Dietitian or Nutritionist

Many people ask me what the difference is between a nutritionist and a dietitian. This can be confusing but it is important to know the difference especially if you are seeking nutritional assistance.

Both dietitians and nutritionists are concerned with the use of diet and nutrition for maintaining good health. All dietitians are nutritionists, but nutritionists without a dietetic qualification cannot legally work as dietitians.


Dietitians are accredited professionals that have studied a substantial amount of theory, and undergone supervised, assessed professional practice in the topic areas of clinical nutrition, medical nutrition, medical nutrition therapy, community and public nutrition, and food service management. Many dietitians have studied a master’s university degree in nutrition and dietetics.

Dietitians are legally regarded as experts in nutrition and dietary related matters, and they should be the first port of call for people looking to increase their energy, lose weight, balance mood and hormone levels, manage medical conditions, or who have general questions regarding diet and the best things to eat according to individual weight, height and lifestyle. 

Dietitians are qualified to advise both healthy people and sick people. They are qualified to advise individuals and groups on nutrition related matters, and they may also modify the diets of patients in hospital, with the aim to manage and treat diseases and other health concerns.

Most dietitians work in a clinical/medical setting. They oversee the nutritional needs of patients who are unable to eat normally, or who have to rely on intravenous or tube feedings. Dietitians are qualified to deal with multiple conditions and complications (such as obesity, which brings with it many other health complications).

While dietitians are involved in the diagnosis and treatment of many different dietary-related diseases, they regularly consult with doctors and other health professionals to provide their patients with a complete care plan.

Under Medicare, Private Health Funds, and Department of Veteran’s Affairs, patients are eligible for fund rebates for up to 5 sessions with a dietitian.

Where do dietitian’s work?

Dietitian’s are qualified to work in a variety of different areas, including the following:

~ Patient care: Nutritional assessment, dietary planning, patient education.

~ Community nutrition and public health: Nutrition and health education programs. Health planning, nutritional standards, developing/implementing nutritional policies at community and national levels.

~ Food service and management: Nutrition expertise and management skills for food service in hospitals, nursing home, community meal programs, hospitality, catering.

~ Consultancy/private practice: Individual counselling, group programs, preventative health programs and nutrition education for individuals, groups and organisations.

~ Media: Nutritional information for publication, working with the media, public relations, nutrition marketing.

~ Sports: Nutrition services to individual athletes and teams to improve their athletic performance and support their needs.

~ Food industry: Food regulatory issues (law), food safety, food quality systems, consumer education, nutrition research, product development.

~ Research and teaching: Work as part of research teams investigating nutrition and health issues and developing nutrition recommendations. Training student dietitians, doctors, other health professionals.

~ Other: Skills can be transferred onto management, public relations, marketing, program management, communications, media, health promotion, policy development and information technology.


The term ‘nutritionist’ is not legally protected or regulated. This means that anyone can claim to be a nutritionist, and those people that identify as a nutritionist may or may not have any educational qualification.

People who have studied a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food science are qualified to give general advice and nutritional guidance rather than clinical interventions such as medical nutrition therapy. They have knowledge particularly in the areas of public health nutrition and community health.

The expertise of nutritionists is confined to the general wellbeing of healthy people, and they are not qualified to treat people with medical conditions.

Nutritionists are likely to work in commercial settings such as for businesses involved with health, beauty and body slimming; and they are more likely to recommend the use of specific supplements, including herbal supplements, along with minor dietary changes.

Overall, it is best to see a dietitian over a nutritionist as they are trained and professionally accredited experts in diet and nutrition. If you do decide to visit a nutritionist, it is important to ensure they have a qualification in nutrition and food science, and that they are not giving out medical advice or treating people with medical conditions.

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