What is a Dietitian?

The terms ‘dietitian’ and ‘nutritionist’ are often seen as interchangeable, but they actually have different meanings.


In New Zealand, you can only call yourself a dietitian if you are qualified and registered to practice under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance (HPCA) Act 2003. A registered dietitian must fulfill competency standards, which include having an undergraduate science degree in human nutrition and a post-graduate qualification in dietetics. A registered dietitian must abide by a code of ethics and complete ongoing professional development under a continuing competency program.


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


While a dietitian may also call themselves a nutritionist, a nutritionist may not call themselves a dietitian.

What is a Nutritionist?

The term ‘nutritionist’ is not a protected term and can be used freely by people with a range of backgrounds. Since the term is not regulated it is important to be aware that some people calling working as nutritionists may have no formal training. Someone who completes a short course in a non-accredited nutrition program may call themselves a nutritionist, and someone with a PhD in a specialty area of nutrition may call themselves a nutritionist.


The Nutrition Society has a program for the registration of nutritionists where set criteria must be met before a person can be registered.  Only people with accredited nutrition qualifications or people who have appropriate significant professional experience are eligible to apply for registration.


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.


Remember to ask about a nutritionist’s qualifications before making an appointment. Looking for a registered nutritionist is one way of ensuring the person has relevant qualifications and that they continue to update their knowledge.