Nutritionist vs. Dietitian, who should be called what?

There is still an ongoing debate about who should be called a “nutritionist” and who should not, and the difference between a Nutritionist and a Dietitian. Clearly, some countries (North America and the UK) have been struggling with the number of unqualified people giving advice about health and nutrition under the claim that they were qualified nutritionists, some organisations even make it ironically easy to pass for a nutritionist, as demonstrated by Ben Goldacre in his TED talk.

To avoid this headache, these countries surrendered the title of “nutritionist” and focused on regulating and protecting the title of “dietitian”, the only problem is that those two titles stand for two different things and cannot replace each other. Going back to the etymology of the word it becomes clear that a nutritionist is to nutrition what a scientist is to science.

Nutrition is the science that interprets the interaction of nutrients and other substances in food in relation to maintenance, growth, reproduction, health and disease of an organism.

Therefore, a nutritionist is a nutrition scientist and should be skilled in research methodologies and capable of conducting research in human nutrition. Whereas a dietitian is a nutrition adviser, in the sense that dietitians are supposed to provide advice and assistance related to diet.

The fact that so many unqualified people pretend to be “nutritionists” and start giving inaccurate -and sometimes even dangerous- advice is not reason enough discredit the title of nutritionist. First of all, because the world is not only made of three countries, and second, the fact that some people misuse a word is not a reason to change basic linguistic rules. Making a firework does not make you a rocket scientist.


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