Perhaps you’ve been struck down with a particularly nasty health complaint, or maybe you’re simply not feeling 100% and want to find out why and what needs to be done to fix it. In either case, the first thing you are likely to do is book an appointment with your GP. The majority of the UK population wouldn’t consider seeking the expert advice of a registered dietician instead of seeking the opinion of their GP – but why should patients call upon the specialist skills of a trained nutritionist, too?
What’s the Difference Between a Dietician and a Doctor?
Before continuing, it’s crucial that we first explain the key differences between a dietician and a nutritionist. These terms are often used interchangeably, though the professions are largely different.
Both dieticians and nutritionists, however, have been educated in the principles of good nutrition. Registered dieticians have completed a three or four year course in their chosen field, whilst nutritionists are able to start practicing without undertaking such an intense period of study (though they must be registered with the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists if they are to refer to themselves as professionals). Dieticians work principally within the NHS in the UK and are mandatorily regulated by the British Dietetic Association. Nutritionists typically inform organisations and industry bodies of the best approaches towards health and nutrition by interpreting the latest scientific studies into food and its effect on the body.
In essence, doctors and dieticians possess distinctively separate skill sets, though knowledge of nutrition is now part of medical training. Each spends many years developing an in-depth knowledge of a different aspect of healthcare.
Dieticians take all the existing scientific knowledge of food and apply it practically to improve a patient’s health. They work with people who need to adjust their diet as part of a treatment plan and they educate people of the impact that good or bad nutrition can have on their body. Their goal is to improve the overall fitness and wellbeing of each and every individual they work with.
A key role of GPs in the healthcare system is to suggest ways of curing or alleviating an ailment or chronic condition. You visit your doctor’s surgery, you are seen, a diagnosis is made and you are given advice or sent away with the right prescription. Doctors will not necessarily have the time to educate themselves or you further about the benefits of good nutrition.
Though many argue that medical professionals should have a greater understanding of the impact of poor nutrition on the body, doctors generally have had limited training in this area, though this is changing. They use deductive and intuitive methods to find the problem, solve it and try to prevent it from recurring, though they may not link your complaint to problems with your diet.
Getting Sound Advice from a Dietician or Nutritionist
So why get in touch with a dietician if you’re feeling a bit under the weather? Put simply, good health is linked to good nutrition. Poor nutrition is linked to illness and chronic diseases. Studies conducted throughout the last century show that through eating the right foods, you will lower your chances of suffering from common problems such as indigestion and abdominal pain and considerably reduce your risk of heart disease and cancers of the GI tract.
Plenty of everyday health complaints stem from a diet that is lacking key nutrients and vitamins. Because a nutritionist or dietician has in-depth knowledge of the effect these substances have on your body, they will be able to tailor a food programme that takes into consideration your own deficiencies and intolerances to optimise your diet and chance of a healthy life.
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