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What is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

by Annika Buwalda

Having completed the relevant tertiary qualifications and worked as both a public health nutritionist and a dietitian I can confidently say that both roles are very important in improving the health of our society.

The difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian in Australia is that dietitians complete intensive training in managing complex health conditions in a clinical setting as part of an approved degree at an Australian University. This includes supervised and assessed placement in both tertiary hospital and outpatient settings. Dietitians are also managed by a regulating body, Dietitians Australia, and must complete ongoing professional development to remain accredited. The credential APD, or accredited practicing dietitian, is used to indicate that a dietitian is a member of this regulatory body. This can be verified on the register of accredited practising dietitians through the Dietitians Australia website. (

The main role of a nutritionist is to work with populations and individuals to improve general health, with a focus on health promotion, family and community health. However the title of nutritionist is not so tightly regulated, and in fact anybody can call themselves a nutritionist in Australia. That is not to say that there are not some excellent nutritionists around, and you may find somebody who fits in really well with you, but for management of individual weight loss or chronic disease a dietitian can provide evidence-based, individually tailored advice and their services are recognised by Medicare, the Department of Veteran Affairs, and most private health insurers.

Questions to ask when choosing a nutritionist or dietitian:

  • What do I want out of the sessions?

  • What credentials does the health professional have?

  • Are they sponsored or do they promote a particular product or program?

  • Is this person a good fit for me?

One last point to make is that Accredited Practising Dietitians are prohibited from using testimonials due to government regulations, and are bound by a strict code of conduct and professional standards. This means that nutritionists, personal trainers and wholistic health consultants can advertise and promote themselves in ways that dietitians cannot.

How can a dietitian help me?

It is not news to anyone that food and nutrition has a huge impact on your health. In 400BC or thereabouts Hippocrates said, “Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

It is pretty easy these days to open up Google and find the answer to all your diet questions. When it comes to your health though it is always best to seek professional help. In fact, you will probably save money by acquiring the services of a dietitian, as vitamins, minerals, diet plans and weight loss schemes touted to be the latest miracle cure are often costly and ineffective, especially if you want lasting results.

What I love about being a dietitian is meeting people of all different lifestyles and backgrounds, and working out the best way to help them make changes that take these factors in to account. What works for Kym Kardashian or Catherine Middleton (or even Hippocrates I suppose) will not necessarily work for you.

A dietitian has training in motivational interviewing and behaviour change techniques that are essential in achieving long lasting weight loss goals and dietary changes. There is a significant body of evidence that suggests that behaviour change is key to effectively managing weight-related concerns and improving health. This takes time and hard work, and a good dietitian can provide you with ongoing support and encouragement.

Further, dietitians have training in managing a plethora of complex health conditions including diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol, PCOS, chronic disease and eating disorders to name a few. Accredited Practicing Dietitians are required to stay abreast of the latest evidence in diet and disease and integrate this in to their practice. For example, there have recently been exciting new studies published about the influence of gut health and diet on various disease states.

While medicines may have improved since 400BC what we eat still has a huge impact on our health, so getting a dietitian on board to assist you can make all the difference.

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