A Registered Dietitian (RD) is a qualified healthcare professional whose professional title is protected by law, meaning no-one can call themselves a Dietitian unless they actually are one. That’s why you will see RD after all Dietitians’ names. To gain the RD title, we have to do BSc or MSc in dietetics (which includes biochemistry, physiology, social and behavioural sciences), as well as complete a set number of supervised practice hours in order to demonstrate clinical and professional competence.
Dietitians are regulated and governed by an ethical code to ensure our work is to the highest standard, and we have to be registered with the Health Care and Professions Council (HCPC). If you ever want to check the credentials of a Dietitian you can ask them for their registration number and check on the HCPC website.
Dietitians can work with individuals in hospital and clinical settings, education, research, sport, media, government and other environments. A Dietitian is able to call themselves a Nutritionist if they wish.
Whilst there are many excellent Nutritionists out there who have gone to university to obtain their qualification and who can provide excellent nutrition advice, there are also ‘Nutritionists’ who have done an online course one afternoon when they are feeling bored to provide them with that title. Would you trust the latter?
Nutritionists do not have a protected title with the HCPC and are certainly not allowed to call themselves a Dietitian unless they have done an additional qualification. There is a regulatory body for Nutritionists – the Association for Nutrition (AfN) which maintains a voluntary register of competent qualified individuals who have graduated from an AfN accredited degree as well as 3 years recent postgraduate experience. They are able to put RNutr (Registered Nutritionist) after their name. If they haven’t got all the postgrad experience yet, they can put ANutr (Associate Nutritionist) after their name.
So what can Dietitians do that Nutritionists cannot?
Dietitians are the only qualified nutrition experts who can assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems for both healthy and sick people. Nutritionists are not specifically trained to be able to provide advice to people who are ill.
Dietitians can help with a wide range of clinical conditions or chronic diseases including cancers, gastrointestinal disorders, autoimmune disorders, allergies, heart disease, diabetes, and much more. They provide evidence-based advise to and can liaise with your GP and/or other healthcare professional to provide a holistic approach in helping you reach your goals.
Dietitians can help you work out which foods to eat, and potentially which foods to avoid. But, rarely would a dietitian advise long-term restrictive diets, unless you have an allergy.
The goal of a dietitian is to ensure your diet is meeting your nutritional needs, whatever type of diet you are following.
The dietitian will spend some time asking questions to build a picture of you, your eating patterns and preferences. They will take into account any medical conditions, medications and supplements you’re taking. They will also talk about your physical activity and stress levels, as well as any personal goals you have. There will also be plenty of opportunity for you to ask the dietitian any questions you have around diet.
They will use all of this information to make a nutritional assessment and personalised plan which you are comfortable with.
At the end of the session the dietitian will discuss arrangement for future appointments if they are needed.
You will be provided with a registration form and GDPR consent form to complete ahead of the session.
In some instances, your dietitian may request that a diet and lifestyle questionnaire, or a gut symptom questionnaire is completed ahead of the appointment. This very much varies between individuals.
If your dietitian requires tests to be carried out prior to the appointment then they will liaise with you directly. These sorts of tests are usually via your GP. Note that a dietitian will never recommend a food intolerance test, as these are not supported by robust science.