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What is the difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

There is sometimes confusion between the different terms dietitian and nutritionist. When you are looking for a professional to help you make healthy lifestyle changes and improve your diet, it is important to understand the difference between these titles.

Registered Dietitian (RD)

Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals to be governed and regulated by law. This means that anyone who uses the dietitian title must be registered with the correct professional body and adhere to their standards, otherwise, they will be penalised with legal action.

1. In the UK, The Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) is the regulatory body that all dietitians must be registered with to practise in a clinical setting.

2. Dietitians provide practical guidance, to both healthy and sick individuals, often working as part of a clinical team (including doctors, nurses, physiotherapists etc), like at Hartwood Health, to treat complex health conditions such as diabetes, allergies, IBS, eating disorders, chronic fatigue, malnutrition, kidney failure and bowel disorders.

3. To become a dietitian in the UK, the minimum requirement is a bachelor’s degree (BSc Hons) in Dietetics or a related science degree with a postgraduate diploma or master’s degree in Dietetics.

4. All degrees have a mandatory supervised placement within the NHS, which means that most dietitians have had experience in a clinical setting. After the degree and all placements are completed, individuals can apply for registration with the HCPC.

Registered Nutritionist (ANutr or RNutr)

Technically anyone can call themselves a nutritionist - it is not a protected title. Hence why those who have undertaken a degree or masters at university are encouraged to belong to a voluntary registration of nutritionists in order to help differentiate between any other individuals using the title of a Nutritionist, who may not be following a standard of ethical and professional values.

1. Registered nutritionists are qualified to provide information and advice about food and healthy eating, but not about special diets for medical conditions. This is when a nutritionist might refer a patient onto a dietitian if the patient's condition is out of their scope of practice.

2. In the UK, the professional body for registration is the Association for Nutrition (AfN). Only individuals registered with the AfN hold the title Registered Nutritionist (ANutr or RNutr). Registration requires a minimum of an undergraduate (BSc Hons) or postgraduate degree in Nutrition.

3. The ANutr title stands for ‘Registered Associate Nutritionist’, whereas the RNutr stands for ‘Registered Nutritionist’. The only difference is that those with RNutr status have had a minimum of 3 years of relevant professional experience.

4. All AfN registrants are required to keep up-to-date with the latest nutrition science through Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

Take home message

  • Dietitians are the only health professionals regulated and protected by law (HCPC)

  • Registered nutritionists (RNutr) and Associate nutritionists (ANutr) can provide evidence-based advice and information about food and healthy eating.

  • Only dietitians and registered nutritionists are required to hold a nationally recognised degree.

For more information on nutrition and diet, please click here.

By Abigail Attenborough


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