What is a Dietitian?

Accredited Practising Dietitians

A dietitian is a health professional who applies evidence-based practice in food and nutrition to promote health and wellbeing and prevent and treat and manage disease in individuals, groups, communities and populations, as defined by the International Confederation of Dietetic Associations (ICDA) – September 2016.

Dietitians work in a range of settings including community and public health nutrition, patient care in hospital, outpatient and post-acute care, private practice and consultancy, with sporting groups and food service management in hospitals, aged care and child-care, food industry, teaching and research.

Dietitians provide expertise in medical nutrition therapy, individual dietary counselling, group dietary therapy and food service management. Dietitians can also practice as nutritionists to provide a range of evidence-base nutrition services including in public health nutrition, community nutrition, nutrition policy and research. However, the title of nutritionist is not regulated and may be used by dietitians as well as nutrition scientists and others with limited qualifications. Nutritionists focus on population health, prevention of disease and promotion of health and well-being in the general population.

How are Accredited Practising Dietitians trained?

Dietitians are tertiary qualified health practitioners who complete an accredited science-based university degree to build a strong foundation for practice. Student dietitians spend a substantial amount of time in supervised hands-on practical learning experiences in a range of settings including hospitals, community centres and food services to qualify as competent to practice. Dietitians undertake ongoing training and education programs to ensure their expertise is current and aligned with the latest sources of evidence-base nutrition information.    

Dietitians must meet strict criteria to be eligible for membership to Dietitians Australia and the credential of Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD). Dietitians Australia is the peak body for dietetic and nutrition professionals. The APD credential is the only credential recognised by the Australian government, Medicare, Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) and most private health funds.

To be eligible for the APD credential, dietitians must graduate from an accredited Australian university dietetic course and apply for membership of Dietitians Australia. Overseas trained dietitians must complete an examination process before being eligible for the APD credential. To maintain the credential dietitians have to abide by a code of professional conduct and ensure they are current in practice and commit to ongoing professional development.

What services do Dietitians offer?

APDs can help treat a wide range of conditions, including heart disease, gastrointestinal disease, diabetes and cancer as well as food allergy and intolerance, disordered eating, overweight and obesity. APDs are well placed to help treat different types of arthritis and related conditions.

An APD will provide the following personalised services and support:  

  • Assess the nutritional needs of individuals
  • Develop personalised eating plans that consider medical conditions and personal circumstances
  • Provide nutrition counselling and support to individuals and groups
  • Provide information on healthy eating, shopping for food, eating out and preparing food at home

An APD will offer flexible tailored advice and support. They will refer to the body of scientific evidence and consider the person as a whole - their medical history, lifestyle, preferences and goals as well as acknowledge the many different ways to achieve a healthy diet.

In relation to arthritic conditions, an APD can provide personalised advice on healthy eating patterns and support maintaining a healthy weight. For overweight and obese individuals, an APD can work with clients on sustainable lifestyle changes to achieve weight goals. Dietitians work with other health practitioners such as exercise physiologists and psychologists to support person-centred care.

When should I see a Dietitian?

Arthritis Australia recommends healthy eating and a healthy, balanced diet aimed at maintaining a healthy weight. For overweight and obese individuals, a weight loss program is also recommended to help reduce stress on affected joints and thereby reduce arthritic pain and increase movement. Weight loss can also reduce the risk of other health issues. An APD can provide advice on a healthy eating pattern that is tailored to personal weight loss needs.

While there is no dietary cure for arthritis, there is some evidence that different types of fats can be either harmful or beneficial. Saturate fat can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and may be linked to joint damage in people with osteoarthritis. Monounsaturated fat may reduce disease activity in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Omega-3 fats can help reduce joint inflammation. An APD can provide personalised advice on a healthy eating pattern that is low in saturated fat, higher in monounsaturated fat and rich in omega-3 fats.

Gout is associated with elevated uric acid levels, causing pain and swelling in joints. Alcohol and foods containing high levels of purines can contribute to elevated uric acid levels. A healthy balanced diet is recommended to help lower uric acid levels in people who experience gout attacks. Weight loss is also recommended for people with excess weight. An APD can provide personalised advice to help identify an optimal eating pattern to lower the risk of gout attacks.

How may I find a professional discipline practitioner who has a specialist interest in rheumatology conditions?

You can find an APD near you at:

In the Area of Practice field use the drop-down menu to choose ‘Arthritis’. You can also choose the Type of Consultation as ‘Virtual’ or ‘Face to Face’ or both.

Further information

You can find more information about Accredited Practising Dietitians at: