The difference between a Dietitian and Nutritionist

Dietitian or nutritionist? It’s a fair question to ask as in Australia, there are many different nutritional professionals who all appear to play similar roles.

So what is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist? To assist you in making an informed decision about who best to get your nutrition advice from, let’s look at the similarities and differences between a dietitian and a nutritionist.

What is a Dietitian?

A dietitian is:

A professional who applies the science of food and nutrition to promote health, prevent and treat disease to optimise the health of individuals, groups, communities and populations.

A dietitian has undertaken at least 4.5-5 years of tertiary study that includes a range of theory and professional practice in clinical nutrition, medical nutrition therapy, and foodservice management. A dietitian is able to work in the public health sector, in private practice, community-based settings, food service settings, as well as clinically in a hospital setting.

A dietitian is also qualified and trained to provide a range of evidence-based nutritional services. However, a dietitian also has expertise in providing individual dietary counselling, medical nutrition therapy, group dietary therapy, and foodservice management.

Dietitians are qualified to provide evidence-based and individualised nutrition advice and medical nutrition therapy. This means that if you have a certain medical condition, a dietitian is generally the most qualified person to see.

A dietitian can work in any area that a nutritionist works, as well as providing nutrition advice for the treatment of a broad range of diseases and health conditions. A dietitian can also work clinically with individuals suffering from a range of conditions including diabetes, food allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, and provide nutritional advice around how to manage these conditions.

Dietitians in Australia are regulated by a regulatory body known as Dietitians Australia, where if they meet strict criteria are eligible to join the Accredited Practicing Dietitians (APD) program. APDs are required to meet a number of standards, undergo regular audits, and take part in a certain amount of continued professional development each year. Dietitians with an APD status are also the only nutritional professionals recognised by Medicare, the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), and many private health insurers. This means that patients may be eligible for rebates or sometimes even completely covered services.

All dietitians can be nutritionists, but not all nutritionists can be dietitians.

What is a Nutritionist?

There are a number of different ways to become a nutritionist in Australia, as there are no technical requirements that need to be met in order to call yourself a nutritionist. A nutritionist may be someone who has undertaken a tertiary degree in nutrition, such as nutrition science but may also be an individual who has undertaken a 3-12 week course in nutrition.

In Australia the term “nutritionist” is not regulated, meaning this title may be used by dietitians, nutrition scientists, nutrition graduates, and even those with limited qualifications in nutrition. Although there is no specific regulation, it appears that a lot of nutritionists in Australia will become registered with the Nutrition Society of Australia, which requires a minimum 3-year tertiary degree, or relevant work experience and also requires certain standards to be met in order to maintain the title.

A nutritionist provides a range of evidence-based nutrition services that are related to nutrition, public health nutrition, policy development, research, and community health. A nutritionist is qualified to offer broad health advice, however, is not qualified to offer individualised medical nutritional therapy.

Registered nutritionists are not able to provide specific meal plans to people who are wanting to improve their body composition or performance, as this is outside their scope of practice. However, a qualified sports nutritionist is able to provide specific meal plans based on body composition or performance goals. To become a registered sports nutritionist, nutritionists need to complete further training with Sports Nutrition Australia.

Should I see a dietitian or nutritionist?

As a quick summary, it is important to remember that in order to be eligible for accreditation a dietitian MUST be registered with Dietitians Australia, whereas it is voluntary for nutritionists to register with the Nutrition Society of Australia. It is also important to remember that in terms of medical nutrition therapy and scope of practice in the nutrition space, a dietitian is generally considered the gold standard and most qualified.

Although a dietitian may have a larger scope of practice, it doesn’t always mean they will be a better practitioner than a nutritionist. It is important to remember that like in any profession there will be some amazing practitioners and some poorer practitioners. It is important to ensure you are considering a practitioner based on their scope of practice, as well as the quality of the practitioner.

If you are unsure of what you should be eating, need assistance with your diet, or would like to learn how to take a more balanced approach, book an appointment with our dietitian today!

Laura Goodridge, Dietitian & Nutritionist at Total Balance Healthcare.

This blog post is an educational tool only.  It is not a replacement for medical advice from a registered and qualified doctor or health professional.

Any other questions not answered here? Get in touch with us!

Phone: 03 97738085

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