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Diet therapy

Dietitians and Nutritionists what’s the difference?

Pick up a magazine, newspaper or TV guide and there will be something on diet.

From PT’s in gyms, practice nurses, celebrity chefs, pharmacists and nutritionists everyone seems to have something to say about food.

It is great that people today are more interested in health, fitness and well-being.

With internet access to information about energy, vitamins and minerals; easy access to information on disease states and people blogging on dieting it is easy to make the leap into trying to connect nutrition facts with diet therapy.
Many people today also seem to be well qualified to call themselves nutritionists with doctorates in psychology, biochemistry or sport and exercise physiology. Some also call themselves ‘clinical nutritionists’

This nutrition related environment being created today is unsurprising as we all love to eat and are searching for the answer that best fits with our own beliefs about food and how it makes us feel.

Many people are unaware that prescribing dietary treatments is an area regulated by the government to ensure public safety.

What’s the difference?

Between a Dietitian and Nutritionist


  • Usually complete a degree in Human Nutrition or Science, or has training in science, nutrition, biochemistry, and medicine or sports physiology.
  • Some call themselves ‘clinical nutritionist’ to add credibility
  • There is no specific qualification or registration legally required for the title of Nutritionist.
  • Most reputable nutritionists in New Zealand should be enrolled on the register of Nutritionists set up by the Nutrition Society of New Zealand.
  • Many nutritionist do a great job educating people to eat a healthier diet. It is when they start offering dietary treatments or selling dietary supplements that the risks to the public can begin.


While all of these people may offer general nutrition it is Dietitians who are the most credible source of nutrition and food knowledge when you need to apply it to health and disease in NZ.
Dietitians prefer to help you to prevent food related illness however if you are diagnosed with heart disease, obesity, gout, allergies, diabetes, hypertension etc then they can make a world of difference to your speed of recovery.

Dietitians are highly skilled

  • They begin with degrees in nutrition and food science.
  • Then they gain a post-graduate qualification or today a Masters in dietetics following hospital training in diet therapy and nutrition research.
  • Training also includes behavioural science and counseling methods
  • Many also gain extra credentials here or overseas in paediatrics, sport, mental health, diabetes, respiratory, heart health etc.

Dietitians are highly regulated

  • As registered heath professionals who meets standards of professionalism governed by an act of parliament the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act HPCA Act (2003)
  • Their profession has to adhere to a strict Codes of Ethics
  • To obtain an annual practicing certificate they are subjected to Continuing Competency reviews and auditing to ensure they complete targets for Continuing education, Practice reviews and Cultural competency each year.
  • Dietitians can not promote food products or dietary supplements unless there is clear evidence based research regarding those products e.g fish, fruit and vegetables.
  • Dietary supplements are only recommended when part of a prescribed treatment to correct nutrient deficiencies such as iron, calcium, Vitamin B12; or provide infant formulas to treat allergy or congenital disease; or part of a hospital or community care based treatment such as a naso-gastric feeds to correct malnutrition in e.g. the elderly or severely eating disordered.
  • All treatments are evidence based on the findings of international scientific research.

Dietitians can help

  • Liaise with your GP, specialist or other health professionals over the best course of treatment for you.
  • Can translate science into practical advice that will help you whole family to stay healthy.
  • Tailor make a diet for you taking into account any blood tests, medical conditions, medication as well as your daily energy needs for age, growth and mental and physical well-being.

Where can you find a Dietitian?

  • Dietitians work in hospitals, private practice, the Ministry of Health, industrial wellness programs, food and pharmaceutical companies, Academies of sport etc. Many Dietitians, like myself, now work online
  • Check out the Yellow Pages for one nearest you or visit the Dietitians NZ website

While they may be highly qualified they are also people just like you who love nice food. They won’t make you survive on just a lettuce leaf and glass of fact most of our patients comment that they are now eating more food than they started with.

What Dietitians do do is value the energy of life and have dedicated their careers to helping you to value yours too.

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


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