Who's who in the Nutrition world?
The different nutrition professions are commonly confused due to the fact they all orientate around the same principle - nutrition. However, all the roles have fundamental differences with different qualifications being required for each which lead to very different work environments. If you are an individual seeking nutritional help, it can seem very overwhelming to determine which profession would be suit your specific needs. Hopefully this post will be able to eradicate some of the confusion surrounding us nutritional professionals! The most common nutrition professions are Dieticians, Nutritionist and Nutritional Therapists.
Registered Dietitians (RDs) are currently the only nutritional professionals to be regulated by law and are governed by an ethical code. Commonly, the work in the NHS or private practice with both healthy and sick individuals. Often the work as part of multi-disciplinary teams to treat complex clinical conditions such as diabetes, eating disorders, kidney failure and bowel disorders. Dietitians are also able to supply and administer a small range of prescription medicines such as insulin.
The title of ‘Dietitian’ is protected by law and only individuals that have undertaken an undergraduate degree in Dietetics or a postgraduate course in Dietetics can register with the Health Care Professions Council (HCPC), and therefore are legally permitted to describe themselves as a Dietitian. You can check whether your Dietitian is registered with the HCPC by visiting the website. The British Dietetic Association (BDA) is the trade union for Dietitians with 80% of Dietitians registered with the HCPC being a BDA member. It acts to protect their title, represents the profession and provides support to its members in various aspects of their career.
Unfortunately, unlike Dietitians, the Nutritionist title is not protected and regulated by law. This means that anyone can term themselves a nutritionist. However, the Association for Nutrition (AfN) has a voluntary register, the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionist (UKVRN), where nutritionists can register if they meet certain criteria. Often, this is either undertaking an AfN accredited BSc or MSc or completing an extensive portfolio. It is possible to check whether a Nutritionist is registered with the AfN by looking on their website. However, signing up to the UKVRN is optional and is not compulsory for anyone calling themselves a Nutritionist. However, the post-nominals ANutr (Associate Nutritionist) and RNutr (Registered Nutritionist) can only be used for those on the register.
Nutritionists are able to provide advice and information surrounding food, healthy eating and dietary patterns in many different sectors, such as the food industry, government, sport, teaching and freelance. Nutritionists are also able to work for the NHS alongside a registered dietitian. The role of a nutritionist is to provide advice to individuals, groups and industries on evidence-based nutrition, informed by up-to-date research.
Nutritional Therapy is the most holistic approach of all nutrition professions, often using complementary medicines that are not recognised by those practicing conventional medicine. The qualification requirements for Nutritional Therapists is less regulated than that for Dietitians and Nutritionists, often involving a distance-learning diploma over varying periods of time. Nutritional Therapists have the opportunity to register with any of three voluntary regulatory bodies: The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, the Federation of Holistic Therapists or the General Regulatory Council for Complementary Therapies.
Typically, Nutritional Therapists work one-to-one with individual clients in private clinics. They offer personalised nutrition and lifestyle programmes, often including the suggested use of dietary supplements and alternative therapies. Registered therapists will never recommend nutritional therapy as a replacement for medical advice and always refer any client with ‘red flag’ signs or symptoms to their medical professional.
I hope this has given you to tools to be able to confidently distinguish between the various nutrition professionals that are out there, particularly if you are looking for nutritional advice. It is extremely important that you approach different professionals for different situations, however it is as important that the professionals remain within their qualified jurisdiction.