The differences between a dietician and nutritionist explained

When setting out on the journey to improve one’s health, many people find their first port of call is finding a suitable health professional to help them implement some positive dietary changes. Often, this is by way of a visit to either a nutritionist or dietician. While both nutritionists and dietitians aim to assist in a person’s journey to reaching optimal health through food and nutrition, a variety of different levels of training can lead to someone calling themselves a nutrition professional. Many nutrition professionals refer to themselves as either a ‘nutritionist’ or a ‘dietitian.’ So what is the difference between these two professions and how can we best navigate our way to someone most suited to our needs?

Dietitian – The term ‘dietician’ is a protected term. A dietitian is a registered health professional who meets specific standards and training requirement as set by the NZ Dietitians Board. A dietitian is required to have both an undergraduate science degree in human nutrition along with a post-graduate diploma in dietetics. Dietitians may work in a clinical, research, policy development or teaching capacity. Dietitians may work in many of the same settings as nutritionists, such as public health and community nutrition, research and teaching, food industry and nutrition marketing and communications. However, dietitians are also qualified to work in the medical nutrition industry.

Nutritionist – The main role of a nutritionist is to help people achieve optimal good health by providing information and advice about health and food choices. The approach taken is usually a more holistic approach than that of a dietician. The term ‘nutritionist’ isn’t a protected term and therefore can be used freely by anyone because there isn’t a specific qualification or legal registration process required. A nutritionist may have a Ph.D. in a specialty area of nutrition or equally be someone providing services with no formal training. Nutritionists that meet set criteria can register with the Nutrition Society of New Zealand. There are many well-qualified and experienced nutritionists working in New Zealand, and to ensure you are getting professional advice and service, ensure you are seeing a nutritionist who is registered and also has formal qualifications (ie. a Diploma in Nutrition). It is possible for nutritionists to become associate members of Dietitians NZ following approval by the Dietitians NZ Executive. For this to be possible, the nutritionist must have a scientific qualification in human nutrition or hold a prominent position in work or research relating to nutrition or dietetics.

To ensure that you find a nutrition professional to help meet your needs, consider the taking the following steps;

  • Ask around for recommendations. Ask friends, family and other health professionals (ie. doctors, osteopaths, acupuncturists) for their recommendations. If someone has seen either a dietician or nutritionist and has experienced improved health and wellbeing, it is worth learning about who helped them on their journey!
  • When making inquiries, always ask what qualifications are held and if the professional is registered with either the Nutrition Society of NZ or the NZ Dietitians Board.
  • Consider searching for a nutritional professional on the Natural Therapy Pages NZ.
  • Be clear on what you want to learn and the results that you want to achieve and feel free to email the health professional’s office to enquire about whether the practitioner is well suited to your needs and desired approach.

Professional nutritionists and dieticians can both play an important and valuable part in your journey to good health. Good luck finding someone who best suits your needs!

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