Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: is there a difference?

You might have been confused by seeing the different terms nutritionist, dietitian, and nutritional therapist.

When you are looking for a professional to help you make healthy lifestyle changes and improve your diet, it is important to understand the difference between these titles.

The titles dietitian, nutritionist, and nutritional therapist are all used for professional purposes, but they can’t be used interchangeably as they each hold very different qualifications and registrations.

This guide will explain in detail the differences between nutrition professionals to help you make an informed decision about what is best for you.

Registered Dietitian (RD)

Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals to be governed and regulated by law. This means that anyone who uses the dietitian title must be registered with the correct professional body and adhere to their standards, otherwise, they will be penalised with legal action.

In the UK, The Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) is the regulatory body that all dietitians must be registered with to practise in a clinical setting.

Dietitians provide practical guidance, to both healthy and sick individuals, to help people make appropriate, healthy choices. They often work as part of a clinical team (including doctors, nurses, physiotherapists etc) to treat complex health conditions such as diabetes, allergies, IBS, eating disorders, chronic fatigue, malnutrition, kidney failure and bowel disorders.

Other areas that dietitians often work in include the food industry, workplace, catering, education, sport and the media, and public health relations.

To become a dietitian in the UK, the minimum requirement is a bachelor’s degree (BSc Hons) in Dietetics, or a related science degree with a postgraduate diploma or master’s degree in Dietetics.

Dietetic degrees combine biochemistry, physiology, applied sciences, and research methods relating to nutrition science.

All degrees have a mandatory supervised placement within the NHS, which means that most dietitians have had experience in a clinical setting. After the degree and all placements are completed, individuals can apply for registration with the HCPC.

You can look up a dietitian and check their registration here.

Registered Nutritionist (ANutr or RNutr)

Registered nutritionists are qualified to provide information and advice about food and healthy eating, but not about special diets for medical conditions. Those with a medical condition could see a registered nutritionist as part of a medical team (including GPs, doctors, nurses etc).

Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist but only registered nutritionists have met the strict standards of professional education in nutrition.

In the UK, the professional body for registration is the Association for Nutrition (AfN). Only individuals registered with the AfN hold the title Registered Nutritionist (ANutr or RNutr). Registration requires a minimum of an undergraduate (BSc Hons) or postgraduate degree in Nutrition or a related discipline, such as Public Health Nutrition or Sports Nutrition.

The ANutr title stands for ‘Registered Associate Nutritionist’, whereas the RNutr stands for ‘Registered Nutritionist’. The only difference is that those with RNutr status have had a minimum of 3 years of relevant professional experience.

All AfN registrants are required to keep up-to-date with the latest nutrition science through Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

Registered nutritionists often work as freelance consultants. There are some nutritionists employed within the NHS working alongside Registered Dietitians.

They also work in many non-clinical settings such as in Government, food service, research, teaching, sports, international work in developing countries, media and communications, animal nutrition, and NGOs.

You can look up a nutritionist and check their registration here.

Nutritional Therapist

Nutritional therapists practice complementary medicine, which is not valid as a treatment in conventional medicine. They provide recommendations for diet and lifestyle in order to reduce or prevent health issues and illnesses.

They work on the belief that the body has underlying nutritional and biochemical imbalances that lead to poor health including mental health problems. This approach is called functional medicine and is completely different from conventional medicine.

Nutritional therapists usually provide private consultations. Treatment methods can include high dose vitamins, detoxing, food avoidance, and supplements (non-NHS approved) for which currently there’s little scientific evidence.

Training for nutritional therapists is provided by the Institute of Optimum Nutrition (ION). The ION awards ‘Foundation Degree’ status to those who complete certain courses, however, these are not university degrees.

Nutritional therapists, un-registered nutritionists, ‘diet experts’, and ‘nutrition experts’ are not eligible to register with the HCPC or the AfN. Nutritional therapists can register with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.

Key differences

To highlight and summarise the key differences between dietitians, registered nutritionists, and nutritional therapists:

Table explaining the differences between dieticians, nutritionists, and nutritional therapists.

Alternative option

If you are looking to make healthy changes and lose some weight, seeking the help of a nutrition professional is a great way to do so. The challenge with seeing a nutritionist professional is that you often have to take a few hours out of your week to travel to and from the session and have the consultation. There are also travelling expenses associated with face-to-face consultations.

In the current climate, most in-face appointments have been shifted to online but might still cost the same amount. On top of this, you’re limited to your appointment slot rather than getting support as and when you need it.

For this reason, many people prefer the convenience of an online programme, where they can communicate with their nutritionist or dietitian around their busy lifestyle.

Second Nature is a digital programme that helps you to lose weight and make sustainable lifestyle changes. Second Nature combines support from registered nutritionists and dietitians with the convenience of an app-based programme.

Many people are more familiar with Weight Watchers or Slimming World, so we created a guide comparing their digital programmes with Second Nature to help you decide what’s best for you.

The Second Nature programme focuses on three areas that lead to long-term habit change: tracking, support, and education. When you sign up for the programme, you receive:

  • Daily support from a registered dietitian or nutritionist health coach
  • A digital peer support group
  • 2-week, risk-free trial
  • Hundreds of in-app recipe videos
  • Daily educational articles
  • Meal planning and journaling tools
  • Steps, weight, and habit tracking technology

Second Nature tackles weight loss by focusing on your habits and changing your behaviours. This means that any healthy lifestyle changes you make will be sustainable and last in the long term.

Take a look at our Trustpilot reviews to understand what members think of the programme.


Weekly face-to-face consultations with a dietitian, nutritionist, or nutritional therapist at a clinic can be very expensive (£40-£100/hour).

To compare the prices of visiting any private nutrition clinic with the Second Nature programme, we have added a column representing this (Weekly Nutritionist).

Weekly Nutritionist Second Nature
Price £300 / month £40 / month

Take home message

  • Dietitians are the only health professionals regulated and protected by law.
  • Registered nutritionists can provide evidence-based advice and information about food and healthy eating.
  • Nutritional therapists provide alternative treatment, based on the idea that the body needs ‘healing’ and ‘correcting’.
  • Only dietitians and registered nutritionists are required to hold a nationally recognised degree.
  • Second Nature provides a cheaper, more convenient alternative to face-to-face consultations from a registered nutritionist or dietitian.

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Write a response

Pamela Clark
10 October, 2020

I am a Nutritional Therapist and studied a rigorous Masters level programme before qualifying. I also have a BA(Hons) in Nursing Studies, a post grad teaching qualification and a Masters in Health Care during which I planned, completed and wrote up my own research study. I can honestly say my Nutritional Studies were on a par with this and I have never worked so hard as I did during my Nutrition degree. I would also say the time, energy and expense I have engaged in my ongoing Continued Professional Development is far, far beyond anything expected within my previous career in Nursing (which is an observation not a criticism). I think each Nutrition professional has something to offer, I love the holistic nature of Nutritional Therapy but I’m quite certain my colleagues in these other disciplines add value to the lives of their clients and wish them every success in doing so. I recommend accessing the BANT website for a full understanding Nutritional Therapy.

Michelle Paterson
9 October, 2020

This is an extremely inaccurate and I would say, libellous portrayal of Nutritional Therapy.
The CNHC manages the Accredited Register (Professional Standards Authority) which was set up to protect the public and to enable GP’s to refer. To suggest that the work is not evidence-based and that it consists of ‘high dose vitamins’ and cleanses is inaccurate and far from complete. They are also many other training establishments and many Nutritional Therapists practice with Post-graduate diploma’s and Masters level qualifications.

Karen Austin
9 October, 2020

I suggest you look up BANT and do some research on Nutritional Therapy. ION are not the only course providers and relevant qualifications can include MScs. Incidentally ION now offers a BSc in nutrition.

NTs use scientific studies to support their recommendations and courses include critical appraisal of this papers. They also are not limited to supplements and food avoidance to help clients – wherever possible foods are encouraged to improve nutritional intake with supplements only when needed. The sources you have used for this article are clearly unreliable.

Yvonne Johnson
4 July, 2020

I am a 63yr old woman and I have gain some extra weight due to not walking as much as I use to and I have always struggled with my weight I need someone to plan my meals for me

Nicola Williams
19 February, 2020

i am a 54 year old woman that has always struggled with her weight. i need to find the right foods that suit me

Tamara Willner
20 February, 2020

Hi Nicola, thanks for your comment. When you join the Second Nature programme, your personal health coach (registered nutritionist or dietitian) can tailor our satisfying recipes to suit your preferences and dietary requirements. To find out more, take our health quiz here!