The terms ‘nutritionist’ and ‘dietitian’ are often used interchangeably, which can make it confusing to know the difference and where to go when seeking dietary advice. This guide will simplify the difference and explain how to find a registered nutrition professional in the UK.
Social media has provided a platform for easy access to nutritional advice however, there are currently no standards that assess the credibility of these individuals or the content they are publishing. A recent study from the University of Glasgow found that only 1 of 9 of the leading UK bloggers provided accurate and trustworthy nutritional advice. Highlighting the issue that individuals without appropriate scientific backgrounds, education or training are giving members of the public nutrition advice that lacks evidence, transparency and can, in some cases, be biased. Not only is this misleading, but the advice given can also be very general and not tailored to specific individual needs.
With the abundance of nutrition information available, it is often confusing to know where to turn to for reliable advice. Although they utilise similar methods of dietary assessment, there is a difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian, but what is most important is to be able to recognise a licensed professional.
What is a registered dietitian (RD)?
A dietitian is a nutrition professional that is qualified to work in a medical setting amongst a team of other healthcare professionals, for example, GPs, nurses, physiotherapists. In the UK, a dietitian is the only title that is governed by a regulatory body known as the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC). This means that they are legally obliged to maintain the highest standard of work, or they can be legally penalised.
Requirements for dietitians in the UK are a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics or a science degree with a postgraduate diploma or a master’s degree in Dietetics. These degrees encompass a variety of different topics within nutritional science including biochemistry, physiology, and research methods including dietary assessment. This along with NHS placements, equips dietitians with adequate experience, in particular clinical, knowledge and training required to make appropriate recommendations and provide tailored support. Dietitians can work in a variety of disease areas including diabetes, gastroenterology, obesity, oncology, and renal. The HCPC website provides a list of all registered dietitians in the UK, which can be used to check an individual’s qualification.
In general, a dietitian can work in a variety of settings: these include the NHS, private practices, within the public health sector, and the food industry. They are also able to legally prescribe some medicines and in other cases, advise medical professionals on the best treatments required for patients’ dietary conditions.
Although qualified to treat healthy and unwell people equally, dietitians are often consulted in a medical setting, where dietary status is associated with a medical condition, they cannot offer advice for personal financial benefits.
What is a registered nutritionist or registered associate nutritionist (RNutr/ANutr)?
Nutritionists are qualified to give information about diet and health through different sectors, these include public health, policies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and freelancing in clinical and non-clinical settings. Although the title of nutritionist is not legally protected in the UK, the Association for Nutrition (AfN) runs a voluntary register known as the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN), which supervises registered nutritionists. Only people who are registered with the AfN can hold the title of Associate or Registered Nutritionist.
To register for the title, an individual must have a Nutrition Degree (bachelors or masters) from an accredited institution or present a portfolio of significant professional experience. Accredited courses are assessed based on 5 Core Competencies to ensure that the content delivered is evidence-based and promotes the sharing of best practice nutritional science.
Once successfully registered with the UKVRN, individuals hold the title of Associate Nutritionist (ANutr) and then go on to become a Registered Nutritionist (RNutr) after three years of evidenced experience. All registered nutritionists must keep up to date with the latest evidence-based nutrition through maintaining continued professional development (CPD) hours. The association for nutrition provides a list of registered nutritionists under the UKVRN who specialize in a variety of different health concerns.
A nutritional therapist provides recommendations based on alternative, contemporary approaches called ‘functional medicine’ which is less evidence-based than conventional medicine. They are regulated by the British Association of Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and can register to become nutritional therapists after undertaking an accredited degree.
Nutritional therapists usually consider a holistic approach and are often practicing or providing consultations in private clinics. Nutritional Therapists are not able to register with the HCPC or the AfN.
So, which do I choose?
Although all professionals follow different approaches, it is often recommended to use evidence-based methods to achieve desired health results through selecting a qualified dietitian or registered nutritionist, as they are obliged to keep up to date with the latest scientific information, which is the most effective way to achieve results. This can occur through several nutrition approaches, including dietary assessment.
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