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New Zealand Dietitians, Nutritionists and Naturopaths: what’s the difference?

Tamara Willner
Written by

Tamara Willner

Medically reviewed by

Fiona Moncrieff

4 min read
Last updated June 2024

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

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

The titles dietitian, nutritionist, and naturopath are all used for professional purposes, but each hold very different qualifications and registrations.

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

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Registered Dietitian

Dietitians are university-qualified professionals who undertake ongoing training and education to provide up-to-date and credible nutrition information. In New Zealand, dietitians are the only nutrition health profession to be regulated by law.

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.

NZ dietitians must have an undergraduate science degree in human nutrition as well as a Masters qualification. They must also be registered with the NZ Dietitian’s Board and hold a current practising certificate.

Registered Nutritionist

The title nutritionist can be used by dietitians, nutrition scientists and nutrition graduates as well as those with little to no qualifications in nutrition. 

Therefore it is important to choose a Registered Nutritionist, as registration indicates the individual has a higher nutrition qualification and will provide evidenced based nutrition information.

Registered Nutritionists must have, at minimum, a relevant Bachelor degree and 2 years’ work experience in the area of nutrition. Once these criteria are met, nutritionists are able to obtain registration through the New Zealand Nutrition Society.

Registered nutritionists often work in group or community settings and have a focus on population and community health. They generally provide expert advice and services to industries such as the food industry, public and community health, media, government and education.

However, unlike dietitians, registered nutritionists do not hold the qualifications to work in a clinical hospital role.


Naturopaths practice alternative medicine that is based on traditional or folk medicine, rather than evidence-based medicine. Alternative medicine is less regulated, and less rigorously tested when compared with conventional medicine. 

Naturopaths provide recommendations for diet and lifestyle in order to reduce or prevent health issues and illnesses. They also promote improved mental health through spiritual and emotional guidance.

Treatment methods can include high dose vitamins, detoxing, food avoidance, and supplements for which currently there’s little scientific evidence. 

At present, there is no legislation around naturopathy in New Zealand, which means anyone can call themselves a naturopath. 

However, the Naturopaths and Medical Herbalists of NZ offers membership to naturopaths who practice under stringent educational standards. This does not make an individual ‘registered’ but it does acknowledge the professional training they’ve undertaken. Members must commit to ongoing professional development to maintain their membership.

Key differences

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

NZ Dietitans
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.

While there may be options for both online and face-to-face appointments it 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 program, where they can communicate with their dietitian or registered nutritionist around their busy lifestyle.

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

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

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

  • Daily support from a registered dietitian or registered nutritionist (your health coach)
  • A digital peer support group
  • 2-week, risk-free trial
  • Hundreds of in-app recipe, including videos
  • Daily educational articles
  • Meal planning and journaling tools

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 program.


Monthly face-to-face consultations with a dietitian, nutritionist, or naturopath at a clinic can be very expensive ($150+/hour).

To compare the prices of visiting any private nutrition clinic with the Second Nature program, we have added a column representing this

Monthly Dietitian Second Nature
Price $150+ / month $75 / month

Take home message

  • Dietitians are the only health professionals regulated and protected by law.
  • Only dietitians are required to hold a nationally recognised degree.
  • The title ‘nutritionist’ is not protected in New Zealand, meaning anyone can call themselves a nutritionist even if they have no nutrition qualifications. 
  • Registered nutritionists hold a higher standard of professional training in nutrition. They can provide evidence-based advice and information about food and healthy eating.
  • Naturopaths practice alternative medicine that is based on traditional or folk medicine, rather than evidence-based medicine.
  • Naturopaths are currently not regulated or licensed in New Zealand. 
  • Second Nature provides a cheaper, more convenient alternative to face-to-face consultations from a registered dietitian or registered nutritionist.
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