What is a nutritionist and when should you see one?

Nutrition consultant, Ana-Paula Agrela, explains the difference between a nutritionist and dietitian and when you should see a nutritionist.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that a nutritionist and dietitian are one and the same thing, although both are related, there are distinctive differences.

Both dietitian and nutritionist professions require a four-year BSc. degree registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). Similarly, they both assist people with eating plans and food choices.


If the food you are eating is causing you a physiological problem. For example, many people suffer with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) where certain foods can cause digestive discomfort, this would be a good time to see a dietitian who can advise you on removing gluten and wheat from your diet and supply you with a weekly meal plan to restore your digestive system.

Clinical dietitians generally work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, medical clinics and with medical professionals. Doctors generally refer patients who have chronic health conditions to a dietitian for specific diet plans. In this incidence, the doctor and the dietitian may work together to monitor the patient’s health and progress. Clinical dietitians may specialise by only working, for example, with patients who have digestive diseases.


A nutritionist is an expert in the field of food nutrition which impacts on health and well-being. They may, for example, plan a diet with reduced fats and sugar and in this an overweight person can achieve weight loss.

Nutritionist’s will assess a client’s health needs and develop meal plans as well as explain the nutrients found in food, which improve health. Nutritionists are informed with the latest nutritional science and research and give talks to promote the relationship between good eating habits and preventing or managing specific diseases. They generally consult in-person or online, or they join integrative healthcare clinics. Some nutritionists work in community, journalism, coaching, corporate wellness, and develop health products.

Why and when you should see a nutritionist?

Conflicting information available on the internet and other media may leave you feeling overwhelmed and confused. Some articles will say eat fat, while others tell you to eat carbohydrates. Health experts will suggest fasting while others suggest eating small meals every three hours. The value of a nutritionist will be in the interpretation of context and information and how to apply to your specific needs, by way of consultation with targeted questions about your health, your food preferences and body type.

A nutritionist will provide support, helping you to stay accountable to your health goals by coaching at weekly meetings with encouragement in overcoming any challenges you may face. It’s one thing to have the perfect diet plan but another altogether to follow it consistently.

Dietary changes need to be sustainable, or they won’t produce a healthy outcome. Staying motivated can be difficult at times, so having a professional guiding you, keeping you motivated and focused will help you to achieve the desired result.

Lastly, a nutritionist can supply you with recipe ideas and a personalised menu, tailored to your lifestyle and unique needs.

Small changes make a big difference

When facing health or weight related issues, it’s recommended that you consult with your doctor or healthcare advisor regarding diet and lifestyle and then getting the help you need in making the appropriate dietary changes, improving your health and well-being.

A healthy diet is the foundation to good health, unfortunately we don’t always make this connection until we are faced with heath issues.

Drink the right amount of water

Small changes can make a big difference. For example, not drinking the right amount of water can lead to dehydration, headaches, and fatigue. While drinking too much water can drop blood glucose levels and dilute the bodies electrolytes. Knowing how much water to drink based on your weight and activity level is a good start.

Taking your body weight multiplied by 2,2, giving you the weight in pounds. Then divide it by 2 to get kilograms. Take that total and multiply by 29ml.This is the total ml of filtered water you should be drinking per day. Example: 50kg x 2,2 =110/2 = 55 x 29ml =1,595 litres 

If you are very active, you can add 500ml – 1000ml extra during activity. Water should ideally be sipped gradually throughout your day. Drinking a glass or two at a time will cause your kidneys to flush out your salts and sugars too quickly.


  1. Dietetics and Nutrition https://www.hpcsa.co.za/?contentId=0&menuSubId=10&actionName=Professional%20Boards
  2. BANT. Career options. https://bant.org.uk/career-options/
Ana-Paula Agrela is a nutrition consultant (MSc.) from Cape Town.


Ana-Paula Agrela is a nutrition consultant (MSc.) from Cape Town. She helps clients make healthier food choices and lifestyle habits through online group education programmes and private consultations. For more information, you can visit her website Visit anaatnutrition4you.com

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