Healthy Living, Nutrition

What is a Dietitian?

I was wondering what to do for my first blog post, and I thought, where better to start than with what a dietitian does?! Plus, it’s dietitians week…:)

What is a Dietitian?

Dietitians are regulated healthcare professionals who are experts in the field of food and nutrition and the only nutrition professionals who are regulated by law. They are trained in providing evidence-based advice to individuals and groups regarding healthy eating and dietary related disease.

What’s the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

The word “dietitian” is a legally protected title. In order to call yourself a dietitian, you have to complete a minimum of BSc Hons in Dietetics. Alternatively, you can study an MSc or post graduate diploma after having completed a related undergraduate science degree. All UK dietetic courses must be approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and include a minimum number of hours in a hospital gaining practical experience. Practicing dietitians are regulated by the HCPC. They are bound by an ethical code and required to keep up to date with emerging evidence in order to continue providing accurate, evidence-based advice.

Dietitians do not only see people who want to eat healthily or lose weight, they are also trained to give dietary advice to those with specific food related medical conditions including; diabetes, IBS or allergies. Dietitians work with people in the community and those who are acutely ill in hospitals. You can check that your UK dietitian is registered here.

Some nutritionists are registered. This means they have studied a course of a minimum standard (approved by the Association for Nutrition (AfN) in the UK). They are therefore appropriately trained to give advice on food and healthy eating. However, they are not educated in giving advice for specific medical conditions. Unfortunately, ‘nutritionist’ is not protected in the same way as ‘dietitian’ is. Nutritionists who have had the appropriate level of training may have one of the following letters after their name; RNutr (Registered Nutritionist), ANutr (Associate Nutritionist) or FAfN (Fellows of the Association for Nutrition). You can check to see if your UK nutritionist is registered here.

What do dietitians do?

Dietitians can work in a huge variety of settings, including; hospitals, public health, education, food industry, sport, media and freelance. What they do varies widely depending on the area in which they work. Dietitians in hospitals spend time on wards and in clinics, often working as part of a multi-disciplinary team to help with dietary management of disease. Dietitians provide nutritional advice to someone who wants to lose weight, or gain it. They may help someone who has Coeliac disease eliminate gluten from their diet. They may write articles for magazines or work with a football team. The opportunities are almost endless!

Areas in which dietitians are able to give advice include; diabetes, weight management, allergies and intolerances, IBS, eating disorders, paediatrics and mental health. They also provide advice for people with conditions that sometimes require nutritional support including; cancer, stroke, motor neurone disease and HIV/AIDS. If they wish, dietitians are able to choose to specialise in one of these areas too.

What about other “nutrition experts”?

There are people working in nutrition who are not registered dietitians or nutritionists. They may call themselves; nutrition experts, nutritional therapists, diet experts or metabolic advisors. They often give recommendations based on alternative medicine that is not evidence-based or used by regulated practitioners. Many nutrition experts use obscure methods of testing and advise taking supplements to maximise health. These recommendations are not based on credible scientific evidence, are often founded on personal opinions and driven by financial incentives.

Some nutrition experts may have had training to foundation degree level or completed an unregulated course but they are not obliged to register with an overseeing authority. This means that it is a largely unregulated industry where advice given is likely to be inconsistent and unfounded.

So… If you want to seek nutritional advice, look for either a dietitian or a registered nutritionist. Dietitians are the gold standard of nutritional education, and you know that the advice you get will be evidence-based and tailor made for you!

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) have a great leaflet explaining the difference between nutritional professionals in more information.

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