Dietitian or Nutritionist – What’s the difference?

Nutrition professionals vary in training and qualifications. In Australia, professional nutritional practice is not regulated by the government. There is no legal protection over the terms Dietitian or Nutritionist. This situation opens the possibility for misinformation to the public. When seeking the advice of a nutrition professional, seek someone with recognized credentials. In Australia, these are provided and governed by either the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) or the Nutrition Society of Australia (NSA).

So, Dietitian or Nutritionist – What do they do?

What is a Nutritionist?

The main role of a nutritionist is to help people achieve optimal health. This is done by providing information and advice about health and food choices. Typically, this is working with already healthy populations (getting people from ‘good’ to ‘better’ health).

What qualifications are required?

A Nutritionist will usually have completed a tertiary qualification in any number of fields. These including nutrition, food science and public health.
There are a diverse range of qualifications that can lead to people calling themselves a nutritionist. A Bachelor-level degree with a major in nutrition or a postgraduate degree such as Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma, Masters Degree or even a PhD specialising in nutrition.
Some people do call themselves nutritionists even though they do not have tertiary qualifications. As In Australia there’s a qualification called the ‘Advanced Diploma of Nutritional Medicine’, which does impart a great deal of factual information and knowledge, but is not yet recognised for professional registration.

What types of roles do Nutritionists work in?

Nutritionists have expertise in a range of services:

  • Public health nutrition
  • Community health
  • Tertiary education related to nutrition

Nutritionists may design, coordinate, implement and evaluate a range of population health interventions. The goal is to improve the well-being of individuals, communities and the population as a whole, through better food and nutrition.

Nutritionists may also work in a number of other roles including:

  • Research
  • Nutrition consultants and advisors
  • Public health and health promotion officers
  • Community development officers
  • Quality and nutrition coordinators
  • Food technologists
  • Media spokespeople
  • Other related roles.

Nutritionists are not qualified to provide medical nutrition therapy. This includes both individual and group dietary interventions.

dietitian or nutritionist

What is a Dietitian?

Dietitians are health professionals specialising in food and nutrition. They have received clinical training to prescribe special diets for medical conditions. Qualified Dietitians’ studies have included supervised and assessed professional practice in public health nutrition, medical nutrition therapy and food service management.
They regularly work with at-risk or ill populations, using nutrition strategies in conjunction with medical and pharmaceutical interventions. They often are dealing with chronic diseases (getting people from ‘poor’ to ‘good’ or ‘better’ health).

What qualifications are required?

Dietitians hold qualifications that allow them to work in the hospital, community or private practice settings. These qualifications generally consist of a three year science degree followed by an 18 month – 2 year Masters degree in nutrition and dietetics or a 4 year undergraduate program with a significant workplace placement in the final year.

All dietitians can call themselves nutritionists if they choose. They have university qualifications in nutrition. However, not all nutritionists could be considered to be dietitians. As part of their qualification in human nutrition, a dietitian has undertaken a course of study that included substantial theory and supervised and assessed professional dietetic practice in clinical practice (hospital based), food service management and community nutrition.

Dietitians are eligible for membership of the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) and to participate in the Accredited Practising Dietitians (APD) and/or Accredited Nutritionist (AN) program. The titles APD and AN are protected by law. Only qualified practitioners who have met certain requirements can use this title.

What types of roles do Dietitians work in?

Dietitians may work in many of the same settings as Nutritionists, such as:

  • Public health and community nutrition
  • Research and teaching
  • Food industry
  • Nutrition marketing and communications.

However, Dietitians are also qualified to work in:

  • Private clinical practice
  • Hospitals
  • The medical nutrition industry.

Dietitian or Nutritionist venn diagram

They provide expert nutrition advice for people of all ages and prescribe dietary treatments for many conditions such as diabetes, food allergies, cancers, gastro-intestinal diseases, and overweight and obesity.

Professional Bodies in Australia

Nutrition Society of Australia

The Nutrition Society of Australia (NSA) has developed a voluntary Register of Nutritionists in Australia.
The key purpose of the NSA Register of Nutritionists is to protect the public by establishing a list of appropriately qualified people. This helps to distinguish between nutritionists who have received an approved level of training and experience from others who have not. The Register also promotes professional development in nutrition and promotes wider appreciation of the roles fulfilled by Registered Nutritionists of all kinds.

Dietitians Association of Australia – Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist

The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) has developed credentialing systems for the credentials ‘Accredited Practising Dietitian’ (APD) and ‘Accredited Nutritionist’ (AN) which are protected by law. Only qualified practitioners who have met certain requirements can use these titles. All APDs are automatically able to use the AN credential, because as part of their qualification in human nutrition. Not all ANs can use the APD credential, however.

Accredited Practising Dietitian is the only credential recognised by the Australian Government, Medicare, the Department of Veterans Affairs and most private health funds.

To maintain APD and AN status, nutrition and dietetic professionals are required to undertake a specified level of continuing education and professional development to ensure currency of practice. APD and AN status is reviewed annually by DAA.

In summary:

  • In Australia, Professional nutrition practice is not regulated by the government.
  • Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, regardless of education.
  • Only someone with tertiary qualifications in Dietetics can call themselves a dietitian.
  • Nutritionists generally work with healthy populations (avoiding deficiencies, improving diet, etc.)
  • Dietitians’ scope is not limited to healthy populations (can include clinical and medical nutritional therapy, illness, drug interaction, etc.)
  • There are registration systems for Nutritionists and Dietitians through the Nutrition Society of Australia (NSA) and the Dietetics Association of Australia (DAA), respectively. The NSA registration is voluntary, the DAA credential is protected by law.

For more information:
Dietitian’s Association of Australia

Nutrition Society of Australia

Nutrition Australia

See also:
An excellent FAQ about dietitians by Deakin University

An accessible explanation by the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper on choosing a dietitian or nutritionist

So do you now feel more confident in choosing a dietitian or nutritionist?
Let us know what you think of this info.Share your new knowledge with your friends! 🙂

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Tim Brown
Tim is passionate about fitness and health. Combining his love of Martial Arts and Fitness, Tim founded FunFit: Functional Fitness & Self Defence Centre in 2008 and from 2012 has been a student of Nutrition. Eat Real Food is Tim's vision (with help!) to better inform people about healthy food choices. With so many messages out there (often conflicting), Tim thought "wouldn't it be great if there was a site that people could go to that cut through jargon and marketing-speak and just made it easier to make healthy choices?" Enter Eat Real Food. Be warned: Tim is (in)famous for good information and bad jokes. He may also overuse parentheses.

Tim Brown

Tim is passionate about fitness and health. Combining his love of Martial Arts and Fitness, Tim founded FunFit: Functional Fitness & Self Defence Centre in 2008 and from 2012 has been a student of Nutrition. Eat Real Food is Tim's vision (with help!) to better inform people about healthy food choices. With so many messages out there (often conflicting), Tim thought "wouldn't it be great if there was a site that people could go to that cut through jargon and marketing-speak and just made it easier to make healthy choices?" Enter Eat Real Food. Be warned: Tim is (in)famous for good information and bad jokes. He may also overuse parentheses.

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