A Dietitian (or dietician) is a health professional who has a Bachelor’s degree specialising in food and nutrition, as well as a period of practical training in a hospital and a community setting. It takes at least four years of full-time study at a university to qualify as a Dietitian. Many Dietitians further their knowledge by pursuing a Master’s or Doctoral degree. Dietitians apply the science of nutrition to promote health, treat and prevent malnutrition and provide therapeutic dietary guidelines for patients, clients and the public in health and illness.
Dietitians are the only qualified and regulated health professionals who assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems at an individual and wider public health level. The title “Registered Dietitian” and “Dietitian/Dietician” is protected by law so that only qualified practitioners who have met the required education qualifications and continue to maintain their knowledge and skills through continuing professional development, can use that title. CORU is responsible for regulation of health and social care professionals under the Health and Social Care Professionals’ Act, 2005, in Ireland.
What is the difference between a Dietitian, nutritionist or nutritional therapist?
Whilst the INDI recognises the choice of the consumer and patients to use complementary or alternative therapies, a key role of the INDI is to ensure that the public are protected from unregulated or inappropriate advice on nutrition. For more information on the regulation of health care professionals in Ireland see www.coru.ie.
We aim to ensure the public is aware of how to select or check the credentials of any nutrition advisors or practitioners and to provide information on how to find a qualified Dietitian.
Many people claim to be experts in nutrition yet have very limited knowledge, are unregulated and do not offer protection to the public. Unfortunately, for those who use the services of these unqualified ‘nutrition practitioners’, the advice or therapy provided may be ineffective, inappropriate and potentially unsafe. The term nutritionist is currently not protected by law so people with widely different levels of training and knowledge can call themselves a “nutritionist”. The title nutritional therapist is also unregulated.
The key differences between the roles and functions of Dietitians, nutritionists and nutritional therapists are outlined below:
BSc. (Hons) Human Nutrition and Dietetics or a related science degree with a postgraduate diploma or master’s degree in Dietetics. Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals to be regulated by law (CORU).
Dietitians are qualified to work with healthy people and those with medical conditions in a broad range of settings including hospitals, primary care and private practice. Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals who can be employed by the HSE to work in a hospital or a community setting.
Dietitians do not sell any nutrition supplements in relation to their nutritional advice in the clinical setting.
Nutritionist or Public Health Nutritionist
BSc (Hons) or MSc in Public Health Nutrition, Human Nutrition or Nutritional science.
Nutritionists or Public Health Nutritionists are qualified to provide information about food and healthy eating and often work in roles including public health, health improvement, health policy, local and national government as well as in education and research.
As this profession is not regulated by law, anybody can call themselves a nutritionist. However, those who hold the appropriate qualifications can register with the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN). There is no similar register of Nutritionists in Ireland.
There are all sorts of courses of differing lengths which claim to train nutritional therapists, many of which are online. Nutritional therapists are not eligible to register with CORU nor with the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists.
Nutritional therapists usually operate in private practice. Some may offer non-evidence based nutritional tests such as food intolerance testing or hair analysis. Some may also offer treatments such as supplements, detox diets and food exclusions for which there is little robust scientific evidence.
Products or supplements may be sold as part of the consultation process.