03 Aug 2017

Dietitian vs Nutritionist: What’s the Difference, and Does it Matter?

Nutrition Advice

Helping people achieve their goals through controlling what they eat is a noble, and sometimes difficult, task.

It can be challenging to help people make genuine, lasting change in their lives. However, when you get a successful case, the payoff can be immensely rewarding. If it’s a career option that you want to pursue, there are two main career options available to you.

Both dietitians and nutritionists provide a range of nutrition-based services to clients. This can include basic nutrition advice for individuals, advice to public health bodies and private organisations, and contributing to community health programs through policy input.

What is a Nutritionist?

A person can practice as a nutritionist, and give themselves that title, without extensive qualifications or accreditations. A dietitian is a type of nutritionist, but a nutritionist is not a dietitian. While somebody must earn accreditation to call themselves a dietitian, the term “nutritionist” is not protected by any regulations, and as such anyone can label themselves as a nutritionist.

Generally, people who pursue nutritionist courses do so as part of a broader service offering. Some healthcare professionals will take a nutritionist course in order to broaden their knowledge and provide expanded advice to their patients.

Many fitness professionals take basic nutrition courses in order to understand the basic science behind nutrition, and be able to distinguish between good and bad nutrition advice. There is plenty of false information out there regarding nutrition, and a basic foundation of knowledge can go a long way towards helping someone wade through it all.

What is a Dietitian?

A dietitian is usually someone who has earned a bachelor’s degree (although not always necessary). They must have completed some level of education in their field. They are also required to have completed up to a year of supervised work, working within a guided program at a healthcare facility, catering business, or community body.

Dietitians have far greater expectations placed on their capabilities and level of professionalism. As such, like many other professionals, they must take steps to continue to update their knowledge even after obtaining their degree. Reading industry publications, keeping an eye on scientific journals and staying abreast of the latest research are all aspects of a dietitian’s ongoing professional development.

What are the Major Differences Between a Nutritionist and a Dietitian?  

While the media, and those without industry knowledge, use the terms interchangeably, there are actually some significant differences between nutritionists and dietitians.

Accreditation

The major difference between nutritionists and dietitians is accreditation. There is no national industry authority governing nutritionists. This means that there is no body that oversees their qualifications and no particularly stringent guidelines that nutritionists need to follow in order to be able to practice.

Dietitians, on the other hand, are registered with nationally recognised bodies, such as the Dietitians Association of Australia. They must abide by the National Competency Standards for Dietitians. These standards include a guideline for the way in which dietitians should practice their profession within different contexts, such as in public service or when advising individuals. 

Furthermore, the Accredited Practising Dietitian Program provides strict criteria by which dietitians must abide if they wish to be granted entry. The Practising Dietitian Program is recognized by many other national bodies, including Medicare and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, as well as some private organisations such as health insurance companies.

It is possible to become an Accredited Nutritionist through the Dietitians Association of Australia. However, you can practice as a nutritionist without the same level of accreditation as a dietitian.

Knowledge

Nutritionist courses can vary in length and quality, with some as short as six weeks and covering far less content than a dietetics course. Depending on your education provider, you can gain a significant amount of knowledge through studying a simple nutrition course; however it’s important to investigate the course content prior to commencing.

Dietitians usually continue to update their knowledge in a professional manner throughout their careers. This can include attending industry seminars or reading industry publications. Nutritionists, on the other hand, usually earn their qualifications in order to supplement other qualifications and provide better advice to their clients.

Employment

Nutritionists can gain employment in a wide range of fields, including public health advice, advice for individuals, and working with private organisations. Some research assistants and professional scientists will pursue nutritionist qualifications in order to better understand their field of study.

Nutritionists can work with sporting organisations, gyms, schools and advise media outlets on basic terminology and correct usage of terms. Often, people will seek the services of a nutritionist to assist them in getting into shape.

Dietitians can work in most of the same roles as nutritionists. With a higher level of accreditation, they can easily enter a role that a nutritionist would hold, provided they are otherwise equal.

However, dietitians can also work in settings that aren’t open to nutritionists. This includes private clinical practice, such as general practice, hospitals and other major healthcare institutions. Dietitians can also gain employment in the medical nutrition industry, often in research roles, producing cutting-edge knowledge to help further their field.

Clients

With the right qualifications, nutritionists can work with a wide range of clients, from athletes to children and major organisations. The key to getting these clients as a nutritionist is maintaining a contemporary knowledge base and staying up to date with major industry changes, and being able to prove this through work and producing results.

Dietitians often work with more medically sensitive clients. These can include those with diabetes, allergies, obesity, cancer and gastrointestinal diseases. Because of the high level of knowledge required to provide services to these people, only accredited dietitians are permitted to provide care.

What is Right for You?

Some of the higher level roles with healthcare institutions can be very rewarding, and pay quite well. In order to reach the higher salary tiers in the nutrition field, it pays to be qualified as a dietitian.

However, if your goal is to provide nutrition advice to supplement another service, such as personal training or sports training, a nutritionist qualification will get you there.

Still have questions? Get in touch with us today to discuss your career goals. We’ll help you develop a plan to get you where you need to be. 

Get in touch with AIPT today.

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