Dietitian, clinical nutritionist or nutritionist – what’s the difference?

A clinical nutritionist, dietitian and nutritionist walk into an organic cafe, order a green juice, a decaf almond latte and some smashed avo and all get along. If you’re not in the know, it probably sounds like three of the same person walked in together but these people all have very different jobs! 

If you’re looking for help with your diet or seeking advice on how to manage an illness naturally, it can be very confusing to know what qualifications someone has and who to go to for accurate advice.

What is a dietitian?

Dieticians are seen as the queens of dietary recommendations in Australia due to their ability to work within hospitals (and the community) and advise on public policy. A dietitian has done 4 years of university (generally a Bachelor or Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics) and can assess your nutritional needs, provide nutritional support and develop nutritional policies. Dietitians are also clinical nutritionists and nutritionists but a clinical nutritionist or nutritionist isn’t always a dietitian, just to keep things confusing! They are also registered with Dietitians Australia and will sometimes include APD (Accredited Practising Dietitian) after their name.  

A dietitian can prescribe supplements and recommend dietary modifications for a number of medical conditions, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Weight loss
  • IBS
  • Food allergies and intolerances.

As dietitians are trained to work in hospitals, they follow a ‘western model’ of medical treatment in a similar way to doctors. The Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADGs) are supported by Dietitians Australia and therefore, registered dietitians will generally follow the AGDs.

What is a clinical nutritionist or accredited nutritionist?

Clinical nutritionists or accredited nutritionists are also university qualified, they may have done a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine) or the first 3 years of a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics. They are also highly qualified in providing dietary advice and prescribing supplements for a number of medical conditions but are not qualified to work in a hospital. These include:

  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression
  • Hormonal issues such as period pain, PCOS or endometriosis
  • Sports nutrition
  • General wellbeing

Clinical nutritionists can also request functional testing such as DUTCH Hormone testing, OATs testing or gut microbiome mapping to provide further insight into the biochemical pathways of the body and the root cause of any health issues. 

Depending on the training of the clinical nutritionist, they may be trained in holistic medicine and can look at how all the systems of the body are working together. 

Clinical nutritionist are registered with various organisations including Nutrition Society of Australia, Australian Natural Therapies Association (ANTA), Complementary Medicine Practitioners Association Council (CMPAC), Australian National Register of Accredited Natural Therapists (ANRANT) and the International Institute of Complementary Therapists (IICT).

And what is a nutritionist?

Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist… this means there is a large variation in quality and qualifications of nutritionists out there. A certificate IV in nutrition can be done in 6-12 months through TAFE or other registered training organisation, or they may have a different qualification such as a Certification of Nutrition or no qualification at all so it’s really important if you’re working with a nutritionist to ask about their qualifications. They may also call themselves a nutrition coach or a nutrition consultant.

The subjects in a certificate IV in nutrition include:

  • Concepts of health and wellbeing
  • Physical health status
  • Recognising healthy body systems
  • Nutritional supplements and ergogenic aids
  • Meeting a client’s dietary needs
  • Principles of psychology and behaviour management
  • Designing a nutritional plan
  • Establishing positive digestive health

A nutritionist cannot prescribe supplements or a diet for particular medical conditions, nor can they work in a hospital. They provide general dietary advice.

So… who do I see?

It depends on your needs and what you’re looking for! If you want someone who can look at your health holistically or need advice with a specific medical condition, then a clinical nutritionist is up your alley. But, if you’re in hospital and need nutritional support, then a dietitian is your go to. And if you just want some general advice, see a nutritionist.

The difference in qualifications

Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics – Flinders UniversityBachelor of Health Science (Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine) – Endeavour College of Natural HealthCertificate IV in Nutrition – VAST
BiologyI and II
Physiology I, II and III
General Chemistry I and III
Human chemistry
Indigenous Health
Basic principles of human nutrition
Food systems and supply
Interpersonal communicationELECTIVE
Biochemistry
Food preparation
Perspectives on Food Consumption
Human biochemistry
Nutrition across the lifespan
Sports Nutrition ELECTIVE
Nutrition and disease
Nutrients Role and Function✓ 
Nutrition Care Process
Communication and nutritional counselling skills
PathophysiologyI, II and III
Food service management
Public health
Research I, II and IIII and II
Medicinal food science
Pharmacology
Nutritional biochemistry
Clinical nutritional medicine
Weight management
Clinical Placement170 hours in a hospital
110 hours in the community
80 hours in food service (total 360 hours)
380 hours in the community

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