Choosing the right person to seek help and advice about your nutrition and diet can sometimes be a confusing task. Many people claim to be experts in nutrition yet have very limited knowledge on the specifics and offer no protection to the public.
What is a Dietitian?
Dietitian's are the only qualified health professionals that assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems at an individual and wider public health level. They work with both healthy and sick people. Uniquely, dietitians use the most up-to-date public health and scientific research on food, health and disease which they translate into practical guidance to enable people to make appropriate lifestyle and food choices.
Dietitians in Ireland are the only nutrition professionals to be regulated by law, and are governed by an ethical code to ensure that they always work to the highest standard. The regulator body is called CORU; you can check if your dietitian is register here.
Where do they work?
Dietitians work predominately in hospital's within the HSE, private practice, industry, education, research, sport, media, public relations, publishing, government and Non Government Organisations (NGOs). Dietitians advise and influence food and health policy across the spectrum from government, to local communities and individuals.
What is a Nutritionist/Nutrition Expert/Nutrition Therapist/Diet Expert?
Nutritionists are qualified to provide information about food and healthy eating. Nutritionists work with people who are well, without any known existing medical conditions, to prevent disease. Nutritionists cannot work with acutely ill hospitalised patients or those living in the community requiring therapeutic interventions without supervision from a dietitian.
Nutritionists are not required to be registered in order to work in Ireland, nor is their title protected by law - anyone can call themselves a Nutritionist, a Nutritional Therapist, a Clinical Nutritionist or a Diet Expert.
This can means there is no real protect for the public on the advice they receive. The type and length of courses on offer vary from short-term weekend seminars to longer-term diploma level courses of study.
In saying this trained nutritionists, with degree-level qualifications will be registered with the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute however there is no onus on them to do so.
Where do they work?
Nutritionists work in all non-clinical settings such as in Government, food industry, research, teaching, sports and exercise industries, international work in developing countries, media and communications, animal nutrition and non governmental organisations.
It is advisable to ask anyone who you are considering taking advice from about their background and qualifications and satisfy yourself that they are appropriately qualified and regulated or discuss with your GP or consultant.
Information modified from the BDA Dietitian, Nutritionist, Nutritional Therapist or Diet Expert?A comprehensive guide to roles and functions, 2014.