What is a dietitian?

In Australia, an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) is a tertiary qualified health professional who is trained in food and nutrition. An APD completes ongoing professional development and mentoring to maintain their accreditation status. Dietitians help people to understand the relationship between food and health; translating scientific evidence into practical advice to assist clients in achieving their health goals. APDs have the clinical training to modify diets to treat or help manage conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, overweight and obesity, cancer, food allergies and intolerances.

What is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

In Australia all APD’s are considered to be nutritionists, however, nutritionists without a dietetics qualification cannot take on the specialised role of a dietitian, including providing individual nutrition advice in order to treat disease. An APD is recognised by Medicare and private health funds and their clients may be eligible for a rebate.

What is Medical Nutrition Therapy?

Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) is the evidence based recommendations that guide APD’s in developing a treatment plan. APD’s also consider personal, cultural and socio-economic factors which may impact health when making recommendations. APD’s have the training and expertise to assist clients with complex health conditions such as diabetes with the presence of coronary artery disease and chronic kidney disease.

The role of an Accredited Practicing Dietitian

APD’s work in a variety of different areas including patient care, private practice, community and public health, food service, research and education. Their role is to interpret and communicate scientific information to improve the health and nutrition status of individuals, groups and populations. In private practice, a dietitians role includes:

–        Collect information relating to health and nutritional status of their clients

–        With the client, develop and implement nutritional plan

–        Provide nutrition education to assist clients to understand the relationship between food and health

–        Provide education and support to allow clients to manage their nutritional health on their own

–        Monitor and evaluate progress and make changes where necessary

–        Liaise with general practitioners, nursing staff and other allied heath to assist clients in achieving their health goals

What to expect from a consultation

An initial consultation may run from 30 minutes to an hour. The dietitian will firstly ask questions about your health concerns, current food and drink intake, exercise habits, general health and lifestyle. These questions will help your dietitian tailor a nutrition plan to meet your needs and preferences.

If you have a specific medical issue and have been referred to a dietitian by your doctor, your dietitian will work in consultation with your doctor. They may review blood and other test results to ensure that your nutrition plan will treat the specific medical condition. They will provide you with nutrition education to help you better understand the relationship between food and your health.

Your dietitian will also take into account your own personal health goals and help you to set SMART goals which are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. You and your dietitian will then develop strategies to help you achieve your health goals and address any medical issues. These strategies are your nutrition plan and you will be given a copy of your plan along with any extra information you have covered during the session.

Follow-up appointments allow the dietitian to monitor your progress and fine-tune your nutrition plan. You may have questions from your first session or some elements of your plan may not be working or achievable. Your dietitian will address these and provide further education and support. Your dietitian’s aim is to educate you on how to eat in a way that will keep you healthy and allow you manage your nutritional health on your own.