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A nutritionist is a qualified professional who provides advice on food and nutrition, in order to promote good health. They have a deep understanding of how food can impact our health, and are able to provide sound advice on how to improve it.
A nutritionist’s main goal is to provide you with dietary recommendations that will improve your health. These recommendations are usually tailored to your particular health circumstances. For example, if your family has a history of high cholesterol, they may suggest avoiding fatty cuts of meat and full fat dairy, and eating more legumes, avocados, and nuts. A nutritionist will ask you a list of health-related questions during your initial appointment, to provide the most effective dietary advice.
When a nutritionist understands your unique needs, they can work with you to develop meal plans, being mindful to consider your personal tastes (a diet that doesn’t get followed doesn’t work!).
In addition to creating meal plans and monitoring your progress, a nutritionist will teach you about the relationship between food and good health, and how it can help to prevent diseases, such as cancer and diabetes.
Almost 2,500 years ago, Hippocrates said “let food be thy medicine,” which is an apt mantra for any nutritionist.
In the 18th century, when wayfaring European sailors were still illuminating the darkest corners of the world, scurvy was a huge problem. It caused extreme fatigue, “a strange dejection of the spirits,”1 fever, bleeding gums, and bowed legs that looked ready to snap at any moment. As a young man, Scottish doctor James Lind served as a medical apprentice in the British Royal Navy, which allowed him to observe the effects of scurvy first hand, and prompted him to conduct the famous dietary experiment that revealed citrus fruits as the cure. His research eventually helped to eliminate the scourge of scurvy from ships, and provided the first clear example of food’s health potential. James Lind might be considered the first nutritionist.
Sadly, it took about another 200 years before the first vitamin was discovered, after German scientist Justus von Liebig delved into the chemical nature of food. Other vitamins were discovered afterwards, and for the first time in history, we understood why certain foods were good for us, paving the way for the profession of nutrition. The first nutritionists and dietitians worked in hospitals in the late 19th century, and the health benefits of good nutrition were finally being accepted by the public.2
Given that the two are so similar, you might be wondering about the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist. Dieticians tend to focus on calories and how they affect a person’s health, and can also work in clinical settings such as hospitals. Nutritionists take a more holistic approach, focusing on treating the entire body through dietary advice, exercises such as walking, de-stressing techniques, and other lifestyle advice.
Both nutritionists and dietitians are qualified in the science of nutrition, but dietitians can go one step further by offering treatment advice for a broad range of diseases and health conditions.3
Nutritionists can specialise in particular areas, including: