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What is a Dietitian / Nutritionist?

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What is a dietitian?

What is a dietitian? Sounds like a simple question, however in Australia, it can be a bit confusing! To be a dietitian in Australia, a person has completed tertiary education, and may also have an accreditation and is then known as an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD), registered with the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA). The DAA has branches in each territory and many registered members. If you are looking for a dietitian, it's a good idea to make sure they hold the APD credential. Book an Appointment with one of the qualified Dietitians here.

Nutritionist vs dietitian

There are of course similarities between nutritionists and dietitians. Nutritionists also hold tertiary qualifications, and both provide evidenced based services, so you can be assured the advice you're receiving is quality. A main body that regulates nutritionists’ credentials is the Nutrition Society of Australia (NSA). The NSA recognises three nutrition levels: Associate Nutritionist, Registered Nutritionist, and Registered Public Health Nutritionist.

Both a nutritionist and a dietitian provide expertise on a healthy diet, but only dietitians are qualified to provide medical nutrition advice. As such, dietitians are the usual choice for people in need of a personalised diet due to medical reasons. In addition, nutritionists sometimes deal with more than a healthy diet, and might recommend alternative approaches and natural remedies. This, however, is not a rule. You can easily get a feel for the uniqueness of each Nutritionist and Dietitian by reading their profiles on Becon Health. 

If you are looking for a dietitian Melbourne, make sure to look for a DAA accreditation, and for a nutritionist, their NSA registration.   

People looking for dietitians will do best to make sure the professional of their choice is accredited. Accredited Practising Dietitians (APDs) hold at least a Bachelor degree in a dietetic field and participate in education programs regularly. APDs are expected to respect the DAA Code of Professional Conduct and Statement of Ethical Practice.

In other words, the APD credential guarantees dietetic expertise of a professional. Currently, it is the only accreditation recognised by the Australian Government, Medicare, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and most private health funds.

Accredited dietitians help with treatments of a range of health conditions, including food allergies and intolerance, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, and obesity. To come up with the best dietary plan, dietitians take a number of factors in consideration. Healthy eating plans are personalised and take into account each patient’s condition.

How does a visit to a dietitian look like? 

As mentioned above, dietitians deal with numerous conditions. Upon paying your first visit to a dietitian, you will get to explain your condition and back it up by your medical record. The dietitian will assess your nutritional needs, provide nutrition counselling, and develop a personalised eating plan just for you.

First-time visitors often choose to be accompanied by a family member, which is a good choice. Dietitians provide counsel on preparing food at home an eating out, which is always better shared with a family member. 

How to define dietitian

To define dietitian is to remember that they are accredited to provide medical nutritional advice. That is the main difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian, shortly put. But, what is a dietitian, really?

Dietitians don’t only design healthy diets. They also provide invaluable advice on a lifestyle that the patient needs to adapt to. Various health conditions call for drastic changes in patients’ daily routines, as it is often the case that exercising is needed. This especially holds true in case of diabetes, as obesity can lead to further complications. If an exercise plan is needed, a dietitian will recommend physio, too.

This definition applies to dietitians working with individuals. Many dietitians devise and implement healthy eating plans for communities and it is not rare to find them undertaking nutrition and food research. Many professionals work on bringing awareness to the field. Often you will see public spokespeople popularising the field. With the current situation in Australia, new information is always valuable.

Dietitians are often found providing consultancy services to food manufacturers, health care facilities, schools, and other organisations.


Given that dietitian practice is regulated only by the APD credential, the question of rebates comes to mind. Medicare provides rebates for patients with chronic health conditions (e.g., cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases) under a care plan coordinated by a general practitioner. Most private health funds cover rebates for patients visiting private practising APDs.

Medicare rebates are also available for group services provided by APDs, diabetes educators and exercise physiologist for people with type 2 diabetes.

APDs may also advise on visiting occupational therapists, depending on each individual case.

Where do dietitians work? 

Dietitians may work in various fields. As already mentioned, they may deal with individuals, organizations, and communities. Depending on their choice of expertise, dietitians may work in patient care, engage in private practice or consultancy, food management and service, community nutrition, sports, and public health.

Dietitians working in patient care assess the nutritional needs of their patients, design appropriate diets, teach the patients how to prepare home-made meals, provide advice on eating out, and educate them and their families on the general lifestyle called for.

Dietitians working in private practice provide consultancy services to individuals, groups, and/or organisations. They may choose to engage in individual counselling, preventive health programs, group programs, or nutrition education.

Dietitians engaged in food service and management provide expertise to hospitals, nursing homes, catering services, food manufacturers, and hospitality services. On top of that, they also design health programs and manage and implement nutrition services.

Dietitians dealing with community nutrition design and promote education programs. Those come in two shapes: at a community level or at a national level. Dietitians involved in nutrition and health education programs at a national level are called public health dietitians. They are known for setting nutritional standards and implementing best nutrition practices.

Finally, dietitians also prepare information for publication and work closely with the media as to promote awareness.

What is a dietitian, again?

As you can see, the question “what is a dietitian” is not that simple to answer. Suffice it to say they are professionals engaged in spreading global awareness on the importance of a healthy diet as well as in developing personal and group dietary plans. Whatever the reason you are looking for one, start right here, right now.

Read more about our trusted allied health professions, including finding a qualified and trusted occupational therapist.

Book an Appointment with one of the qualified Dietitians here.