Dietitian or nutritionist? (2023)

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Choosing the right person to seek help and advice from can sometimes be a confusing task. Many people claim to be experts in nutrition yet have very limited knowledge and offer no protection to the public.

This page explains the differences between the roles and functions of dietitians, nutritionists and nutritional therapists.

Dietitians are the onlynutrition professionals to beregulated by law, and aregoverned by an ethical code toensure that they always workto the highest standard.

What are dietitians, nutritionists & nutritional therapists?


Registered Dietitians (RDs) are the only qualified health professionals that assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems at an individual and wider public health level. They work with both healthy and sick people. Uniquely, dietitians use the most up-to-date public health and scientific research on food, health and disease which they translate into practical guidance to enable people to make appropriate lifestyle and food choices.

Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals to be regulated by law, and are governed by an ethical code to ensure that they always work to the highest standard. They work in the NHS, private practice, industry, education, research, sport, media, public relations, publishing, government and Non Government Organisations (NGOs). Dietitians advise and influence food and health policy across the spectrum from government, to local communities and individuals.

Is their title protected by law?

Yes - only those registered with the statutory regulator, the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) can use the title of Dietitian/Registered Dietitian (RD).

What qualifications do they have?

Minimum requirement is a BSc Hons in Dietetics, or a related science degree with a postgraduate diploma or higher degree in Dietetics.

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Dietetic courses are structured to include biochemistry, physiology, applied sciences and research methods which underpin nutrition and dietetics. These are complemented by social and behavioural sciences and the theories of communication to support the development of skills required for professional dietetic practice.

All courses require a period of supervised practice including NHS settings, where an individual must demonstrate clinical and professional competence before being eligible to apply for registration.

The British Dietetic Association is the professional body and Trade Union for dietitians and is also responsible for designing the curriculum for the profession.

Courses must be approved by the HCPC and demonstrate that graduates meet the Standards of Proficiency for Dietetics.

Who are they regulated and quality assured by?

The HCPC’s role is to protect the public. It is an independent, UK-wide health regulator. It currently sets standards of professional training, performance and conduct for 14 professions. The HCPC keeps a current register of health professionals who meet its standards and takes action if registered health professionals fall below those standards. Registered professionals must keep up-to-date through compulsory Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

If an individual is not happy with treatment they are given, or if they are worried about the behaviour or health of a dietitian, they can approach the HCPC who will investigate and take action.

How can I check that my dietitian is registered?

By checking the HCPC online register.

Where do they work?

Dietitians work in the NHS and in private clinics. They work with healthy and sick people in a variety of settings. Dietitians can work in the food industry, workplace, catering, education, sport and the media. Other care pathways they work in include mental health, learning disabilities,community, acute settings and public health.

They often work as integral members of multi-disciplinary teams to treat complex clinical conditions such as diabetes, food allergy and intolerance, IBS syndrome, eating disorders, chronic fatigue, malnutrition, kidney failure and bowel disorders. They provide advice to caterers to ensure the nutritional care of all clients in NHS and other care settings such as nursing homes, they also plan and implement public health programmes to promote health and prevent nutrition related diseases. A key role of a dietitian is to train and educate other health and social care workers.

They also advise on diet to avoid the side effects and interactions between medications.

What type of treatments do they offer?

Dietitians interpret the science of nutrition to improve health and treat diseases and conditions by educating and giving practical advice to clients, patients, carers and colleagues. They advise and help to maintain nutritional status when individuals want to trial dietary interventions such as exclusion diets, nutritional supplementation or dietary interventions in areas such as autism for which evidence is still emerging.

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They use recognised methodologies to critically appraise the evidence base which includes all forms of evidence and research to inform their advice.

They cannot offer advice where there would be personal financial benefit.

Dietitians are legally able to supply and administer some prescription only medicines e.g. insulin, phosphate binders and pancreatic enzymes, through Trusts/Health Boards. They can also adjust this medication. Much of their work is spent advising/counselling other medical staff as to the best course of action in regard to an individual’s nutritional status.

What products do they use and can they order on drug charts?

Dietitians are able to manage the whole system from advice and recommendation to an individual’s access to all NHS approved borderline substances (ACBS) nutritional products and supplements, with or without prescription.


Nutritionists work in different roles including public health, health improvement, health policy, local and national government, in the private sector, Non Government Organisations (NGOs) and in education and research.

Nutritionists are qualified to provide information about food and healthy eating.

Many employers of nutritionists in all sectors will only consider recruiting Registered Nutritionists – or Registered Dietitians.

Is their title protected by law?

No – anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, however only registrants with the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN) can call themselves a Registered Nutritionist (RNutrs). RNutrs are not permitted by law to call themselves dietitians.

What qualifications do they have?

There are many degree courses available in nutrition. Courses that have applied and met strict standards of professional education in nutrition are accredited by the Association for Nutrition (AfN) and graduates from these courses have direct entry onto the voluntary register. It is not a legal requirement for a nutritionist to be registered with the UKVRN, which is run by the Association for Nutrition (AfN).

A nutritionist who is not registered with the UKVRN may not have met or be able to meet the AfN’s recognised standards and competencies in underpinning knowledge and professional skills.

Who are they regulated and quality assured by?

Nutritionists are not required to be registered in order to work in the UK. Many nutritionists belong to the voluntary self regulated professional register, UKVRN, held at present by the AfN and use the title Registered Nutritionist.

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Registrants are expected to keep up-to-date through Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

How can I check that my nutritionist is registered?

By using the ‘Search the Register’ function on the AfN website.

Where do they work?

Nutritionists work in all non-clinical settings such as in Government, food industry, research, teaching, sports and exercise industries, international work in developing countries, media and communications, animal nutrition and NGOs.

There are some nutritionists employed within the NHS working alongside Registered Dietitians. Nutritionists often work freelance as consultants.

They cannot work with acutely ill hospitalised patients or those living in the community requiring therapeutic interventions without supervision from a dietitian.

What type of treatments do they offer?

Nutritionists are qualified to provide information about food and healthy eating, but not about special diets for medical conditions.

What products do they use and can they prescribe on drug charts?

A nutritionist registered with the AfN may recommend NHS approved supplements such as folic acid. They are not able to prescribe on drug charts.

Non-Registered Nutritionists may often suggest supplements that are not NHS approved.

Nutritional Therapists and Diet Experts

Nutritional therapists encompass the use of recommendations for diet and lifestyle in order to alleviate or prevent ailments, often based on complementary ‘medicine’ recommendations not recognised as valid treatment in conventional medicine. These recommendations may include guidance on detoxification, colonic irrigation, the avoidance of ingestion or inhalation of ‘toxins’ or ‘allergens’ and the use of supplementary nutrients.

Is their title protected by law?

No - anyone can call themselves a Nutritionist, a Nutritional Therapist, a Clinical Nutritionist or a Diet Expert. They are not permitted by law to call themselves dietitians.

What qualifications do they have?

Some training is provided through the Institute of Optimum Nutrition and other informal routes. ‘Foundation Degree’ status can be awarded to courses considered of sufficient level. This is not a degree qualification but an accredited qualification that may mean candidates satisfy entry conditions to start a recognised degree in Nutrition. Nutritional therapy foundation degrees are not recognised by universities for candidates wishing to take a Dietetic degree.

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Nutritional therapists are not eligible to register with either UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN) or the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Who are they regulated and quality assured by?

Voluntary regulation is possible but not compulsory, through the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). This is self-regulated rather than independently regulated.

How can I check that my Nutritional Therapist is registered?

Nutritional therapists are not eligible to register with either UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN) or the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). Nutritional therapists are able to register with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council though this is not compulsory.

Where do they work?

Nutritional therapists see individuals on a private basis who wish to consider alternative/complementary medicine.

What type of treatments do they offer?

Nutritional therapists use treatments such as high dose vitamins, detox, and food avoidance for which there is little robust scientific evidence.

They work on the belief that the body has underlying nutritional and biochemical imbalances that lead to poor health including mental health problems.

They do not use the evidence in a robust fashion and advice is most often based on personal opinion or belief.

What products do they use?

Nutritional therapists use commercial (non-NHS approved) dietary supplements including mega doses of vitamins and minerals, and commercial (not NHS approved) allergy testing.

Suggested products have to be bought. Under their voluntary register, Nutritional therapists are allowed to sell supplements to their clients.

Diet Experts

There exist many other individuals who style themselves as ‘diet experts’ or ‘nutrition experts’ sometimes with many letters after their name. Some may have no more qualifications than an interest in food. This is largely a self-regulated industry where anyone can set up and practice, meaning there is no real protection for consumers.

It is advisable to ask anyone who you are considering taking advice from about their background and qualifications and satisfy yourself that they are appropriately qualified and regulated or discuss with your GP, consultant or health visitor.

(Video) Dietitian vs Nutritionist- WHICH IS RIGHT FOR ME?


Dietitian or nutritionist? ›

The registered dietitian (RD) and registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) credentials have identical meanings; however, there is a subtle difference. “Nutritionist” was added to RD for the purpose of encompassing a broader concept of wellness, plus the prevention and treatment of conditions.

Is it better to go to a nutritionist or dietician? ›

Although dietitians and nutritionists both help people find the best diets and foods to meet their health needs, they have different qualifications. In the United States, dietitians are certified to treat clinical conditions, whereas nutritionists are not always certified.

Is a nutritionist the same as a dietician for weight loss? ›

A dietitian is qualified to create customized meal plans and help you navigate medical issues. A nutritionist doesn't have formal education requirements, but can offer weight loss guidance. Both are uniquely qualified to help you reach your goals.

Should I see a nutritionist to gain weight? ›

It is best to see your health care provider if you lost weight unexpectedly. Your provider or a dietitian can help you gain weight in a healthy way. Together, you can create a plan based on your needs.

Do you really need a dietitian? ›

Registered Dietitians Can Help You Manage Disease

Whether you have type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or digestive diseases (such as irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease), a registered dietitian can help you design an eating plan that will help manage those conditions.

When should I see a dietitian? ›

You may want to make changes in the way that you eat, have a food allergy, digestive issue, or you have a nutrition-related health condition like diabetes, heart disease, or high cholesterol. Each person's reason for speaking with a dietitian is different.

Is it better to see a dietician or a nutritionist for diabetes? ›

A dietitian who specializes in diabetes works with people who have pre-diabetes, diabetes, or are at risk for diabetes. While not all dietitians who work in this field have have specialty certification, many have the Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) credential (1).

Can a dietitian help me lose fat? ›

Your dietitian can help you set realistic weight loss goals. Most people should aim to lose about 1 to 1.5 pounds per week. Many people find medical nutrition therapy helpful for weight loss. Your dietitian will tell you how many calories to eat per day to lose weight steadily and safely.

Can a dietitian prescribe diet pills? ›

The nutritionist cannot prescribe medications or substances. This is the role of the physician or specialized nurse practitioner. As for weight loss drugs, since these are drugs/substances, the nutritionist cannot prescribe them either.

Does a nutritionist give a diet plan? ›

Dietitians and Nutritionists can help clients reach their health goals with additional guidance by offering them meal plans. Meal plans can be personalized based on the health conditions and ethnic meal preferences of their clients.

What are the disadvantages of a dietitian? ›

What are the cons of being a dietitian?
  • There are many education and training requirements for the role. ...
  • Working with patients who have severe health conditions can be challenging. ...
  • You constantly have to stay up to date. ...
  • There can be competition for lucrative job opportunities in the field.
Mar 3, 2023

Can a nutritionist help with belly fat? ›

So if you're needing some extra support, working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to figure out what health and nutrition habits need to be addressed will help you lose undesired belly fat," says Ehsani.

What do dietitians recommend for weight loss? ›

One of the best diets for weight loss is the whole food diet, which eliminates all processed foods. The Mediterranean diet discourages eating red meat but encourages veggies and whole grains. A plant-based diet may also help you lose weight since some meats have been linked to weight gain.

How many times should you see a dietitian? ›

You might need to make up to four follow-up visits during the next 6 months, depending on your progress and overall health. After that, you'll have one each year. Most insurance plans, including Medicare, cover a certain number of sessions with an RD or RDN.

What is the reason for seeing a dietitian? ›

Dietitians give dietary and nutrition advice to people of all ages and can help you set and achieve diet-related goals. Dietitians can be especially helpful for people who have specific dietary restrictions or requirements, for example, people with diabetes or food allergies.

Where are dietitians needed the most? ›

Dietitians and nutritionists work in many settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, cafeterias, and for state and local governments.

How do dietitians diagnose? ›

“RDs in the hospital setting assess a patient's nutrition status by reviewing their weight, results of lab tests or bloodwork, medications they take, and their medical history,” says Raphael. After making this assessment, the dietitian will determine a nutrition diagnosis and offer ways to treat it.

What questions should I ask my dietitian? ›

10 Frequently Asked Questions for Registered Dietitians
  • What are good sources of protein? ...
  • What are good and bad foods? ...
  • How can fluids be added to a diet? ...
  • What about sugar-free or diet foods? ...
  • How can fiber be added to a senior's diet? ...
  • How important is vitamin D? ...
  • What about medication and food interactions?

Can dietitians diagnose diabetes? ›

A registered dietitian (RD) is a critical member of the diabetes team who provides focused nutrition education from diagnosis and throughout routine follow-up care.

Can dietitians prescribe insulin? ›

Your dietitian may also be able to adjust or prescribe any diabetes medications you need.

What is a diabetic dietician called? ›

An RDN who is a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, or CDCES, educates people with diabetes on how to manage their condition and improve their health outcomes.

How to get rid of belly fat dietitian? ›

Struggling to Lose Belly Fat (and Keep It Off)? Follow These 15 Dietitian-Recommended Tips
  1. Make Sure You're Not Overconsuming Calories. ...
  2. Make Sure You're Eating Enough. ...
  3. Focus on Whole Foods. ...
  4. Limit Your Sugar Intake. ...
  5. Get Enough Daily Protein. ...
  6. Eat Veggies With Every Meal and Snack. ...
  7. Eat More of These Foods.
Aug 19, 2019

Does a dietitian help with exercise? ›

Dietitians will provide you with general guidance on how much exercise and what types of exercise will help you achieve your goals. You can expect your dietitian to discuss how much exercise is appropriate for you.

What does Noom actually do? ›

Noom is a lifestyle-based approach. It helps you identify what's stopped you from losing weight up to now so that you can make real changes. So this isn't about dropping some pounds for a special event and then going back to “normal.” Noom aims to make you a healthier eater overall.

Is there a drug for weight loss? ›

Phentermine is one of the most effective weight loss medications. However, it is only indicated for short-term use. The GLP-1 agonists liraglutide (Saxenda) and semaglutide (Wegovy) are also approved for weight loss and have been shown to be particularly effective.

Do dietitians recommend supplements? ›

In my opinion as a dietitian, yes!

Even if your nutrition is on-point, most people still need supplements. Now, this wasn't always my answer. In school we were taught that if you're eating a balanced diet, getting all the recommended servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy, you may not need supplements.

What can I take to suppress my appetite and lose weight? ›

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved these prescription appetite suppressants:
  • Diethylpropion (Tenuate dospan®).
  • Liraglutide (Saxenda®).
  • Naltrexone-bupropion (Contrave®).
  • Phendimetrazine (Prelu-2®).
  • Phentermine (Pro-Fast®).
  • Phentermine/topiramate (Qsymia®).
Sep 25, 2020

Do dietitians create meal plans? ›

Dietitians not only create meal plans for their clients, but they also provide education and knowledge on how to make appropriate food choices in any situation.

Who benefits from a nutritionist? ›

Proper nutrition can help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease as well as many other chronic issues in combination with treatment from your primary care doctor or specialist. A nutritionist can also act as a motivator when you might be struggling to keep up with a healthy lifestyle.

Can a nutritionist help me eat better? ›

Working closely with you and your doctor, a registered dietitian nutritionist provides guidance to help fine-tune your diet. Together, you'll find choices that do not aggravate your condition. For example, limiting fried foods, or caffeinated and carbonated drinks.

Are dieticians reliable? ›

Registered dietitians or professionals with advanced degrees in the field of nutrition are the most credible sources for sound nutrition advice.

What are the positives and negatives of a dietitian? ›

There are several pros and cons related to being a dietitian; the pros include the rewards associated with the career and the many career options within the field, while the cons include education and licensing requirements, and work environment.

What problems do nutritionists face? ›

Becoming a nutritionist can feel daunting. And let's face it - there are way more than three challenges to becoming a successful nutritionist. You need to understand the ins and outs of metabolism, micronutrients, hormones, and even genetics and gut microbiology have become increasingly salient.

What causes lower belly pooch? ›

In many cases, the actual cause of an abdominal pooch is a separation of the abdominal muscles, known as diastasis recti. In patients with diastasis recti, the abdominal muscles become weakened and pull apart at the midline, often due to pregnancy and/or weight gain.

What nutrient deficiency is belly fat? ›

Vitamin D. Eslinger said studies have linked obesity and increased belly fat to low levels of vitamin D. A February 2015 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Obesity Reviews found that "the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency was more elevated in obese subjects."

What is the 80 20 rule dietitian? ›

The 80/20 rule is a guide for your everyday diet—eat nutritious foods 80 percent of the time and have a serving of your favorite treat with the other 20 percent. For the “80 percent” part of the plan, focus on drinking lots of water and eating nutritious foods that include: Whole grains.

What are 3 general dietician recommendations on fat? ›

Eat and drink low-fat dairy products. Reach for whole fruits and vegetables when you're hungry. Limit processed foods, which often contain saturated fat. Check labels on low-fat or fat-free processed food, which may have lots of added sugars and sodium (salt).

Do nutritionists use BMI? ›

So, many nutritionists typically evaluate their clients' health by using their weight to find their Body Mass Index (BMI), a value that is determined using one's height as well. BMI is useful in some contexts, as it can help generally categorize whether or not someone is overweight or obese.

What to expect from a first meeting with a dietitian? ›

During the initial visit, the dietitian will review your medical history and take a dietary history, inclusive of a diet recall and discussion of food issues. She will discuss with you any supplements that you are currently taking so make sure to bring your current supplements with you to the appointment.

Who do dietitians look after? ›

you suffer with digestive problems. you have been diagnosed with a medical condition, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, coeliac, HIV etc. you have oral, enteral or parenteral nutrition requirements. your child, or looked after child, has specialised nutritional requirements.

What does a typical day look like for a dietitian? ›

The dietitian receives guidelines regarding the patient's diet restrictions, nutritional support requirements and medical conditions. The dietitian creates a meal plan based on the information and forwards the plan to the kitchen along with any special instructions.

Should I see a dietitian or nutritionist to lose weight? ›

If you've struggled unsuccessfully to lose weight in the past, it might be time to try getting some professional help. A trained nutritionist can help you reach your goals by designing a personalized plan based on your health status, your individual needs, and your lifestyle.

Is it worth getting a nutritionist? ›

If your diet is a main contributing factor to your disease, a nutritionist may even be able to help lessen the severity. They can help you develop a healthy relationship with food. A good nutritionist will not only help you figure out what to eat, but they will also help you sustain a good relationship with your diet.

When should I see a nutritionist? ›

You may want to make changes in the way that you eat, have a food allergy, digestive issue, or you have a nutrition-related health condition like diabetes, heart disease, or high cholesterol. Each person's reason for speaking with a dietitian is different.

What are the goals of a nutritionist? ›

Developing diet plans to meet health, nutritional, and weight goals. Helping clients understand which foods will provide them with the right nutrients. Supplying menus, recipes, and meal-planning support to clients. Monitoring clients over time and keeping track of their progress.

Why would I need to see a nutritionist? ›

For example, a registered dietitian may help you: Manage a chronic disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or gout (a type of arthritis). You'll learn how your food choices can affect your health condition. Shed unwanted pounds.

Why is it good to go to a nutritionist? ›

Nutritionists can create personalized weight loss nutrition plans to help you lose 5 pounds or 50 pounds. Your nutritionist will guide you toward healthy food choices while helping you enjoy the foods you are eating. Nutritionists can also teach you about healthy food habits and behaviors that encourage weight loss.

Is nutrition and dietetics a good? ›

Nutrition and dietetics are good career choices for people who want to make a difference in the lives of others. These professionals are trained to provide advice and counsel on food choices, weight management, and nutritional needs.

What is the difference between nutrition and clinical nutrition? ›

Nutrition is the science that expounds the interaction of nutrients and other substances in food. Clinical nutrition is nutrition of patients in health care. ... It incorporates primarily the scientific fields of nutrition and dietetics.

Why would someone want to be a dietitian? ›

You learn about food and nutrition and how this affects people's health. When you become a dietitian, you use this knowledge to help people stay healthy and manage health conditions. You can study for an undergraduate degree for three or four years, which includes work placements.

What will happen when I see a nutritionist? ›

During the initial visit, the dietitian will review your medical history and take a dietary history, inclusive of a diet recall and discussion of food issues. She will discuss with you any supplements that you are currently taking so make sure to bring your current supplements with you to the appointment.

What is the highest salary of nutrition and dietetics? ›

Highest salary that a Nutritionist can earn is ₹5.6 Lakhs per year (₹46.7k per month). How does Nutritionist Salary in India change with experience? An Entry Level Nutritionist with less than three years of experience earns an average salary of ₹2.9 Lakhs per year.

What can a nutritionist do? ›

A nutritionist is a person who provides advice on matters relating to food and how it impacts on health. Nutritionists can design, coordinate, implement and evaluate population health interventions that are designed to improve health and wellbeing through food and nutrition.

What are the 3 types of nutrition studies? ›

The three basic types of nutrition research are randomized, animal and laboratory studies, and cohort studies.

What is the difference between a registered dietitian and a certified clinical nutritionist? ›

Career Paths: CNS Nutritionist vs. RD Nutritionist. When it comes to the standard career paths, RDNs are trained for acute care, such as hospital care, including parenteral (tube) nutrition, while CNSs are trained in chronic care and private clinical practice, working in doctor's offices or in private wellness centers.

What is the difference between a nutritionist and a naturopath? ›

Where a nutritionist works with diet, lifestyle and nutritional supplements only, Naturopaths employ these elements as well as the powerful properties of herbal medicine, as well as homeopathy, flower essences and iridology to treat you physically, emotionally and spiritually.


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