A nutritionist is a person who advises on matters of food and nutrition impacts on health. Different professional terms are used in different countries. Some examples include: nutrition scientist, public health nutritionist, dietitian-nutritionist, clinical nutritionist, and sports nutritionist.
Some confuse the terms “dietitian” and “nutritionist.” However, in many countries and jurisdictions, the title “nutritionist” is not subject to professional regulation; any person may call themselves a nutrition expert even if they are wholly self-taught. In most US states, parts of Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, the term nutritionist is not legally protected. The title of dietitian can be used only by those who have met specified professional requirements. One career counselor attempting to describe the difference between the two professions to Canadian students suggested “all dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.”
The term nutritionist used to be associated with alternative medicine. Prominent examples include Gillian McKeith and Robert O. Young. However there are a large number of practising nutritionists without appropriate qualifications to be a potential danger to the general public. A demonstration of the ease in which it is possible to become an accredited nutritionist can be seen in Dr Ben Goldacre. He was successful in having his dead cat, Hettie, accredited as a certified professional member of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants. This is the same organization in which Gillian McKeith is accredited. A key danger is that many of these unqualified nutritionists can be seen on the World Wide Web. They contribute to online health discussions by advising a person to ignore their doctors’ prescription. The considered opinion of a qualified scientist is ignored in favour of some “fad” foodstuff which they claim will cure all ills. Nutritionism, practiced in a responsible way by a qualified person could be a robust scientific discipline. Nutritional science could formulate guidelines if it were not for the overwhelming numbers of unqualified practitioners.