Prescription nutrition: Should you see a nutritionist, dietitian or naturopath?

A beginner’s guide to prescription nutrition

Eating for wellness is more than a passing fad, with many turning to the likes of dietitians, nutritionists or naturopaths for help with ‘prescription nutrition’.

Across the western world, prescription nutrition is a growing trend.

Food is no longer just something we put in our mouth for taste or eat to give us energy; it’s a way of preventing illness and of boosting health.

“From green juice and smoothies to edible antioxidant powders, food has become another way to manage weight, mood, and overall wellbeing,” says a report by global research organisation J.Walter Thompson.

“Today, ‘eating healthy’ is even a tool in some doctor’s toolkits.”

How food can boost our health

A growing body of evidence is showcasing the power of food as medicine – to prevent illness and to help manage existing health issues.

The Mediterranean diet has been proven to help prevent or manage high blood pressure and high cholesterol while the DASH diet – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – has also shown how food can improve health.

“The era of a one-size-fits-all approach to diet and health may also be coming to an end,” according to Associate Professor Michael Skilton in an article by University of Sydney.

“This personalised medicine approach to nutrition may revolutionise the way we tailor dietary advice, with an emphasis on the individual person, as opposed to the population.”

The era of a one-size-fits-all approach to diet and health may also be coming to an end.

If you want to use nutrition as medicine you can seek the help of a few different professionals, most likely a dietitian, a nutritionist or a naturopath. But who does what?

What is a nutritionist?

A nutritionist is a tertiary or university qualified expert in nutrition.

There are concerns that some people who describe themselves as nutritionists don’t always have the required level of study, but you can find a registered nutritionist through Nutrition Australia.

Nutritionists can discuss general eating plans to improve health and wellbeing, but there is currently no Medicare health fund rebate and limited private health funds provide rebates for nutritionist services, too.

prescription nutrition food

What is a dietitian?

An accredited practising dietitian has completed a university degree that covers food, nutrition and health.

They can prescribe dietary treatments for a range of medical issues, such as food allergies, heart disease, diabetes, gastro-intestinal problems and obesity.

Dietiticans are recognised by Medicare and most private health funds.

“Dietitians are trained in medical nutrition therapy and so we can give individual nutrition advice for specific medical conditions,” explains Lauren McGuckin, of the Dietitians Association of Australia.

“We use evidence-based practices to help patients manage a variety of health conditions, including gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, malnutrition and eating disorders and weight concerns.”

What is a naturopath?

A naturopath uses treatments including herbal medicine, nutritional medicine, homeopathy, dietary and lifestyle advice and massage.

Most have an advanced diploma or degree although there is no uniform minimum education standard and no national uniform code of conduct for naturopaths.

You can find an accredited naturopath through organisations such as the Australian Naturopathic Practitioners Association or Australian Register of Naturopaths and Herbalists.

Want to know more about healthy eating? Check out more articles in our nutrition and dieting archives.

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