A Nutritional Therapist is the newest discipline to come to the table and is also the one that is not yet regulated in South Africa. The term "Nutritional Therapist" is considered by some to be controversial. Many dietitians and doctors are concerned that there are people without sufficient training are now able to give advice and even write books on the subject of nutrition. These concerns are not unfounded, but nevertheless more and more people are now seeking the help of nutritional therapists when their doctors fail to see the connection between diet and disease. Nutritional therapists work mainly in private practice, advising people one-on-one.
Nutritional Therapists use diet, nutraceuticals, functional foods, nutritional supplements and detoxification to help people regain or maintain maximum health. It is characterized by its drug free nature, its belief that every cell in the body has the ability to heal itself and its non suppressive approach. Nutritional therapists see their all their patients as unique, all with individual dietary and nutritional needs. They believe that health is not just the absence of disease but the presence of physical, mental and emotional well being. They are interested in helping their patients retain or take back optimal health and not just prevent deficiency diseases. People who seek nutritionists have taken responsibility for their health and this makes patient compliance a lot easier.
Many professions have to go through a period of evolution (dietitians, doctors, dentists all went through it) and the criticism of nutritional therapists is expected, especially with no regulatory body in place. This is where The South African Association of Nutritional Therapy (SAANT) comes in. They are a self appointed committee of nutritional therapists from all over South Africa who are working to provide continuing education and get the profession recognized by the government.
There is also another type of nutritionist, and that is a "Public Health Nutritionist" which is a term reserved for those who work within the communities, research fields, the food industry as a whole and/or the media. They are not allowed to give dietary advice one-on-one as they are not trained in clinical practice. Public Health Nutritionists may write recipes, analyse new food products and consult to supermarkets. Within communities they may be involved in healthy eating campaigns which teach people how to eat to lose weight/ increase muscle mass/boost immunity.
A dietitian is a health professional who is regulated by law and holds a degree in dietetics. Dietitians work closely with GPs and GPs often refer their patients if there is an indication of diabetes, obesity, anorexia or high cholesterol. They give dietary advice, develop special diets and further the study of nutrition research. Dietitians may work in a hospital environment where special feeding such as tube feeding is required.
Dietitians place high importance on calorie counting and often set their patients meal plan’s according to calories consumed per day. This is controversial amongst nutritional therapists as they feel that it is the food choice as opposed to the calorie count that has an effect on overall health. Emphasis is placed on staying within the calorie limit and not on the effect that certain foods may have on blood sugar, for example. Dietitians also use food supplements, although they are more likely to do so in the case of obvious deficiency.