What Does a Dietitian Do?


Dietitians are qualified to use the science behind nutrition to assess, nutritionally diagnose, improve health, and treat diseases or health conditions. They can work with both healthy and unwell patients, advising and helping people maintain or improve their nutrition while managing their condition or symptoms. They use evidence and the latest research to inform their advice. They often work as part of a multidisciplinary team to treat complex health conditions (e.g. gastrointestinal diseases, eating disorders, allergies etc.).


Dietitians may also work as specialists in areas such as critical care, food allergy, the food service industry, renal nutrition, paediatrics and oncology.


What qualifications does a dietitian have?

At a minimum, a dietitian will have a degree in Nutrition and Dietetics OR a postgraduate diploma or degree in Dietetics, with a related science degree.


The course to become a registered dietitian always includes supervised placements, including in NHS settings. This ensures they have the relevant clinical and professional skills that will enable them to apply for registration as a dietitian.


Some dietitians may also have additional qualifications, especially if they specialise in a specific area.


How are dietitians different from a nutritionist?

Unlike the title ‘nutritionist,’ Registered Dietitian is a legally protected title in the UK and they are the only nutrition professionals to be regulated by law in the UK. They are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), meaning they are governed by a code to ensure they are working to the highest standard. Being registered with the HCPC requires a commitment to compulsory continued professional development to keep up to date with the latest research. You can check to see whether your dietitian is registered with the HCPC by checking their online register.


Many dietitians are also registered with the British Dietetic Association (BDA). The BDA is the professional body and they design the curriculum for the profession. What’s the difference between a dietitian, a nutritionist and a nutritional therapist?

Both dietitians and registered nutritionists (ANutr / RNutr) are qualified to give general dietary advice to healthy populations. However, only dietitians can treat patients with nutrition advice (i.e. to people with chronic or acute health conditions). Nutritional therapist is not a protected title and does not have a singular governing body, meaning that anyone could call themselves a nutritional therapist, with completion of a short online course for example.


Registered nutritionists are qualified to give evidence-based information and advice about food and healthy eating, including for disease prevention. The problem is that the title ‘nutritionist’ is NOT legally protected. This means that anyone could call themselves a nutritionist, even if the only qualification they have is the completion of a very short online course.


For this reason, all appropriately qualified nutritionists are registered with the Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN) which is controlled by the Association for Nutrition (AfN). The AfN have their own standards of practice, ethics and conducts, which have to be adhered to.


Similarly to nutritionists, nutritional therapist is also not protected by law in the UK. Nutrition therapy is recognised as complementary or alternative medicine. There are various professional bodies / registers that use this title, including The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) and The Nutritional Therapy Educational Commission (NTEC). According to the CNHC, a nutritional therapist can be described as a practitioner who can address nutritional imbalances and support the body towards maintaining health.


The education requirements of a nutritional therapist vary. They can complete a course either online or through distance-learning, or can do a short course or a diploma. Alternatively there is a degree in nutrition therapy accredited by the Nutritional Therapy Council / CNHC..


Conclusion

Dietitians are the only healthcare professionals who are trained to diagnose and treat nutritional problems. We are the only nutrition professionals who are trained alongside doctors and nurses to treat and manage medical conditions. If you want nutritional advice for a medical condition, you need to see a dietitian. Contact us today for a consultation.