Nutrition has become a big topic in popular magazines like Cosmopolitan and Flare, with headlines such as “5 Signs you are low in zinc” or “Top 10 foods to eat for slimming down.” We’re glad to see that more attention is being drawn to nutrition, and encourage you to dig deeper into the literature you read about how to eat well.
Nutrition is one of the key foundations to health, and has always been important in the health and wellness field. With more studies showing that what you eat does indeed influence your health, more people are turning to nutrition, along with exercise, to enhance their health.
Like any other field, nutrition is growing as more research on the topic continues, and out of this research more fields within nutrition are sprouting up. For example, the holistic nutritionist title has arisen out of the growing popularity of holistic medicine, while dietician has been around and associated with the rise of medical science field. Another name sprouting up recently is health coach, the focus of which is related to behavioral science.
Is there a difference between these nutrition professionals? Yes, there is, and it is important to understand that difference so you can choose to work with the professional who can best help with your personal circumstances.
What is a ‘Registered’ Dietician?
A Dietician (also spelled Dietitian) is a professional who “is an expert in dietetics; that is, human nutrition and the regulation of diet.” (Ref 1) In order to be ‘Registered’, these professionals need to meet specific requirements, including a Bachelor’s degree in the field of nutrition science, write a standardized exam for registration, and participate in an internship.
The focus of this professional group is the scientific basis or make up of food, calorie count, and the study of food as it relates to health. Dietitians typically work in clinical settings, public health, research, or in food preparation services to ensure health and safety of food. In clinical settings, their focus is on medical interventions, such as creating menus suitable for diabetic patients or supervising stringent diets for obese patients. Although these professionals take into account a broader perspective than just food, their focus is on the use of food for healing, and on the medical research about food to prescribe nutrition solutions.
The above is a generalized summary of the role of a Registered Dietician. There are several resources you can consult to gain different perspectives on this profession and the others we cover below. See our reference section at the end of this blog post for links.
What is an Holistic Nutritionist?
As the word holistic implies, Holistic Nutritionists focus on the whole person from various perspectives as related to their nutrition. For instance, they look at the physical, emotional and spiritual health of the individual as part of assessing their nutritional needs. If a client has a concern with food sensitivities, the Holistic Nutritionist helps the client identify any issues that may be affecting these sensitivities such as stress, eating habits, types and quality of food ingested, fluid intake, etc.
In holistic nutrition, quality of food is more important than quantity, and foods are seen as energy sources. The quality of the calories are more important; for example, an Holistic nutritionist would recommend choosing an apple over a low-sugar chocolate pudding for dessert. As a result of this quality focus, holistic nutrition advocates choosing whole foods, and organic foods as much as possible, due to concerns with artificial products in processed foods, and pesticides, chemicals, and chemical modifications in food production and GMO foods.
What is a Health Coach?
According to the Institute of Integrative Health, Health Coaches are wellness experts and mentors who motivate clients to make healthy lifestyle choices. These coaches are also known as Wellness Coaches. Their focus is on behavioral changes to enhance wellness. Although part of health coaching relates to nutrition, their perspective is broader, as in holistic nutrition.
Dietician vs. Holistic Nutritionist vs. Health Coach
Is one better than the other? Not necessarily. In a purely definitional sense the roles are focused on different aspects of nutrition. Your choosing which one to work with depends on your circumstances, your openness to alternative approaches, and your comfort level with the professional.
As the field continues to grow, these roles are merging with a greater focus on holistic approaches to health. More people, let alone professionals in the field, are becoming aware of the need for preventing disease by focusing on healthy nutrition habits. Dieticians who focused on the pathology of diets are now broadening their focus to the wellness side, and Holistic Nutritionists are embracing the more rigorous scientific approach to assessing food quality. Health Coaches are the newest trend whose attention is on behavioral change.
What’s the Answer?
Regardless of the type of professional you choose to work with, remember that nutrition is YOUR responsibility. These professionals are there to educate and guide you to better understand nutrition, its role in your healthy lifestyle, and your specific nutrition needs that become part of your life and not just a short-term diet plan.
Want to get in touch with Mary Sherriff, ROHP, about holistic nutrition counseling? Email her or visit For Your Health Nutrition & Wellness.
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