The term often confused with all three professions. Typically Dietitians work for the NHS with some working in private hospitals and surgeries, private clinics and others in the food industry, research, media, government, NGOs and education settings.
Dietitians are trained health professionals who most commonly work in a healthcare setting working with patients, creating eating plans to support those with medical conditions and helping those who may not be able to chew, swallow or digest food particularly well - ensuring they receive the appropriate nutrition they need. For example a Dietitian may help a patient with Coeliac Disease (an autoimmune disease whereby the body reacts to gluten) to alter their diet to exclude gluten, whilst they will also work with patients who are fed via a peg, this is known as enteral feeding, which is fitted directly into either the stomach or small intestine and food is fed in liquid form via a tube. In order for patients to be seen by a Dietitian they generally have to be referred by their GP, or if in hospital a doctor will request the patient be seen be the Dietitian.
The title of ‘Dietitian’ is protected by law and only those having undertaken either a 4 year 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 and to use the letters ‘RD’ after their name. 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.
Many undergraduate courses also include a placement year during the third year of the degree where students will spend a year working in the food industry, for example, as a student nutritionist gaining valuable experience before graduating and commencing their career as a registered Nutritionist.
It is possible to check whether a Nutritionist is registered with the AfN by looking on their website. Signing up to the UKVRN is optional and is not mandatory for anyone calling themselves a Nutritionist, however the post-nominals ANutr and RNutr can only be used for those on the register.
What do Nutritionists do?
Nutritionists provide information around food, dietary patterns and healthy eating and work in many sectors such as the food industry, retail, government, freelance, sport, research, NGOs and teaching, whilst some will work for the NHS alongside Dietitians however will not mirror the role of a Dietitian.
Nutritionists advise individuals, governments and industry on evidence-based nutrition, according to the most up to date research to help shape individual dietary patterns, leading to the maintenance of a healthy weight, to help shape government policy to improve the nation’s diet and advise industry on best practices within nutrition whether this be nutritional composition of food products, nutrition labelling on packaging or advertising.
Those who assess and identify possible imbalances in an individual’s diet, and therefore nutrition, and use this to try and understand how they may contribute towards any health problems. Nutritional Therapy is very much a holistic approach, a complementary medicine that isn’t recognised by conventional medicine.
Typically they work one to one with clients, in private clinics, and will offer personalised nutrition and lifestyle programmes, including the suggested use of dietary supplements and alternative therapies.
In terms of qualifications therapists are required to complete a course that is recognised by the National Occupational Standards for Nutritional Therapy and typically these would be equivalent to a level 5 diploma. Generally these courses are based on distant-learning, with the majority of the learning being online. Courses can take as little as 60 hours up to 200 hours to complete and tend to be undertaken in an individual’s spare time, with the recommended time frame of completion being one year. This varies greatly from choosing to be a part/full time student and studying over a number of years, however there are some undergraduate and postgraduate courses available too.
Article written by Evie Lovell, ANutr