What is a Dietitian?

What is the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist?
While the term dietitian and nutritionist are often loosely interchanged they do not carry the same meaning. 

In New Zealand, no one can call themselves a dietitian who is not registered to practice under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance (HPCA) Act 2003.  To be a registered dietitian the person must fulfill competency standards, which include completion of a post graduate qualification, abide by a code of ethics and complete ongoing professional development under a continuing competency programme.

A dietitian is a highly trained health professional.  Anyone working as a dietitian in New Zealand has undergone extensive training, including gaining a Bachelor of Science (BSc) or a Bachelor of Consumer and Applied Science (BCApSc) (this was formerly the Bachelor of Home Science, BHSc, or Diploma of Home Science, Dip HSc) – followed by a post graduate Diploma in Dietetics.

Under the New Zealand Dietetic Association’s Code of Ethics the dietitian must practice dietetics based on current scientific and management principles.

Dietitians know about the nutrient content of foods, food preparation, food service, public health nutrition, nutritional requirements in different ages and different states of health, business management, cultural aspects of food, counselling and motivational theory among other things.  They are required to keep up to date in all these areas in order to keep their annual practicing certificate.  This certificate entitles them to call themselves a New Zealand registered dietitian.

A Dietitian can:

  • Help educate you about a healthy and appropriate diet for you
  • Assess you current diet in detail and provide you with practical advice on how to improve your food choices to meet your nutrition needs.
  • Set special diets to encourage healthy weight loss or weight gain
  • Give information about diets to help treat or maintain medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney problems, digestive disorders, hyperactivity, arthritis
  • Assist you if you are worried about your own or your child’s poor eating habits
  • Good nutrition can have a strong role to play in numerous conditions such as allergies, skin problems, anxiety issues, digestive problems
  • Teach healthy food habits for lifelong disease avoidance
  • Facilitate work shops or provide nutrition presentations for your organisation incorporating up to date and practical nutrition advice
  • Provide a comprehensive nutrition service for your rest home

What is a nutritionist?
The term nutritionist on the other hand is not a protected term and can be used freely by people with a range of backgrounds.  People who take a short course in a non accredited programme may call themselves a nutritionist.  People with a PhD in a specialty area of nutrition also might call themselves a nutritionist. 

The Nutrition Society does have a programme for registration of nutritionists where set criteria must be met before achieving registration status.  Only people with accredited nutrition qualifications or people who have appropriate significant professional experience can be eligible to apply for registration as a nutritionist. 

Every three years a registered nutritionist must reapply for registration giving details of how they have maintained their competency and knowledge.

Registered nutritionists have specialist knowledge in certain areas of nutrition so it is best to check out their area of expertise to be sure that they can meet your needs before enlisting their services.

Since the term nutritionist is not regulated it is important to be aware that some people calling themselves nutritionists may have no formal training.

Remember to ask about a nutritionist’s qualifications before you arrange to see them.  Looking for a registered nutritionist is one way of ensuring the person has obtained satisfactory qualifications and that they continue to update their knowledge.

Call Fiona Boyle, NZ Registered Dietitian, at Food Solutions today on 07 574 7999 or contact

Practical Nutrition and Diet Advice

Food Solutions is owned by Fiona Boyle, a NZ Registered Dietitian and a Nutritionist in Tauranga, with over 20 years experience in hospital and private practice settings.

Ph. 07 574 7999
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