According to the World Health Organisation, nutrition is the intake of food, considered in relation to the body's dietary needs. Optimum nutrition – an adequate, well balanced diet combined with regular physical activity – is a cornerstone of good health. Poor nutrition can lead to reduced immunity, increased susceptibility to disease, impaired physical and mental development, and reduced productivity. As a result nutrition is important for all of us.
What is the difference between nutritional practitioners?
There are two main types of nutrition practitioner who work with individuals privately in the UK: Nutritionists and Nutritional Therapists. Additionally, dietitians also work in a nutritional capacity but they typically work within the NHS. Each of these three types of practitioners and what they do are discussed in more detail below.
Currently, dietitians are the only nutritional professionals who are regulated within the UK. They are therefore governed by law and an ethical code of practice. Dietitians tend to work principally within the NHS and private medical practices but they also work within education, sport and government roles. Dietitians can apply their expertise on an individual basis to treat specific conditions, or on a larger scale, informing the general public about food and health policy. A dietitian may be consulted to assist in the recovery of an eating disorder, to help someone overcome chronic fatigue or to help those who require a special diet due to medical treatment, such as those with cancer, HIV/AIDS or diabetes.
A practitioner has to be registered with an organisation such as the the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) in order to call themselves a dietitian. In order to be eligible for registration with the HCPC, a dietitian must have a minimum of a BSc Hons in Dietetics or a BSc Hons in a biological science of relevance along with a postgraduate diploma or degree. The British Dietetic Association is the single professional body for dietitians, it is responsible for the design of the curriculum of courses and acts as their trade union.
The Nutrition Society, established in 1941 “to advance the scientific study of nutrition and its application to the maintenance of human and animal health”, describes a nutritionist as a scientist working in either research, academia, the food industry or the media. Within this definition of the title, nutritionists are not trained to give direct advice to individuals as they are not trained in clinical practice, like dietitians.
Nutritionists tend to work for public bodies or the government, rather than seeing people on an individual basis, although some also see private clients. Nutritionists are generally not trained in clinical practice though and can only give healthy eating advice to healthy individuals. When working within organisations they apply scientific knowledge of food to advise on matters of health and nutrition and how it relates to the public.
Because the title 'nutritionist' is not protected by law in the UK, essentially anyone is able to refer to themselves as a nutritionist, even if they do not possess adequate training and experience. However there is a difference between a 'nutritionist' and a 'registered nutritionist' in that only those registered with the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN) are able to assume the latter title. In order to be eligible for registration with the UKVRN, which is administered by the Association for Nutrition, individuals can either study an accredited course or they must provide adequate evidence of extensive knowledge in the field. Only registered nutritionists are members of the welldoing nutrition directory so if you find a nutritionist through us you can be assured that whoever you see is highly qualified.
Nutritional therapy is the application of up-to-date nutrition science and evidence-based information for the promotion of health and an overall sense of wellbeing. Practitioners consider each individual to be unique and recommend personalised nutrition rather than a 'one size fits all' approach. Nutritional Therapists employ a person-centred practice framework which facilitates these tailored programmes for optimum nutrition.
Registered nutritional therapists deal with the preventative and curative aspects of nutrition, using a wide range of tools to assess and identify potential nutritional imbalances and intolerances. This in-depth approach allows them to work with individuals to address nutritional balance and help support the body. Nutritional therapy is recognised as a complementary medicine and is relevant for those looking for support to enhance their health and wellbeing as well as for individuals with chronic conditions.
Despite similarities, there are some important differences between nutritionists and nutritional therapists. As already mentioned, nutritionists tend to work in industry-based positions, whereas nutritional therapists usually work in person-centred, one-to-one situations seeing clients privately. A nutritional therapist can work in prevention, working with healthy individuals to maintain optimum health and prevent disease. Or they may work with sick individuals to ease and relieve symptoms of a disease they are living with.
However, much like the term 'Nutritionist', 'Nutritional Therapist' is a title which is currently not regulated in the UK. This means anyone could call themselves a nutritional therapist if they wanted to. Therefore, an organisation called the Complementary and Natural Health Care Council was set up with government support to protect the public by developing a UK voluntary register of complementary therapists including nutritional therapists. CNHC's register has been approved as an Accredited Register by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care. All members must prove their qualifications are of a high standard – having achieved diploma or degree level with reputable training organisations – before they are permitted to join, and they must adhere to a strict code of ethics.
Additionally, The British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) is the professional body for Registered Nutritional Therapists which has close links to the CNHC. BANT promotes high standards of education in nutritional therapy and high standards of practice and ethics within the profession. Members of BANT must have met the required standards of training, be fully insured and adhere to the CNHC Code of Conduct, Performance and Ethics and the BANT Professional Practice Handbook.
All of the nutritional therapists listed on the welldoing directory are either members of BANT or on the CNHC Register, or both. Therefore you can rest assured that they are all highly qualified professionals.