What is the Difference between a Dietician and a Nutritionist?

Trying to find the right person to obtain nutritional and health advice from can be confusing at times. There are many people who claim to be experts in nutrition yet have very limited knowledge or education in the area and offer you no protection.

So what is the difference between a Dietician, Nutritionist, Nutritional therapist/ diet and lifestyle coach?

Dieticians are regulated by law and the Dieticians title is protected and only registered dieticians are able to call themselves dieticians (they can also call themselves Nutritionists). They are able to assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional issues both with individuals and public health institutions. Dieticians interpret scientific evidence to improve health and to treat diseases and certain health conditions. They are able to offer advice to individuals who wish to trial various nutritional interventions, such as with specific diets for autism. They work with both sick and healthy patients.

Dieticians often advise medical staff on the best course of action in regards to a patients’ nutritional status. A Dieticians services should be able to be claimed through Medicare as well as private health funds.

Nutritionists A qualified nutritionist should have a tertiary qualification and should be voluntarily listed with a national association governing nutritionists, such as the Complimentary Medicine Association (CMA). The association will check the qualifications of the nutritionist and if they are suitably qualified they are eligible to gain a provider number for health rebates so that their services can be claimed through private health funds (not all health funds recognise nutritionists).

At this stage the title of Nutritionist is not protected by law, which means that anyone can call themselves a nutritionist and they may not have the standard or competencies in the underpinning knowledge and professional skills required. Most university qualified nutritionists will voluntarily register themselves with these associations.

Nutritionists are qualified to offer advice on food and healthy eating, work with people who are well and who require nutritional advice to stay that way. They do not work with acutely ill or hospitalised patients.

Nutritionists also interpret scientific evidence and are qualified to offer a range of evidence based nutrition services about food and healthy eating practices, but not about special diets for medical conditions.

Nutritional Therapists, Diet coaches, Lifestyle coaches etc Anyone can call themselves a Nutritional therapist, nutritionist or diet coach expert etc. and though they may have had some training it is usually through informal routes. They are not eligible to voluntarily register with associations such as the CMA etc. and are not able to gain a provider number.

Nutritional therapists etc. often advise on complimentary medicine that is often not recognised as valid treatments by conventional medicine. This often includes treatments such as colonic irrigation and detox guidance.

Nutritional therapists etc. see people who are interested in alternative/ complimentary medicine. They also may offer supplements and high dose vitamins which are not supported by robust scientific evidence and may make you sick. They do not use scientific evidence in their advice but often base their advice on anecdotal and personal experience. Some have no more experience other than an interest in food, are self-regulated and offer no protection to the consumer/ patient.

So how do I check if I am seeing a qualified nutritionist?

  • Ask to see their qualifications. Is it a post graduate from a reputable university?
  • Do they have an underpinning university degree or similar in science (such as a Bachelor of Science?)
  • Have they voluntarily registered with a governing board such as the CMA?
  • Do they have a provider number?

The best advice is to always check the background and qualifications of anyone you are considering seeking advice from to ensure they are appropriately qualified for your needs or discuss who you should see with your doctor

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