Dietitians, nutritionists and nutritional therapists all advise on nutrition and diet, but have different training, regulations and legal status. Dietitians are the gold standard for trusted one-to-one advice.
A dietitian is a nutritionist who has had additional medical training to treat illnesses through diet. Dietitian’ is a title that is protected by law in the UK, and is currently the only title that guarantees nutrition training to above degree-level, and adherence to a strict code of conduct.
All dietitians have studied nutrition to degree or post graduate level and have additionally undertaken 9 months assessed training in the NHS. This additional training enables dietitians to advise on diet as a treatment in a wide range of serious medical conditions. They are then eligible to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), who require their members to give advice that is impartial, safe and based on the best evidence available, and to keep up to date professionally. The HCPC not only regulates dietitians, but also many other health professions, including physiotherapists and paramedics.
Graduates from a recognised nutrition degree can join the Association for Nutrition (AfN) register, and are well qualified to research and advise on nutrition and healthy eating. Some work in the NHS as nutritionists or dietetic assistants but are not trained to advise on nutrition as a treatment, unless they are supervised by dietitians.
Nutritional therapists and unregistered nutritionists
The titles Nutritionist, Nutritional Therapist, Nutrition Doctor and Nutrition Consultant are not protected by law or by any professional bodies, and so anyone can, in theory, use them. Some high-profile nutrition experts use these titles (quite legally) but do not have recognised nutrition qualifications (i.e. a degree from a recognised institution). Nutritional therapists often position themselves as superior to dietitians and as more holistic, however their training is not regulated and their approaches are often not rooted in evidence-based-practice, and are even sometimes dangerous. Some online sites who make a point of highlighting nutritional tests, advice and professionals that are not as they seem are Quackwatch and the Guardian’s Ben Goldacre. In 2012 the trusted consumer organisation Which! carried out an undercover investigation into nutritional therapists which found many giving dangerous advice.