Ebb & Flow -

Terminology can be so confusing!

What are the roles of a dietician, nutritionist and nutritional therapist, and how do these differ in terms of what they may offer their clients?

Dieticians are trained experts on diet and nutrition, and are statutorily regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), which means they are governed by law, and an ethical code of practice is in place to ensure that they work to the highest possible standards. They apply their knowledge in the science of nutrition supporting an individual  seeking advice about disease and general health, food choices and lifestyle.

They hold a minimum requirement of a BSC Hons. Dietetics or a related science degree with a post graduate diploma or higher degree in dietetics and their knowledge is supported by evidence, research and trials.

Dieticians can work for the NHS, in hospitals and other health care settings, as well as in education, publishing, sport and in government roles. They may also work on a one-to-one basis.

Nutritional Therapists are uniquely trained to understand how nutrients, other foods and lifestyle factors influence the function of the body. They use the science of nutrition, to apply and promote patient centred health, peak performance and individual care.

Nutritional therapy is recognised as a complementary medicine. It is appropriate for both those with chronic conditions and those looking for support to enhance their health, general wellbeing and longevity. The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), is set up with government support to protect the public and it demands registration and a high level of training.

Registered therapists use a wide range of tools to assess and identify nutritional imbalances, and then analyse results to understand an individuals symptoms and health conditions. This approach allows nutritional therapists to work on a one-to-one basis to address issues and support clients maintain optimal health.

Generally nutritional therapists have a more natural and holistic view compared to dieticians. They frequently work alongside a medical professional, and will communicate with other healthcare professionals involved in the client’s care in order to explain a programme of nutritional therapy. They consider individuals to be unique and recommend personalised nutrition and lifestyle programmes rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and will never recommend nutritional therapy as a replacement for medical advice and therefore always refer any client with ‘red flag’ signs or symptoms to their medical professional.

Both dieticians and nutritional therapists must stay up-to-date through compulsory continual professional development (CPD). Both professions are undoubtedly related, however they retain distinct approaches towards food and healthy living.

Nutritionists typically work for public bodies or for the government in research, industry, education or jobs in which they apply ‘scientific’ knowledge to food, and some also work privately with clients.

Nutritionists without dietetic training are unable to offer dietary advice to those with medical conditions, they can however make recommendations about food and healthy eating to prevent or alleviate certain ailments. Those registered with the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN) are able to refer to themselves as a ‘Registered Nutritionist’ or as a ‘Public Health Nutritionist’.

The title ‘nutritionist’ is not protected by law in the UK, therefore checking for appropriate training is recommended.

It would be fair to say that the lines between these professions are not black and white and each of these roles may even vary within their individual titles depending on specialisation and the organisation they work for.

Ensuring that therapists are qualified, registered with an independent regulator, up-to-date with best practice and operate at a high level of conduct and performance is an important consideration.