Dietitian, Nutritionist or Naturopath

Is there any difference between a dietitian, nutritionist and a naturopath? Many people think that they are the same thing, but there is an important difference in the qualifications and expertise.

To help demonstrate the differences, we have broken up the discussion into 5 areas.

Education

The main difference between Dietitians and Nutritionists is the level of education.

Dietitians need to undertake an additional level of study in the areas of biochemistry, physiology, nutrition, diet-related medical conditions, counselling, health promotion, research and literature analysis. Dietitians usually study for at least 4-5 years at university. This also includes a practical component of 6 months or more in clinical nutrition and medical nutrition therapy.

To be either an Accredited Nutritionist (AN) or Registered Nutritionist (RN), a university degree is also usually required, often of shorter duration in the area of nutrition. A minimum term of experience in working in the area of nutrition may also be needed.

Naturopaths can have bachelor degrees, diplomas or other certificates.

Registration

To practice as a Dietitian in Australia, registration and accreditation with the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) is required. The DAA also recognises ANs to acknowledge their relevant tertiary studies and expertise. All Dietitians can call themselves a Nutritionist (AN), whereas not all Nutritionists can call themselves a Dietitian.

The Nutrition Society of Australia (NSA) has a Nutrition register which lists Nutritionists (AN/RNs) that meet specific criteria set by the NSA. This register is voluntary.

The DAA and NSA have different qualification and ongoing education requirements that dietitians and nutritionists must satisfy in order to be recognised as an APD, AN or RN.

Naturopaths don’t have to be registered in Australia however there is a national register of Naturopaths managed by the Australian Register of Naturopaths and Herbalists (ARONAH). There are also some professional bodies that Naturopaths can be members of including the Australian Natural Therapists Association (ANTA) or the Australian Naturopathic Practitioners Association (ANPA). Each of these bodies have differing qualifications and experience requirements for registration, however applicants generally have to undertake study of an approved course.

Areas of work

Put simply, nutritionists work with disease prevention and dietitians work in the area of disease prevention and treatment. Both nutritionists and dietitians may work in health promotion, private practice and community health settings however dietitians also work clinically and can prescribe medical nutrition therapy. Dietary interventions are based on the current scientific knowledge.

A naturopathic approach to wellness is holistic and based on the principle that the body has the inherent ability to heal itself. Dietary strategies are not always implemented and interventions may not always be based on scientific evidence. Naturopaths often work in private practice either individually or within a multi-disciplinary team.

Rebate for services

Dietitians (APDs) are recognised by Medicare. This means individuals who have seen a Dietitian may be eligible for a Medicare, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Workcover or private health fund rebate on services. Individuals may also be eligible for a Medical Treatment Care Agreement (TCA) with rebate for up to 5 sessions with a Dietitian. TCAs are coordinated by the GP.

Naturopaths and Nutritionists (unless they are APDs) are not able to register with Medicare and are therefore not eligible for any of the related rebates. Rebates may be available through private health insurance funds.

Each of these professions offer different philosophies and experience in how they approach a nutritional situation. Individuals’ needs are also different. It is important to be aware of what each practitioner represents to ensure that you get the one that is right for you.

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