In the UK, different titles are used by people who offer dietary advice, depending on their training and experience. As a medical nutritionist who wears three different hats (registered medical doctor, registered nutritionist and CNHC registered nutritional therapist) even I get confused! Here is my own understanding of what the three main groups listed below can offer through their different approaches. Although this brief summary does not cover all the value each profession brings, it will point you in the right direction to someone who is appropriately qualified to help. Before consulting someone, check they are accredited by the main organisations listed below.
What do they do? A registered dietitian can assess, diagnose and treat diet and nutrition-related problems. They can provide information on healthy eating, and devise diets for people with specific medical conditions (eg high cholesterol levels, obesity, diabetes, kidney problems, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer). It is likely that certain dietitians may also be allowed to supply and administer relevant prescription-only medicines, such as insulin or pancreatic enzymes, and adjust their doses by following approved protocols.
What training have they had? A dietitian will hold a BSc (Hons) in Dietetics, or a related biological science, with a post-graduate diploma or degree in dietetics. They will have spent a period in supervised clinical training with NHS patients, usually in a hospital.
Do they recommend supplements? A dietitian may offer advice on the safe use of supplements in certain situations, where medically indicated eg folic acid during pregnancy, vitamin D for proven deficiency in the elderly, or multivitamins for people who do not absorb nutrients properly. A dietitian can also help you maintain a good nutritional status if you want to follow a particular exclusion diet, and advise on the potential risks and benefits of your chosen approach.
Where do I check if they are registered? The title of dietitian is protected by law. Only those registered by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) can legally call themselves a dietitian. Some may use the initials RD (Registered Dietitian) after their name. Search the register at hcpc-uk.org.
What do they do? A nutritionist uses evidence-based principles to promote good nutrition and to enhance the impact of food on health. They mainly work with people who are well, to prevent disease, and may advise on healthy weight loss, protein and nutrient intakes for athletes, or how to obtain good nutrition during pregnancy, for example.
What training have they had? A Registered Nutritionist (RNutr) will normally have qualified from an accredited nutrition course, and hold a BSc (Hons) or MSc in a nutritional science or equivalent. They will also have at least 3 years professional experience.
Do they recommend supplements? Nutritionists work primarily with food and the nutrients in food. Supplements may be recommended where there is good evidence of benefit eg folic acid during pregnancy or vitamin D for at risk groups.
Where do I check if they are registered? Although anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, only those whose knowledge and training is recognised by the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists can call themselves a Registered Nutritionist (initials RNutr after their name). This register is governed by the Association for Nutrition (AfN) and can be searched at associationfornutrition.org.
Registered nutritional therapists
What do they do? A nutritional therapist can assess your diet, lifestyle and individual biochemical needs to provide a personalised nutrition plan to improve your health. They often work with conditions that are not well recognised or addressed by conventional medical or dietary approaches, using the principles of complementary medicine. Their advice should always be used alongside conventional medical treatment.
What training have they had? Anyone can call themselves a nutritional therapist without any training or experience. It’s therefore important to select one whose qualification to practice is recognised by the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). The CNHC was set up with government support as an Accredited Register by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care. Registered nutritional therapists must meet the requirements of the National Occupation Standards for nutritional therapy which includes a recognised degree or diploma, plus relevant training and experience. The British Association of Nutritional Therapists now only accept members who are CNHC registered.
Do they recommend supplements? Not always. However, nutritional therapists follow a functional medicine approach to help identify clients who may benefit from taking specific nutrients to improve or support body functions, and to replenish proven deficiencies (eg following blood tests).
Where do I check if they are registered? There is no legal requirement for a nutritional therapist to be registered, but many choose to do so to reassure clients of their training and experience. Those registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) can be found at cnhc.org.uk. Those who also belong to the British Association of Nutritional Therapists (initials MBANT after their name) can be found at bant.org.uk.
Photo credits: victoriakh/shutterstock