In the United Kingdom (UK), there are many professions where nutrition forms part of the training, but there are only four where nutrition is the main focus.
If you decide that you’d like to see a nutritionist, choosing which type might seem quite daunting.
The four main types in the UK are:
- Dietitians (University graduates)
- Nutritionists (University graduates)
- Nutritional therapists (Trained by Institute of Optimal Nutrition)
- Naturopathic Nutritionists (Trained by the College of Naturopathic Medicine)
There are other professions who give nutritional advice as part of their job, but they will not be specialists in nutrition. Examples could include personal trainers, wellbeing coaches, chiropractors and physiotherapists among others.
Many people seek nutritionists for a wide range of issues such as weight loss, chronic or protracted medical conditions, pregnancy and fertility, sports and exercise, depression or mood disorders, among many other reasons.
Your GP might not be able to direct you either! I’ve included a quick guide on which one you could choose according to your needs.
Unfortunately, you will have to do a bit of research to see what services are available in your area. What’s worse is that the term “nutritionist” is not a protected job title, and therefore anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, even if they are self-taught.
So let’s look at the four main regulated nutrition professions, where qualifications are required, what those qualifications should be and the descriptions each of their regulatory body gives them.
If any hit the mark for you, then you know which avenue to pursue.
The most familiar to you will probably be the dietitian!
Dietitians must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). They describe their profession as:
Registered dietitians are qualified health professionals that assess, diagnose and treat diet and nutrition problems at an individual and wider public health level. Uniquely, dietitians use the most up-to-date public health and scientific research on food, health and disease, which they translate into practical guidance to enable people to make appropriate lifestyle and food choices.
Dietitians are statutorily regulated, with a protected title and governed by an ethical code, to ensure that they always work to the highest standard. The spectrum of environments in which dietitians practice is broad and includes the NHS, private practice, industry, education, research, sport, media, public relations, publishing, non-government organisations and national and local government. Their advice influences food and health policy across the spectrum from government to local communities and individuals.
The title ‘dietitian’ can only be used by those appropriately trained professionals who have registered with the Health & Care Professions Council and whose details are on the HCPC website.
The British Dietetics Association (BDA) have written a leaflet giving their view on the differences between the nutrition professions. You can download it here.
There is currently no requirement for nutritionists to register, but those who have can be found at: Association for Nutrition (AfN), who govern the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN).
Nutritionists do not usually work with chronically ill patients, unless under supervision of a dietitian.
AfN Nutritionists provide evidence-based information and guidance in one or more of the five areas below, each supported by competencies to ensure the individual is qualified and competent in the chosen specialism(s).
AfN nutritionists come in two flavours:
- Associate Nutritionists (they use post-nominals ANutr)
- Registered Nutritionists (they use post-nominals RNutr)
Only registered nutritionists have full autonomy to work unsupervised, associate nutritionists have graduated from university and meet the basic competencies, but lack experience.
An Animal Nutritionist is a scientist who applies his or her basic knowledge of the anatomy, physiology, metabolism and nutrition of vertebrates to a species or genus, understands the specific characteristics of the nominated species and applies this knowledge to their welfare, dietary needs and nutritional disorders, advising others about the subject or constructing experiments to increase understanding of nutritional science of the species.
Animal nutritionists may run their own consultancy, work in industry, education, academia or research.
Food Nutritionists will usually work in nutrition/food education/academia as a nutrition/food researcher, for the food manufacturing industry (producing anything from baby foods to food supplements), the food service industry (from wholesalers to catering companies), food retailers (major supermarkets or pharmacy chains), public relations companies or trade/ industry organisations.
Food nutritionists usually look at the science, ingredients, policy, legislation and regulations involved in the consumption or marketing of a food item.
Their roles will vary between nutrition training or education, customer service, health promotion and assessing, setting, implementing and communicating nutritional standards and information for foods in commercial and food service settings, marketing, product development, regulatory support and research/science.
Their role may also include community development/health improvement as well as commissioning of services.
A Nutrition Scientist investigates the metabolic and physiological responses of the body to foods and nutrients.
The nutrition scientist may use expertise from the fields of molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology and genetics or other underpinning scientific knowledge.
They aim to understand the factors that determine requirements for energy and specific nutrients, the sequence of steps through which ingested substances are digested and change from one form to another in the body, how food related chemicals can cause or prevent disease or may affect risk factors.
Their work may contribute to understanding of pathological or healthy processes in humans and other animals. Nutrition Scientists will typically work in a research role in academia/food industry/research institutes etc.
Public Health Nutrition
Public Health Nutritionists develop, implement and evaluate nutrition policies and programmes, generating the evidence base and applying scientific knowledge to ensure understanding of the impact of food and diet on health and well being of people and communities, and improving the diet, nutrition and health of people and communities.
Roles can include health improvement, addressing inequalities in nutrition and health, nutrition advocacy, developing/commissioning and implementing policies and programmes, monitoring, evaluation and assessment of diet in groups/communities, education and generating research evidence linking food/nutrients and health.
Sports & Exercise Nutrition
Sports and Exercise Nutritionists develop, implement and evaluate nutritional strategies to optimise performance in sport and exercise.
They determine the energy, fluid and nutrient demands of sport and exercise and provide tailored dietary advice to individuals and groups, ranging from recreational athletes, enthusiastic amateurs to elite professional athletes.
They may also work for and in the sports nutrition industry eg producing products for athletes of all ability levels, or may work in education, be academics or researchers.
Typically Sports & Exercise Nutritionists will be registered with the Sports and Exercise Nutrition Register (SENr), but not always
In general, nutritionists provide evidence-based information and guidance about the impacts of food and nutrition on the health and wellbeing of humans (at an individual or population level) or animals.
It is important that nutritionists have a good understanding of the scientific basis of nutrition.
Minimum Qualifications: BSc Public Health Nutrition, Human Nutrition, Animal Nutrition, or Sports & Exercise Nutrition
Title: ANutr (graduate nutritionists), RNutr (experienced nutritionists), RSen(sports nutritionists/dietitians)
3) Nutritional Therapy
Nutritional therapists are regulated under the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), and they provide the following description:
Nutritional therapy is the application of nutrition science in the promotion of health, peak performance and individual care. Nutritional therapy practitioners use a wide range of tools to assess and identify potential nutritional imbalances and understand how these may contribute to an individual’s symptoms and health concerns. This approach allows them to work with individuals to address nutritional balance and help support the body towards maintaining health. Nutritional therapy is recognised as a complementary medicine. It is relevant both for individuals looking to enhance their health and wellbeing and for those with chronic conditions wishing to work with or ‘consult’ a nutritional therapist in collaboration with other suitably qualified healthcare professionals.
Practitioners consider each individual to be unique and recommend personalised nutrition and lifestyle programmes rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Practitioners never recommend nutritional therapy as a replacement for medical advice and always refer any client with ‘red flag’ signs or symptoms to their medical professional. They will also frequently work alongside a medical professional and will communicate with other healthcare professionals involved in the client’s care to explain any nutritional therapy programme that has been provided.
Nutritional therapists trained in the UK generally follow the Functional Medicine framework of alternative medicine.
Nutritional therapists: must be registered with both British Association of Nutritional Therapists (BANT) and the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) .
There are many nutritional therapists who have chosen not to register with BANT, and have either selected an alternative body or to practice without registration.
You are advised to ensure that they are adequately qualified if this is the case, so do not be shy about asking to see their credentials before you pay for a service, or choose one from the Nutritionist Resource website who’ve had their credentials verified.
4) Naturopathic nutrition
Naturopathic nutritionists are registered with the Naturopathic Nutritionist Association (NNA), and they provide the following description:
Naturopathic medicine is a distinct system of primary health care – an art, science and philosophy. It is also the practice of assessing the causes of disease and providing therapeutic protocols to address root causes rather than just symptoms, and identifying ways to help prevent illness. It is distinguished by the guiding principles that underlie and determine naturopathic practice:
– Work with the healing power of nature, trusting the body’s inherent powers of recovery when obstacles to cure are removed
– Identify the cause – address the underlying cause of illness rather than just treating symptoms
– First do no harm – use the most natural, least toxic and least invasive therapies first
– Support the whole person – assess not just the physical condition but also factors that influence health and well-being
– Therapist as teacher – educate people in the art of self-care and the steps they need to take to achieve optimal health
– Prevention – encourage the promotion of health and prevention of disease
These principles and philosophies result in a practice that acknowledges each person is an individual and empowers them to accept greater responsibility in their own health care.
Naturopathic Nutrition is the practice of nutrition within the context of naturopathic medicine. It incorporates respect for the traditional naturopathic approach to nutritional therapy and recognition that:
– Individuals have a unique interaction with nutrients
– Food selection, preparation and eating is an healing art
– Whole foods are greater than the sum of their parts
There may be some overlap between nutritional therapists and naturopathic nutritionists as they recognise and register people who have qualified on the same course.
Minimum Qualifications: Diploma in Naturopathic Nutrition
Title: None / MBANT
How to choose a nutritionist
So who should you choose? A dietitian? A nutritionist? What about nutritional therapist? Here’s a quick guide that might help you select the right one for your needs. If you’re still not sure, drop me a line with your requirements and I’ll guide you.
Dietitians can usually help you with almost all nutritional requirements, from weight loss to dealing with chronic diseases.
However, because nutrition is a huge field that covers a crazy number of issues, dietitians will often specialise.
They may specialise in diabetes, child nutrition, pregnancy and fertility, certain medical ailments like kidney or heart disease, eating disorders among others.
If you have any condition where what you eat can seriously affect your health, you should always seek dietetic advice.
This includes: type 1 diabetes, kidney diseases, conditions requiring a lot of medication, if you’re undergoing treatment for cancer, managing inflammatory bowel diseases, PKU, anorexia nervosa, post GI surgery such as colon removal or bariatric surgery.
Freelance dietitians are available for private appointments – you may need a referral from your GP, but speak to your local dietitian first for advice.
Nutritionists (including sports nutritionists)
Nutritionists often do offer 1:1 advice, particularly around healthy eating, weight loss, and some will specialise in sports and exercise nutrition, animal nutrition and public health.
Nutritionists are more likely to work in public speaking, education and advising restaurants, company canteens and other food outlets on menu planning.
If you’re looking to label your products, then nutritionists often help there too.
Some nutritionists maybe able to offer advice on nutrition in certain areas such as following vegan or vegetarian diets safely; using the DASH and Mediterranean diet for heart health; nutrition for fertility, old age, children and gender; nutrition post surgery or illness for recovery.
However, they generally do not work specifically with nutrition for certain medical conditions unless they’ve done additional training or they are working with a dietitian.
If you would like a registered nutritionist, then you can search the register for one local to you.
Sports and exercise nutritionists are easily found on the sports and exercise nutrition register – but not all will be here, it’s the only register currently that will have nutritionists with specialist postgraduate training.
Alternatively, you could find a sports dietitian by searching their freelance register and filtering by sports nutrition under Your Dietary Need.
Nutritional therapists/naturopathic nutritionists
The final two groups will work in very similar areas and there are a huge number of crossovers. They tend to pick up what dietitians are unable to – simply due to the numbers game!
If you try and see an NHS dietitian, the waiting list can be long! And many won’t take patients for common chronic conditions that can be self-managed.
There’s a raft of conditions nutrition can help, but dietitians don’t have the capacity to treat.
These include: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or symptoms of IBS, mental health, fibromyalgia, arthritis, eczema or psoriasis, lethargy/fatigue, mild inflammatory diseases (such as mild colitis), minor weight loss (ie not severe obesity), type 2 diabetes, heart disease risk factors (such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, borderline blood sugar) among others.
Nutritional therapy can work well here to fill that void, but be aware that many use expensive therapeutic techniques such as prescribing supplements and using laboratory testing for potential intolerances, allergies, hormone imbalances among others.
These methods are rarely used by nutritionists and dietitians or even GPs and hospital consultants. It’s relatively unique to nutritional therapy – and this means that the costs of seeing a nutritional therapist can be quite high!
However, on the positive side, nutritional therapy can be a very powerful way of dealing with issues that you would never have thought to try yourself.
They’re not afraid to try things that are fringe, experimental or new. Dietitians are bound by regulations from NICE, which restricts what they can and cannot advise.