What is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

The media is full of wellness bloggers, personal trainers, nutritionists, celebrities, and health and fitness experts all offering advice as to how to eat well and live healthy.  But who should you turn to if you are looking for help to support your personal health and nutrition needs?

Here is a straightforward guide to help you choose.

Dietitians are legally protected. We are the only nutrition experts permitted to work within the NHS. Dietitians   have to demonstrate professional membership with the British Dietetic Association. We also have to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council, (HCPC).  The HCPC  ensures that all registered health professionals working in the UK continue to achieve professional development, and keep up with the latest research in their area of expertise. Dietitians are allowed to work within the NHS because we are not just experts in nutrition science, we are medically trained to treat health conditions via food and drink. The job of a dietitian is to be skilled in the art – and it is an art –of translating complex scientific evidence into straightforward diet and lifestyle messages for an individual or the public to understand.  Our training includes motivational interviewing techniques, and counselling skills, so that we can enable and empower our patients and clients to use behaviour change strategies which support lifestyle advice and food related guidance toward improving health.


Nutritionists registered with the Association for Nutrition are also university graduates with nutrition degrees.  Nutritionists most often work  in public health, in universities or within the food and beverage industry as nutrition experts.  Unfortunately, the title of nutritionist is not legally protected, this means that anyone can call themselves a nutritionist and set up a clinic.  It is really important to find out if a nutritionist is registered with the Association for Nutrition as otherwise it’s difficult to say if the advice you are receiving is well founded, research driven, or hocus pocus.


Sometimes dietitians will also call themselves nutritionists e.g. I refer to myself as a Sports Nutritionist.  I have undertaken a post graduate qualification in Applied Sports Nutrition but the title of Sports Nutritionist is more easily recognised than Sports Dietitian, so  I use Sports Nutritionist.  I know other dietitians who use ‘nutritionist’ for the same reason.  It is definitely challenging to try and understand the difference, but if you have any kind of medical condition you ought to be searching for a dietitian, and one with relevant experience.

Felicity Lyons

Hi there! My name is Felicity. I am a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist with a proactive approach to healthy living. My job is to interpret the complexity of nutrition science and translate it into messages and guidance that you can understand. Healthy Living? It's easier than you think!