without a dietetics degree cannot assume the title of a dietitian.”
What do nutritionists do?
A nutritionist’s role is to help their clients by providing advice and encouragement. They provide a healthier lifestyle for their clients by:
While you might assume all nutritionists have undertaken an appropriate nutrition course, that isn’t always the case.
Since “nutritionist” is not a protected term in Australia, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist and offer nutrition services without any extensive qualifications.
This lack of regulation means that anyone from a nutrition graduate to someone with little nutrition training can self-proclaim their expertise. This is because there are no specific requirements that need to be met to claim the job title.
Just because the term is unregulated doesn’t mean that nutritionists are any less trustworthy or skilled – it just means that their job title doesn’t necessarily prove their extensive knowledge.
Many people employed in health and wellness – personal trainers, for example – will undertake base level nutrition courses so that they can expand the services they offer. Taking these courses means that they can help explain the basics of food science to their clients, which allows the average person to digest that information more easily.
If you’re after base level guidance for your food choices, a nutritionist can offer those services to you. However, a nutritionist can’t advise you if your needs fit outside the box. For example, if you need a tailored meal plan based on your food allergies, a nutritionist is not equipped with that level of expertise.
This situation is when you need a dietitian. Nutritionists aren’t always qualified to give dietary advice to help treat or manage specific dietary requirements or diseases, while a dietitian can. All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.
What do dietitians do?
Dietitians are qualified to offer food science expertise on a more advanced level than the average nutritionist. A dietitian can offer all the same services a nutritionist can, and additionally, provide for clients by:
Dietitians are allowed to provide these more advanced services to their clients because they are required to complete a course of study in nutrition, while nutritionists are not. Additionally, dietitians have to complete at least a full year of supervised work in professional practice before being granted their position.
“Both dietitians and nutritionists take a holistic approach to a client’s health and nutrition and aim to implement a healthy eating plan based on the inclusion of a variety of foods from the various food groups. However, a dietitian is best placed to provide medical nutrition advice to manage disease states.”
“I chose to become a dietitian because it afforded me more work opportunities and allowed me to have a more clinical focus.”
To qualify as an accredited practicing dietitian in Australia you have to be registered with nationally recognised bodies like the Dietitians Association of Australia or the Nutrition Society of Australia. To register with associations like DAA or NSA, you are required to meet certain standards and complete an accredited Bachelor’s degree in dietetics, qualifying you and your specialisation in food science.
As an APD, you’re qualified to work beyond the workplace of nutritionists, meaning that you can work in clinical nutrition settings, like hospitals, community health centres, and private health care facilities.
Learn everything you need to know about the field of nutrition and dietetics. Discover the steps you need to take to become a nutritionist or dietitian.
Why study nutrition and dietetics?
Whether you pursue a career as a nutritionist or a dietitian is entirely dependent on where your personal interest in health and wellness lies.
If you’re into health and wellbeing but feel more compelled by the fitness side of things, pursue nutrition. Education programs can be as short as six weeks, and if you pursue a career in personal training, your nutritionist qualification will be an asset to your business.
But if it’s food science and clinical treatment that you’re fascinated by, pursue dietetics! Help people with health issues on a more advanced level, in medical nutrition.
People pursue dietetics because they love it and it shows when it comes to job satisfaction. A 2018 Victorian Dietetics Workforce Report showed that a whole 72% of dieticians intended to stay within their profession for six years plus. Getting accredited as a dietitian pays off.
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