What does a nutritionist do?

We have previously distinguished dietitians from nutritionists. We’ve also discussed what a dietitian is and what they do. Now it’s time to put the spotlight on nutritionists.

What is a nutritionist?

Like dietitians, nutritionists are food and health professionals who give expert advice on diet and how it affects a person’s wellbeing. But unlike dietitians, nutritionists are neither qualified to treat patients for their diseases nor provide medical nutrition therapy.

Nutritionists hold a Diploma of Nutrition or a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Nutrition. Either qualifies them to be included in the Nutrition Society of Australia’s Voluntary Register of Nutritionists. As there is no government or industry regulation for the term ‘nutritionist’, this register aims to differentiate the credentials of trained nutritionists from those who are untrained. Once you have been included in the register, you will be given one of the following statuses: Associate Nutritionist, Registered Nutritionist, or Registered Public Health Nutritionist.

So, what does a nutritionist do? 

Nutritionists focus on population and community health. They improve public nutrition and promote proper diet by giving recommendations that adhere to the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG). Using their evidence-based knowledge of food and its impact on the human body, they develop and implement food and health policies in various settings such as schools, universities, sports clubs and fitness facilities.

While nutritionists usually begin and establish their careers in the food industry, they can also work in the government, media, academe and private companies. Regardless of the industry they work in, nutritionists are qualified to share the importance of good nutrition and how to achieve it to their clients. 

Nutritionists support their clients by helping them manage their weight, optimise their energy, and address any nutritional deficiencies, among others. One of their primary responsibilities is to give nutritional advice to their clients based on their unique profile such as their client’s age, gender, lifestyle and health condition.

What are the different types of nutritionists?

Here are the three types of nutritionists that you may encounter. While all three are qualified to give nutrition counsel and support, they differ in terms of their specific functions owing to their specialised roles.

1. Clinical nutritionist

Clinical nutritionists combine well-established knowledge about food with the latest scientific findings to address the nutritional needs of the individuals and communities they serve. They help ensure that their clients’ nutritional requirements are met by developing a personalised nutrition plan, which takes into account the clients’ nutrient adequacy, food selection, eating habits and lifestyle. A clinical nutritionist can also recommend diets and supplements that are proven safe and effective.

2. Management nutritionist

Management nutritionists are responsible for meal planning and distribution in large institutions like school cafeterias, hospitals and aged care facilities. In most cases, they are also in charge of budgeting, portion control, and the actual purchase of food and ingredients. They may also need to supervise the kitchen staff during meal preparation.

3. Sports nutritionist

A sports nutritionist works with individual athletes and sports teams to ensure their optimum level of performance. They can recommend the proper diet and appropriate training regimen to their clients. They usually work in gyms and fitness centres.

What nutritionists cannot do

While nutritionists can offer consultations and make dietary recommendations to help improve their clients’ health, they are not qualified to provide medical advice and conduct medical nutrition therapy. These are jobs reserved for dietitians.

Only dietitians have the required credentials to practise in hospitals and similar health-related settings. Dietitians can prescribe dietary treatment to their patients with medical conditions, but nutritionists cannot.

Other opportunities for nutritionists

Nutritionists can pursue a degree in dietetics and fulfil the requirements necessary to become a dietitian if they wish to dispense medical advice and work in fields reserved only for dietitians. They can enrol in the APD program of the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) to become a full-fledged Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD).

Otherwise, they can work with private businesses and institutions as nutrition consultants. For example, nutritionists working in hotels and restaurants can supervise menu planning, quality assurance protocols, and food distribution.

They can also develop nutrition programs and promote public health, proper diet, and good eating habits in various communities. Meanwhile, nutritionists who work as food technologists can aid in the production, preservation and packaging of commercial food items. Nutritionists can also work as researchers and research assistants or as professors and teachers of food science and nutrition courses.

Additional skills helpful to nutritionists

Being a good nutritionist isn’t only about having a solid understanding of evidence-based nutrition. It also requires excellent critical thinking and communication skills so you can explain complex ideas in simple terms that your clients can understand.

Boosting nutrition and more

Nutritionists are food and nutrition experts who help their clients achieve optimum health through the proper diet. While they are not qualified to work in the same capacities that dietitians can, they have other opportunities to grow in their career, including becoming a specific type of nutritionist or even an APD. If you have any concerns about food and your nutrition, they are the experts you need to talk to.