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Nutritionist vs Dietitian – What’s the Difference?

posted by Laura on Friday, 5 June 2020

The vast majority of people interchange nutritionist with dietitian as if they were the same thing. And although these professions are incredibly similar in the functions that they research and serve, they are very different roles.

To help you get to grips with the key differences between nutritionists and dietitians, we’re taking an in-depth look at the two professions, from routine duties and common career paths, to the qualifications you’ll need and the salaries you can expect.

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What is a Nutritionist?

 Nutritionists are qualified to be experts in food and nutrition, and their primary work function is to help others achieve their health goals, by advising on how to live a healthier lifestyle. A nutritionist does not have the training or authority to advise a client on managing eating disorders or diets for medical conditions.

Generally, a nutritionist will work with individual clients on a private basis because the career is largely unregulated, and it isn’t a service provided by a medical centre or the NHS. Due to the lack of regulation, you will often find Nutritionists with job titles such as:

  • Health Coach
  • Nutrition Expert
  • Wellness Coach
  • Infant Nutritional Coach
  • Nutritional Specialist
  • Sports Nutritionist
  • Nutritional Therapist

While these jobs have varying suggested functions, they’re all founded on the same training. The only distinction between the qualification levels of Nutritionists in the UK is whether they are registered with the Association for Nutrition (AfN).

Only individuals registered with the AfN can hold the title Registered Nutritionist, abbreviated to ANutr or RNutr; this is a conditional offer based on the nutritionist earning a BSc undergraduate degree in nutrition or a related specialism. Also, they must hold a minimum of three years’ relevant professional experience.

woman in her kitchen preparing food

What is a Dietitian?

 Dietitians organise food and nutrition plans to promote healthy eating habits similar to the work of a nutritionist. Furthermore, the extended training and authority to address eating disorders and medical illnesses can also be covered by a dietitian.

Dietitians have an incredibly wide range of doors open to them from a career perspective. Many work as part of a commercial organisation, such as a private health care facility or a care home. However, the biggest employer of dietitians in the UK is the NHS, in a medical advisory role within a hospital, or supporting doctors at a GP practice. Less common job roles are in fields such as:

  • Microbiology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer science
  • Physiology
  • Foodservice systems management

Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals who are governed and regulated by law, and are required to be registered with The Health & Care Professional Council (HCPC). The HCPC are a strict overseer of policy and practice for dietitians.

To be eligible to be a Registered Dietitian (RD), you’re required to have a BSc Hons, undergraduate degree in Dietetics or a related science degree with a postgraduate diploma or master’s degree in Dietetics.

What is the difference between a Nutritionist and Dietitian?

 There are many factors that distinguish a nutritionist from a dietitian, but the most significant factor is that dietitians are the only professionals who are regulated by law.

This addition of regulatory oversight means that dietitians have extended authority to work on evidence-based recommendations. This means they can work with clients within medical treatment programmes or with existing severe medical illnesses.

This is an opportunity that is not open to nutritionists, who can only work to provide general diet and healthy lifestyle advice to private clients (adults and children) who are outside of medical treatment.

dietician filling out diet plan

What Qualifications Can Help You Become a Nutritionist or Dietitian?

The qualifications you’ll need depend on whether you aspire to become a nutritionist or a dietitian.

As touched on above, the majority of qualified dietitians hold a BSc undergraduate degree in dietetics or similar. This is to ensure they have the specialist knowledge and expertise required to advise people with serious underlying health conditions, usually in a professional health care environment.

For nutritionists, however, the entry requirements aren’t so rigid. While an undergraduate degree can certainly help you gain a strong salary position early in your career (particularly if it’s in a science or sports science field), a degree isn’t required to become a nutritionist, though you will need certified training – particularly if you hope to register with the Association for Nutrition.

Many people use distance learning as a way to transition into a full-time job as a professional nutritionist. With lots of course options for people at all levels, this is a great way to gain the skills you need alongside your current job, so you can begin advising clients and working towards making it your day job.

Take a look at diet and nutrition courses for more help and advice in choosing the distance learning course for you.

What is the Average Salary for a Nutritionist and Dietitian?

The average nutritionist should expect to earn £20,000-£22,000 as an annual salary, but this depends on your area of speciality as well as the clients you serve and whether you have your own practice.

Qualified dietitians working in a health care environment can expect a salary in the region of £35,000-£40,000, depending on the area of expertise and their experience.

We hope this guide clears up any confusion you may have had about the differences between nutritionists and dietitians, and how their roles, duties and responsibilities compare. Considering getting started? Why not view the online diet and nutrition courses we offer? Alternatively, to learn more about Oxbridge and our distance learning offering, visit the homepage or call our experienced course advisers today on 0121 630 3000.