Dietitian vs nutritionist in Australia: What’s the difference?

Want to help people make healthier food choices? Get to know the nutrition experts who guide us on everything from macros to calories for a living. 

One hand holding an apple and one hand holding a donut

If you've ever wondered what makes a dietitian different from a nutritionist, you're not alone. Since both professions focus on helping people with dietary problems, food allergies and nutritional deficiencies, it's easy to see how there's confusion between them. 

But the two careers can be different in subtle ways. And if you'd like to get into the food and nutrition industry, it's worth understanding what those differences are now. This quick breakdown should give you a good idea. 

What is a dietitian?

Dietitians help their clients navigate the connection between food and health. They do this by translating the latest scientific and medical research into practical advice that people can apply to their lives.

In this role, you’ll use your knowledge of food to develop guidelines for managing and treating health conditions like food allergies, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and even cancer. 

Dietitians work in a range of fields including: 

  • Patient care. Develop meal plans for those recovering from surgery, ensuring what they have on their plates is nutritious and a little bit delicious. You can also educate hospital and aged-care patients on healthy diet choices, managing tricky conversations with family and staff to ensure vulnerable people receive good meals. 
  • Private practice or consultancy. Work with a range of individuals, groups and organisations to provide advice on diet. 
  • Community and public health. Develop programs and interventions to help the wider public address food issues. 
  • Advocacy. Improve the nutritional value of foods and develop food safety and nutrition education campaigns.

What is a nutritionist?

Nutritionists do many of the same things as dietitians, specialising in general diet advice, feedback and encouragement. However, unlike dietitians, nutritionists are not qualified to provide medical advice or work in medical centres and hospitals. Instead, they are consultants in public health, deal in food policy, ensure food safety standards are maintained, and work with individuals to create healthy dietary goals.

Nutritionists generally work in group settings, educating wider communities and organisations. They can also work in other fields such as: 

  • Food regulation. Review policies and regulations around foods, including quality checks. 
  • Food manufacturing. Ensure that food is produced to meet food safety standards. 
  • Community and public health. Develop programs and interventions to help the wider public address food issues. 
  • Individual consultancy. Work with people to meet their health and wellbeing goals. 

The main difference to understand is that the nutrition profession isn't regulated in Australia. This means that technically, anyone can call themselves a 'nutritionist', while you must have an approved dietetics qualification to be a dietitian. To protect properly practising nutritionists, the Nutrition Society of Australia has a Register of Nutritionists. It's voluntary to apply for registration, but best to do so, because it's proof that your qualifications and experience have been rigorously assessed. 

What do dietitians and nutritionists do?

Both dietitians and nutritionists help people develop healthier lifestyles. Here are their key responsibilities in more detail: 

Key responsibilities as a dietitian Key responsibilities as a nutritionist
Speak to clients and patient referrals about health goals, dietary needs and chronic dietary conditions Speak to clients about health goals, dietary needs, preferences and restrictions
Prescribe menu plans to meet patient nutritional needs in medical settings Plan diets to meet individual nutritional needs
Offer counselling and guidance to help improve a client’s nutrition  Offer guidance to help improve a client’s nutrition
Collect data and assess the health and nutritional status of individuals, groups and communities
Collect data and assess the health and nutritional status of individuals, groups and communities
Plan, develop and evaluate nutritional intervention programs Plan, develop and evaluate nutritional intervention programs
Consult with other health professionals about managing the dietary and nutritional needs of patients Refer clients to a general practitioner or dietitian if a medical condition is apparent  
Conduct medical nutrition therapy to help clients manage health conditions such as diabetes, eating disorders and cardiovascular diseases  Educate clients about nutrition and disease, and where they can go for medical advice and treatment

What do you need to study to become a dietitian or nutritionist? 

To become an accredited dietitian in Australia...

Complete a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics or a Bachelor of Food and Nutrition, followed by a postgraduate Master of Dietetics.

After winding up your studies, you will need to gain an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) accreditation by completing a one-year supervised provisional program through the Dietitians Association of Australia. As a dietitian, you will have to meet professional regulations by undertaking continuous professional development and a review of your practices. 

If you have your sights set on becoming a nutritionist...

Complete a Bachelor of Food and Nutrition or a Bachelor of Health Science focusing on nutrition. Once you graduate, you should seek registration with the Nutrition Society of Australia and renew this every three years. 

What is the salary for a dietitian vs a nutritionist?

Dietitian salary in Australia Nutritionist salary in Australia
The average salary for a dietitian is $80,000 per year. However, this can range from $70,000 to $100,000 depending on the type of position and experience. The average salary for a nutritionist is $75,000 per year. However, this can range from $60,000 to $90,000, depending on the role.

The dietitian and nutritionist salary information above is correct as of 14/03/2022, sourced from SEEK. If you’ve come to us from the future, double check the supplied figures using independent sources—salaries can change! 

Which career is right for you?

It depends on what you're passionate about, and how long you want to spend studying. Keen to work with clients on their nutritional goals sooner rather than later? Then study a degree in nutrition. Want to take your expertise even further, and help treat diet-related medical conditions? Then a career as a dietitian might be right for you.

In either job, you will play an important role helping people make the best decisions for their diet and health.

Hungry for more? Explore online dietetics and nutrition courses delivered by leading Australian universities. 


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