Naturopath Vs Nutritionist Vs Dietician - Who Should You See?


Tammy George

Dietician speaking with a patient regarding their healthy eating

Have you decided it’s time to start eating right or do you have a health concern that’s diet related? Do you need advice but you’re not sure which professional you should turn to - a naturopath, a nutritionist or a dietician? They all advise people on food and diet, but they’re all different professions. We’ll look at each one to help you decide which one suits you best. 

What is a Naturopath?

A naturopath educates people on how to look after their health, minimise symptoms of an illness, support the body to heal and balance the body so illness is less likely in the future. Naturopathy is a holistic approach to wellness. 

A naturopath may use therapies that include: nutritional and herbal medicines, diet advice, homeopathy, lifestyle advice, massage, acupressure and Bowen technique. A poor or inappropriate diet means the body won’t function as well as it could. Too many toxins in the body lead to illness, so naturopaths promote a diet filled with whole, fresh foods and staying away from processed foods.  

What Does a Naturopath Do?

A naturopath may start by asking you questions about your health and lifestyle, diet, genetics, environment and any past illnesses. Your naturopath may use one or more of the following analysis tools to gain further information about your health:

  • Kinesiology

  • Iridology

  • Blood analysis

  • Stool and urine analysis

  • Hair analysis

  • Function tests

Supplements and extracts in glass bottles and fresh herbs on a table, organised by a naturopath.

Treatments Provided by a Naturopath

Naturopaths use a variety of treatments to improve the health of their clients. 

  • Herbal preparations that support the body

  • Homeopathy treatments to stimulate the body

  • Hydrotherapy using hot and cold compresses to influence the flow of blood and body heat to improve some conditions 

  • Massage, Bowen, acupressure, bio-puncture or mechanotherapy

  • Kinesiology and integrated bio-dynamics (IBD)

  • Counselling to help with emotions and stress that can impact on healing, education in stress management techniques and life coaching.

Some naturopaths in Australia hold a Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy), but there are no formal prerequisites to becoming a naturopath. Although to register with the Australian Natural Therapists Association (ANTA), an accredited qualification is required. Naturopaths may also register with the Australian Register of Naturopaths and Herbalists (ARONAH).

A hand holding supplements as prescribed by a naturopath.

Choosing a Naturopath

It can be difficult finding the right naturopath for you. Make sure you’re comfortable with the naturopath you choose as you will be sharing personal information. You may need to try more than one naturopath until you find one who you feel best understands your health concerns. The initial consultation is usually more expensive than follow-up appointments, so it can become costly finding the right one.

Start by asking around family or friends. A word-of-mouth recommendation helps narrow the choice compared to a Google search. Think about getting to appointments and decide if a naturopath close to work or home will be the most convenient.

What is a Nutritionist?

A nutritionist is an expert in the field of food and nutrition who advises people on what to eat in order to lead a healthy lifestyle or achieve a specific health-related goal. Nutritionists work in hospitals, aged care facilities and in private practices seeing individuals. 

For example, a person with high blood pressure may need help with choosing foods that will lower their salt intake. An overweight person may ask for help with a plan for eating less processed foods and sugar. 

The term ‘nutritionist’ isn’t regulated so it may be used by dietitians, nutrition scientists, and nutrition graduates. Being unregulated means the education varies widely from self-education through to bachelor degrees.

A young girl and her parents picking out fresh vegetables at the supermarket.

Process a Nutritionist May Undertake

Before completing a plan or providing advice for an individual, a nutritionist may take the following steps: 

  • Explain nutrition and what it can do for a person

  • Assess their health needs and current diet

  • Prepare meal plans taking into account cost and a person’s food preferences

  • Food preparation advice and cooking instructions

  • Monitoring progress and evaluating the effectiveness of the meal plans and change as required

Nutritionists also promote better nutrition to groups by giving talks about diet, nutrition, and the relationship between good eating habits and preventing or managing specific diseases.

A nutritionist writing out a diet plan with fresh fruit in front of her.

Why See a Nutritionist?

Below are some of the most common reasons people book an appointment to see a nutritionist:

Food allergy or intolerance - people often need advice on how to avoid a food type and what they can eat in its place. Some people think they may have an allergy but aren’t sure if their symptoms point to this.  

Poor iron levels - a nutritionist can advise you on which foods are rich in iron and the foods that should be consumed at the same time to assist with absorption of iron

Irregular bowel movements - some people will see a nutritionist if they’re constipated or suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. A change in diet can reduce symptoms.

A mature aged woman taking a blood sugar test at home in her living room.

Heartburn or reflux - knowing which foods to avoid can minimise acid reflux.

Struggling to lose weight - many people try all sorts of diets with limited or no success. A nutritionist can ensure they’re eating the right foods at the right time. 

High cholesterol - if a blood test shows someone has high cholesterol levels, they may visit a nutritionist for advice on the right foods to eat to cut their risk of heart disease. 

Diagnosed with diabetes - for many people a diagnosis of diabetes or pre-diabetes requires radical diet changes so a nutritionist can help with advice on reducing their sugar intake and eating a low GI diet. 

Preparing for pregnancy - some women who are trying to conceive or want to improve their diet in preparation for conception may seek the advice of a nutritionist. 

Stress eating - some people use food to deal with stress and emotions. A nutritionist can help with ideas to help break the habit and conquer overeating.

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What is a Dietician?

A dietician is a professional who applies the science of food and nutrition to promote health, prevent and treat disease to optimise the health of individuals, groups, communities and populations. Dieticians work in a variety of settings and functions, but you’re looking for one that has experience providing advice to individuals.

Importance of Accreditation

The major difference between nutritionists and dietitians is accreditation. Dietitians attend university for a minimum of four years and then become a member by the Dietitians Association of Australia (ADP) as an Accredited Practising Dietitian. Dieticians must abide by the National Competency Standards for Dietitians.

A dietician consults an elderly woman in the living room of her home.

Dietary Advice

Similar to nutritionists, a dietician sees individuals looking for dietary advice for health issues including:

  • Food intolerances and allergies

  • Irregular bowel movements and IBS

  • Nutritional deficiencies

  • Diabetes management

  • High cholesterol levels and heart health

  • Osteoporosis and bone health

  • Weight loss or gain/weight loss surgery

  • Heartburn and reflux

  • Pre and post conception 

  • Toddler and child 

  • Mental health and the relation to food

A dietician will often teach people how to read food labels while shopping and how to eat out while keeping to a diet. High level sport players will often see a dietician to ensure their diet is optimised for performance. 

Using Your Extras Health Cover 

HIF allows members to claim for consultations with a registered dietician who is approved by HIF. A higher benefit is paid on the first visit and a lower amount for subsequent visits or group visits. For more information see the Special Options and Super Options Extras Cover or call us on 1300 134 060. 

If you aren’t sure who to see for advice on any health issue or concern, speak to your GP.  

Tammy George

Please note: Tammy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your healthcare professional.


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