What’s the difference between a dietitian & nutritionist?

by Beth Tripp.

When I enrolled in my nutrition degree I didn’t really think about what jobs I would want to go into after my degree. I was aware that I needed to have an AfN accredited degree to become a registered nutritionist, but I did not realise that I wouldn’t be able to apply for jobs in dietetics when I graduated. So maybe you are just starting a nutrition-related degree and aren’t aware of this, or maybe you just need a refresher on the difference between dietitians and nutritionists, whatever your reason for reading, I hope this blog summarises the difference between dietitian’s and nutritionists.

Let’s talk about the differences in where they may work. You will likely find dieticians working in an NHS setting, whereas nutritionists aren’t likely to work in these roles. Of course, dieticians can still work freelance, and other roles, but as I will get into later, their clients often have medical conditions so are more likely to be in an NHS setting.

Not only do dietitian’s and nutritionists differ on where they work, but they also work with different clients. A dietitian can work with people with medical conditions such as IBS, as well as people with eating disorders. In contrast, nutritionists are only permitted to work with the ‘healthy’ population, in order to promote their health, otherwise known as public health. This is because of the education a dietitian receives during their degree, as well as their placement experience.

The two professions also differ in titles too. While nobody can call themselves a dietitian without completing a dietetics degree, this is not the same for nutritionists. Unfortunately at this stage, the term nutritionist is not a protected title, so theoretically anybody can call themselves a nutritionist, even if they only did a two-week course online. That said you should always look out for whether someone is registered with the Association for Nutrition (AfN) and has the title of a ANutr (registered associate nutritionist) or RNutr (registered nutritionist), to ensure someone has credibility as a nutritionist.

Nutritionists and dieticians also have different associations. The AfN is a charity which is the independent regulator for registered nutritionists and they hold the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN), which is the only register of nutritionists that are recognised by both the NHS and Public Health England. The British Dietetics Association (BDA) is the professional body that dietitian’s join, but it is also a trade union. Qualified nutritionist can still join the BDA however.

So, in just a very brief description, there are some big differences between nutritionists and dietitians. Obviously some dietitians may not fit the description I have laid out here, and this information also only applies to the UK. It is important that you are aware of the kind of clients you are permitted to work with, so that you are following guidelines set out by the AfN. In reality, we just do not get the level of education needed to work with such complex patients, as registered nutritionists, no matter how much we would like to help.

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