Should you see a dietician or a nutritionist?
It’s confusing to the public. Here in Australia a dietitian with a qualification in dietetics can also call themselves a nutritionist, but someone qualified in naturopathy or nutritional medicine or other tertiary nutrition course can call themselves a nutritionist (with different preceding adjectives), but not a dietitian. Dietetics is a university degree and a registered profession, so dietitian, like general practitioner, is a protected professional title and when accredited by the Dietetics Association of Australia (DAA) is recognised by Medicare and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) (https://daa.asn.au/what-dietitians-do/dietitian-or-nutritionist/
Nutritionist is not a protected term or a regulated profession. The job title nutritionist tells you nothing about their qualification. It’s important to check that anyone practising as a nutritionist is a member of a professional association, with obligations to maintain their continual professional development, insurance and compliance with the industry code of practice/duty of care.
The DAA describes the differences between nutritionist and dietitian as follows:
A nutritionist is a tertiary qualified nutrition professional that has the expertise to provide a range of evidence based nutrition services related to nutrition, public health nutrition, policy and research, and community health.
Dietitians are also qualified to provide this range of evidence based nutrition services, but in addition, have the expertise to provide individual dietary counselling, medical nutrition therapy, group dietary therapy and food service management.
My explanation is that a dietitian's primary focus is on design and plan of diets that would be expected to meet a person’s physiological needs for energy and nutrients, with reference to authorised dietary standards and guidelines.
My preferred functional nutritional approach is more customised to suit a person’s individual needs for physical, mental and social well-being, with a focus on supporting the body’s capacity to heal, consuming wholefoods that are as natural as possible or minimally processed, and preferably produced in ecologically sustainable ways.
There’s plenty of clinical experience and diverse dietary preferences to support the reality that there is no one diet to suit all. When asked, I favour the traditional Mediterranean diet (more about this another time), which is probably as much about lifestyle and manner of eating and shared meals as it is about the content of the meal; but let’s acknowledge that it can be challenging to have this type of diet/lifestyle in these hectic modern times.
Moreover we need to consider some people’s unique experiences of food allergies and food intolerances, which then preclude certain foods from their diet. The problem may not actually be the food, but with underlying pathological reasons e.g. why might someone have intestinal permeability aka “leaky gut” that allows undigested proteins into their bloodstream to provoke an immune response?
It’s an unfortunate inconvenient truth too that our food system has in the main become so industrialised that most readily available food is depleted of natural nutrients, contaminated by agricultural chemicals and highly processed with food additives that can cause adverse health effects in many people, and is highly packaged, consuming vast resources and generating vast amounts of waste materials. This is not healthy or ecologically sustainable food production.
So, understand that when you come to ask advice from someone like myself, I’m going to be assessing your health and personal circumstances in a very holistic way, looking for reasons for your health condition(s) of concern and then supporting you with advice and in practical ways to help resolve these underlying causes. This can take time and requires commitment to making healthy changes for good. Appreciate too that my environmental ethics do influence the way I think.
What type of healthy future do you want?