What Is the Difference Between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

by | Sep 14, 2021 | #StripTheNonsense

Are you confused and wondering “what is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?” You aren’t the only one! I often get asked what the difference is between the two. This article will run through key differences between a dietitian and a nutritionist. It will help give you a better understanding of the type of professional that might be the right fit for you.

Are nutritionists and dietitians the same thing?

The short answer is no. But there can be many similarities. The table below summarises the key differences between a dietitian and a nutritionist.


There are key differences in:
  • Professional title
  • Legal regulation
  • Places/types of work
I know and collaborate with many brilliant dietitians and nutritionists alike. If you choose to see a nutritionist, it’s best to seek out a registered nutritionist. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist but registered nutritionists are degree-trained professionals. So they must meet standards and follow evidence-based care protocols.

Should I see a dietitian or a nutritionist to lose weight?

Either should be able to help with concerns about your weight. If you see a nutritionist, make sure they are a registered nutritionist. This will ensure you get safe care.
Have you been wondering if it’s possible to ditch diets without gaining weight? I work with clients, teaching them how to stop dieting and start eating normally again. I do this through an Intuitive Eating Framework. Click here if you’re interested in learning more about my services.

Which is more suited to my goals?

It depends! If you have an existing medical condition, I would recommend seeing a dietitian. Dietitians are specially trained to provide dietary therapy for conditions like eating disorders, diabetes, heart disease, IBS and many others.
Otherwise, either a registered dietitian or registered nutritionist could suit your goals. My advice is to seek out a professional with experience or a special interest in your concern. For example, I have experience working with people with weight concerns and disordered eating. I use a framework called Intuitive Eating, to help clients find their healthy weight. We do this without using restrictive diets. There are dietitians and registered nutritionists who specialise in all types of concerns. These include food allergy & intolerance, sports, irritable bowel syndrome, hormonal health, diabetes and more. Try to find one who suits your needs best.
Keep reading to learn more to understand what is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist

Is the professional title protected by law?

Registered Dietitians: A key difference between dietitians and nutritionists is that dietitian is a protected title. Registered dietitians are the only nutrition professionals regulated by law. They are governed by an ethical code. This holds them to a high standard of work.
Nutritionists: Nutritionist is not a protected title. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, even if they have no qualifications. Nutritionists on the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN) hold the title of Registered Nutritionist.

What qualifications do dietitians and nutritionists have?

Dietitians: Have a BSc Hons in Dietetics. Or a related science degree with a postgraduate diploma. Or a higher degree in Dietetics. Dietetic courses include biochemistry, physiology, applied sciences and research methods. Dietitians also study social and behavioural sciences and the theories of communication. The Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) must approve all courses.
Nutritionists: You do not have to have any qualifications call yourself a nutritionist. But, there are qualification standards for registered nutritionists. Only degree courses that have met strict standards are accredited by the Association for Nutrition (AfN). Graduates from these courses have direct entry onto the UKVRN. It is not a legal requirement for a nutritionist to be registered with the UKVRN. A nutritionist who is not registered may not have the knowledge and skills to provide safe care.

Who regulates dietitians and nutritionists to ensure you’re kept safe?

Dietitians: Dietitians get regulated and controlled by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). Only those registered with this body can call themselves a dietitian. The HCPC is an independent organisation. Its role is to protect the UK public. The HCPC keeps a current register of health professionals who meet its standards. It takes action if registered health professionals fall below those standards. Registered professionals must keep up-to-date through compulsory Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
Nutritionists: Registered nutritionists belong to the voluntary self-regulated professional register, UKVRN. The UKVRN is under the Association for Nutrition. Registrants must keep up-to-date through Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Nutritionists do not have to be on the register to have the right to work in the UK. Unregistered nutritionists are not regulated by any external body.

Where do dietitians and nutritionists work?

Dietitians: Dietitians work in many settings including
  • The NHS
  • Private practice
  • Industry and education
  • Research
  • Sport
  • Media and public relations
  • Government and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs)
A key role of a dietitian is to train and educate other health and social care workers. They also advise on diet to avoid the side effects and interactions between medications.
Nutritionists: Nutritionists work in non-clinical settings. These include
  • Government
  • The food industry
  • Research
  • Teaching
  • Sports and exercise industries
  • International work in developing countries
  • Media and communications
  • Animal nutrition and NGOs
Some Nutritionists work in the NHS under the supervision of registered dietitians. Nutritionists often work as freelance consultants. They cannot work with hospitalised or other acute patients, without supervision from a registered dietitian.

Summary to answer “what is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist”

In summary, there are differences in
  1. Regulation
  2. Qualifications and
  3. Area’s of practice
between dietitians and nutritionists.
Only dietitians are able to work individually with hospitalised patients. Nutritionists are not able to provide unsupervised Medical Nutrition Therapy. There are many wonderful dietitians and registered nutritionists alike out there. If you choose to see a nutritionist, it’s best to ensure they are a registered nutritionist. Registered nutritionists are regulated. This increases the likelihood of you receiving safe and evidence-based care. 
By now you should understand what is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist. Katherine Kimber is a a Registered Dietitian, and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor. She has a first-class Undergraduate and Masters’s degree from Kings College London. If you’re looking for a registered dietitian to help with concerns regarding weight, body image and/or disordered eating, Kat offers 1-on-1 and group services in these area’s. Click here to read more about Kat.

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