What’s the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist?

Even though it might not look like it on the surface, there is a major difference between dietitians and nutritionists. Which one you should opt for really depends on what you’re looking in a dietary professional, and what you want to use them for. It also depends on if you want to combine a few different professionals trained in various areas, or if you want someone who is specifically trained in the one area. However, both are able to guide you onto a more healthy pathway for your dietary and wellbeing goals, with one giving a more comprehensive approach than the other.

What is a nutritionist?

The term ‘nutritionist’ is often coined for those people who have limited amount of study or a short course but can also be used for university qualified professionals. There are a multitude of courses that you can study, in order to achieve the qualifications of a nutritionist, and they all vary in content and length. Some courses run for as little as six weeks and only scrape the surface of what is involved in helping someone with their diet, while others are more extensive. Here lie the difficulties in sorting out the qualified from the unqualified.

Anyone can undergo a degree or course in nutrition. Doctors and health professionals often undergo additional study or degrees in order to gain a deeper understanding of the field, so that they can help their patients who are in need of dietary advice. Similarly, personal trainers and exercise professionals use the nutrition they learn in order to help their clients progress with their goals. In other areas, some schools also employ nutritionists in order to help their students understand the basics of how food affects their bodies.

What is a dietitian?

A dietitian is guaranteed to have studied nutrition and health for at least 4 years at university to gain their qualification. Typically, dietitians will undergo at a minimum a Bachelor’s degree or through continuing their study in a Master’s degree. In order for students to qualify, placement is a necessary requirement throughout their degree, with students being required to complete up to a year of unpaid practical immersion Due to this significant amount of study, dietitians are able to provide a deeper, more personalised plan for your health and dietary needs.

Throughout their courses, dietitians learn the best ways to help their clients depending on their individual requirements and health issues, whilst integrating this into meaningful food advice. They completely immerse themselves into the impact nutrition and all diets can have on medical and health and are required to do so throughout their professional careers. This sets dietitians apart as the specialist in food, nutrition and its application to disease and longevity.

So, which should you choose?

Realistically, it depends on the level of care and personalisation you desire or need. If you just want someone to guide you through the basics of your diet, a university qualified nutritionist may offer enough. However, if you require a more personalised plan that’s tailored to your lifestyle, current health status and habits, a dietitian is the only way to go.

A nutritionist is able to help you with your basic diet and give you some guidance with how best to move forward. They can provide you with a basic outline as to what should work for you and your current situation. Going to a doctor or personal trainer who has undertaken study to qualify as a nutritionist, allows you to access advice for multiple facets of your wellbeing and nutrition is unlikely to be the sole focus.

Seeing a dietitian however guarantees you a succinct and personalised approach and these professionals are able to take into account all factors, including current exercise levels, any health issues you might have, and food preferences. Combined with their extensive study and ongoing commitment to learning secures your nutritional health to the right hands.

What next?

Deciding who you should go and see really just depends on your situation and what your end goals are. It is always recommended that you speak to your doctor to see if a dietitian is the best approach for you and your requirements.  Additionally, they can refer you to a dietitian they trust will give you the advice that is best for you.