Dietitians and nutritionists are quite different – this article dietitian will help you to understand the difference and know how they can help your family.

What is a Dietitian?

A dietitian is a highly trained health professional. Anyone working as a dietitian in New Zealand has undergone extensive training, including gaining a degree majoring in human nutrition, 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. They must also complete ongoing professional development.

Dietitians are experts in:

  • The nutrient content of foods
  • Food preparation and food service
  • Public health nutrition
  • Nutritional requirements in different ages and different states of health
  • Cultural aspects of food
  • Counselling and motivational theory.

They are required to keep up to date in all these areas in order to keep their annual practising certificate, which entitles them to call themselves a New Zealand Registered Dietitian.

People who enlist the services of a dietitian can be sure of the depth, diversity and quality of skills and knowledge that they possess.

Dietitians work in many settings:

  • Hospitals, primary care organizations and public health units
  • Research institutions, governmental organizations, education and writing about food
  • Food service management and the food industry
  • Pharmaceutical companies

Dietitians work with people in one-on-one consultations to assess their nutritional needs and plan individualised nutritional care plans. Specialist dietitians work in hospital settings in paediatrics, renal and other areas of medical specialty.

When would I see a dietitian?

  • If you require help or education in providing an appropriate diet for yourself or your child
  • If you require advice on weight gain or weight loss
  • If you have a medical condition which is affected by diet.

How do I find a dietitian?

  • Visit the website listed below, where you’ll find an easy to use map to locate a trained dietitian close to where you live.
  • Check in your yellow pages
  • Ask friends and relatives to recommend a dietitian that they have used and been happy with.

What will a dietitian do?

  • Help educate families about healthy and appropriate diets
  • 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 or digestive problems
  • Teach healthy food habits for lifelong disease avoidance

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 program may call themselves a nutritionist. However, people with a PhD in a specialty area of nutrition also might call themselves a nutritionist, so there is a great spectrum of expertise.

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 before enlisting their services, to be sure that they can meet your needs.

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

Looking for a registered nutritionist is one way of ensuring the person has obtained satisfactory qualifications and that they continue to update their knowledge.

How do I find a registered nutritionist?

  • For information on registered nutritionists see the website listed below.
  • Check your Yellow Pages or ask friends and relatives for a recommendation.
  • Remember to ask about the nutritionist’s qualifications before you arrange to see them.

What can I do to improve the family’s nutrition?

  • Model healthy eating to your children by eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet
  • Teach your children to snack on healthy food such as fruit, rather than crisps, lollies or other processed food
  • Read food labels and avoid heavily processed or additive-laden foodstuffs
  • Incorporate as much fresh produce into the family’s diet as you can – vegetables, fruit, chicken, fish, lean meat
  • Encourage children to prepare and learn about healthy food from a young age
  • Teach children that eating good food should be a pleasurable and balanced part of life
  • Raise your children in an environment where emotions are healthily displayed and dealt with, to avoid a future of comfort eating or eating disorders
  • Encourage healthy activities and exercise as your children grow.

Useful websites & articles on nutrition

www.dietitians.org.nz– The New Zealand Dietetic Association (NZDA) is the largest group of nutrition professionals in this country

www.dietitiansboard.org.nz– The Dietitians Board which is responsible for registering dietitians

www.nutritionsociety.ac.nz– The Nutrition Society of New Zealand can give you information on registered nutritionists in your area.

www.healthed.govt.nz/resources/– Ministry of Health for NZ has a range of excellent, informative pamphlets on nutrition for children of different age groups.

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Kimberley Paterson is a writer and public relations expert living in Whangaparaoa. She had an initial career as a registered nurse and has spent the last 20 years writing about health and well-being.

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