Dietitians and nutritionists are NOT the same.
This might come as a surprise to the uninitiated who often confuse a dietitian for a nutritionist, or vice versa.
In Australia, not all nutritionists are dietitians BUT all dietitians can call themselves nutritionists.
While both are experts in nutrition, dietitians and nutritionists differ with regard to their knowledge and skills. They are also recognised differently by the Australian government and healthcare organisations. Lastly, their roles and responsibilities—as well as the environments in which they practise—are distinct from each other.
Knowing the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist can help you achieve better health.
|– completed a tertiary-level education with DAA-accredited courses||– completed a tertiary-level education with courses that include chemistry, biochemistry and physiology|
|– holds a bachelor’s or master’s degree in dietetics||– holds a degree in nutrition or other similar programs|
|– obtained a dietetics degree to practise as a dietitian||– may have taken courses in nutrition to supplement another service|
|– committed to continuing professional development||– not required to keep up-to-date on nutrition information|
|– underwent the APD program of the DAA||– may be accredited by the DAA as nutritionist|
|– has been granted a full APD status||– can voluntarily join the NSA’s Register of Nutritionists|
|– protected and regulated by law||– not regulated by law|
|– recognised by the Australian government and other institutions||– not recognised by any governing body|
|– can perform the work of nutritionists||– cannot assume roles of dietitians|
|– can practise in hospitals and other clinical institutions||– can only practise in community healthcare settings|
|– caters to clients with medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart diseases, gastrointestinal disorders and cancer||– helps people with non-medical health matters like weight management and age-appropriate nutrition|
|– can supervise patients undergoing elimination diets|
and similar diagnostic tests
|– cannot recommend diets and similar procedures to diagnose the medical condition|
|– qualified to provide medical nutrition therapy to patients||– not qualified to give medical nutrition therapy to patients|
|– can educate and train patients and their family on proper nutrition and food administration during treatment||– cannot advise patients and caregivers on proper nutrition and food administration for medical cases|
|– can provide nutrition-related services in elderly care institutions||– cannot work in nursing homes|
Dietitians and nutritionists have shared similarities
Dietitians and nutritionists in Australia are both considered nutrition experts who have attained tertiary education. They are trained to provide a range of nutrition-related services in the field of public and community health, food policy-making, nutrition standard-setting, and research and development.
However, the level of expertise they offer may vary owing to these three differences:
1. They differ in their knowledge and skills.
On top of their nutrition course, nutritionists also study chemistry, biochemistry and physiology. They may also take up units in food science and public health.
Keep in mind that not all nutrition programs are equal in terms of duration and quality. There are some that last for just six weeks and cover only basic nutrition topics, while the others require more time because they cover both the fundamentals and higher-level nutrition topics.
Some nutritionists already have a bachelor’s degree in a different course and choose to get a second degree in nutrition in order to supplement their primary occupation or provide better services to their clients.
Dietitians are required to complete a tertiary-level course accredited by the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA). Different universities offer different dietetics courses, which may be an undergraduate Bachelor degree or a postgraduate Masters program.
In addition to gaining substantial knowledge in theoretical dietetics, dietitians also undergo practical training in various settings to demonstrate their skills in clinical nutrition, medical nutrition therapy, and food service management. This professional immersion is a guided program that is strictly supervised and evaluated by representatives of the DAA.
Furthermore, dietitians must continue their professional development to keep themselves up-to-date on the latest nutrition information in an ever-evolving health system. This is one of the fundamental requirements in order for them to attain and maintain their Accredited Practising Dietitian or APD status.
2. They differ in their accreditation and regulation.
The Nutrition Society of Australia (NSA) came out with a Register of Nutritionists where nutrition professionals can sign up for membership. While it is possible to obtain accreditation as a nutritionist through the Dietitians Association of Australia, this credential does not match the level of expertise as that of an Accredited Practising Dietitian. Moreover, nutritionists are not regulated by law nor are they recognised by any governing body in Australia.
Dietitians, on the other hand, can advance their professional development by attaining and maintaining an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) status throughout their career. This credential is given to dietitians who meet the standards prescribed by the APD program of the DAA. It includes a year-long provisional phase of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) activities under the mentorship of a full-status APD.
Additionally, Accredited Practising Dietitians must show that they performed the duties of a dietitian during the period of time specified by the standards of the DAA. A small percentage of all APDs is audited randomly each year.
The APD status is the only dietitian credential recognised by the Australian government and other reputable organisations in the country. It is also the sole standard for nutrition and dietetics regulated by law.
3. They differ in their practice and services.
Nutritionists can only give advice to individuals on nutrition and general health matters. These include age-appropriate nutrition guides for specific life stages, proper weight management, and healthy dietary options to support certain lifestyles (e.g., pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan). They can also only offer their expertise in a community healthcare setting or as a supplement to another service such as personal training or sports coaching.
Since nutritionists do not have the qualifications required for medical nutrition therapy, they cannot recommend diets to patients with medical conditions. Similarly, they cannot work in hospital settings and nursing homes.
Accredited Practising Dietitians are qualified to provide dietary counselling to individuals or groups, medical nutrition therapy to patients, and food service management in the hospitality industry.
Dietitians working in hospitals can address the nutritional needs of a wide range of patients such as diabetics, cancer patients and those suffering from allergies, obesity, gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular diseases and other conditions that require specialised care and personalised treatment.
Apart from patient care, APDs can also practise in the following industries:
- consultancy and private practice
- community nutrition and public health
- sports nutrition
- food service and management
- food industry
- research and education
Same goal, different roles
Nutritionists and dietitians share the common goal of helping individuals improve their health through proper nutrition. However, nutritionists can only perform non-medical duties while Accredited Practising Dietitians are qualified to provide nutrition-related medical services to individuals and communities.
Now that you know the differences between dietitians and nutritionists, you are one step closer to receiving the help you need from the right nutrition professional.
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