Nutrition qualifications – are you confused? What the difference is…

Nutritionist, dietitian, nutritional therapist, nutritionalist – aaarh the list goes on! What are the differences between nutrition qualifications?

I was in NEXT the other day when my 3 year old (star of the joys of feeding a 3 year old
blog) said “are we lost?”

This amused me on two counts – has my son already clocked that his mother has no sense of direction, can’t read maps and is prone to getting lost very easily (although getting lost in NEXT would be a PB). Secondly I thought wow what a philosophical question – a lot of people in the world right now do seem to feel a bit lost especially since President Trump bounded into his office. I know very little about politics you’ll be relieved to hear but I do know a bit more about nutrition – and I think we’re a little lost there too.

I’ve banged on about clean eating
and its ‘nutrition qualification free advocates’ before. Worryingly people are now officially more likely to trust in advice from bloggers rather than health care professionals! There is an abundance of people with glossy Instagram accounts and more followers than the pied piper – but when it comes to nutrition they can only really give information based on their opinion and how they feel. Some are more responsible than others!

Unfortunately even within the nutrition world itself there are more titles than you’d find at the Queen’s tea party so what’s the difference between all the names and nutrition qualifications?

Nutritionist

Currently not a protected title so your window cleaner could be twilighting as one for all you know. Registered Nutritionists typically work for the good of the population. This could be through public health initiatives, government organisations, the food industry or as independent consultants to food brands or supermarkets. Not surprisingly they are petitioning to make this title protected to acknowledge the quality and value of the work they do and you can sign this petition
just like I have. They are members of the Nutrition Society and registered with the Association for Nutrition.

Nutritional therapist

These are registered voluntarily with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council and are members of the British Association Nutritional Therapists (BANT) – which is self- regulated. Not legally able to work within the healthcare setting nutritional therapists are often seen under a complementary health umbrella and are found in private practice. Nutrition qualifications that are not recognised by either the Health Care Professions Council or the Association for Nutritionists can vary in their content and could be distance learning or degree courses.

My thoughts are if advice isn’t grounded in the best research we have access to, with the skills to correctly interpret it then what is it based on?!

Nutritionalist

Not sure who these people are but love the name!

Dietitian or dietician if you’re in the USA or using spell check!

That’s me! We are registered with the Health Care Professions Council (HCPC)  – this means we are bound by a strict code of conduct and are also regulated externally through audit. We are held accountable and risk losing our registration and practising rights if we’re naughty. We have a very ‘sciencey’ degree which is founded in evidence based medicine. We are trained to use recognised methodologies to critically appraise the evidence base which includes all forms of evidence and research to inform our advice. I have to use this as the basis for everything I say – therefore if you invent the next big super food after your trek through the amazon – you can’t pay me lots of money to tell everyone to buy it!

A lot of our training is based in the hospital setting as that’s generally where you find sick people who need diet therapy to support their medical care or in some cases to form a significant part of their treatment.

It’s important to know though, as dietitians we do enjoy and seek out well people too, so you’ll find us all over and in some of the same places as nutritionists e.g. the food industry and sports nutrition. Many dietitians have private practices (www.freelancedietitians.org). We assess, diagnose and treat diet and nutrition problems – this might be on an individual basis or more broadly. Often mistakenly we are associated with illness – and unfortunately our title even has the word ‘die’ in it! But nutrition forms an integral part of our physiology, biochemistry, psychology and more – whether you’re looking at nutrition to enhance your well- being or performance, protect your long term health or form part of your treatment we’re interested and here to help!

Hope that’s a little clearer when it comes to nutrition qualifications– now please help spread the word!

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