Nutritionist and Dietician Career Information
What a Nutritionist and Dietician does
Not too long ago, no one thought there was any connection between nutrition (a balanced diet) and the health of the family. But as awareness grew, food planning assumed greater importance.
So much so that today hospitals, schools, factories and even public eateries now apply this knowledge when catering for their wards, employees and customers.
The job function of a nutritionist or dietician is not very difficult to understand. It's the promotion of good health through correct eating habits. On a more complex level you will study effects such as metabolism and long term physical results of a variety of food items. And also blend traditional knowledge, values and health practices, together with the science of food.
The field of nutrition and dietetics has a wide range of applications:
Health Care: You will decide on the kind of food a patient needs on the basis of his physical condition. This is one of the best-known functions of the profession in hospitals and clinics.
Social Welfare: As a nutritionist or dietetic, you will act as the consultant for the welfare programmes run by government and non-governmental organisations.
Institutional Catering: In schools, colleges, office, factory and military canteens, dieticians are required to plan and prepare nutritious and balanced meals for a large number of people on a daily basis.
Food Services: Here you'll perform a variety of tasks ranging from product development and promotion to menu planning and preparation in catering and restaurant services.
Research and Development: As a nutritionist or dietetic, you will find out the constituents of food items through R&D. This is very important from the point of view of both health care provision as well as commercial food services industry.
Education: As a nutritionist or dietetic, you will teach the importance of nutrition and dietetics in schools, hospitals and colleges.
Health clubs: As a nutritionist or dietetic, you could also start a fitness /weight loss clinic using your knowledge to help others lead a healthier life. Your job will entail drawing personalised food plans for each and every client.
Nutritionists and dieticians are professionals, equipped with the knowledge of chemistry and nutritional value of foods and their preparation. They are the experts who develop new uses of food, advise patients in a clinic regarding their diet, serve as consultants to public health teams, supervise the serving of food in industrial cafeterias or hospitals, assist individuals or groups in dietary education and teach nursing schools, colleges and universities.
Before we go any further let's differentiate between a nutritionist and a dietician.
A nutritionist studies the effect of a variety of foods on an individual in terms of metabolism and the long-term physical results. Nutritionists work with both normal people as well as referrals from medical practitioners.
Their work has two aspects:
• Prevention of illnesses such as obesity, malnutrition or hereditary disorders
• Rehabilitation - helping patients to cope with their new life and showing them how to maximise the benefits of the treatment
So what does a dietician do?
A dietician provides guidance on the development of healthy eating habits. The work comprises of modifying eating patterns of overweight people, listing the nutritional supplements to include in the diet and drawing up a personalised food plan to ensure that individual dietary requirements are met.
Other important tasks undertaken by the dietician are:
Meal Planning, that is, deciding what foods should be eaten and in what quantities.
Administration, which involves looking into the day-to-day functioning of an organisation's dining facilities.
Both nutritionists and dieticians spend much of their time in counselling. They also specialise in one or more of these areas:
Institutional Food Administration: This deals with food administration in hotels, hospitals, colleges, industrial plants, armed forces and so on. As a nutritionist or dietetic, your work involves estimation and purchase of food supplies and equipment; receiving, checking and taking inventories of provisions; supervision of the chef and other kitchen hands to ensure that food is properly cooked and served; and menu planning.
Therapeutic Nutrition: As a nutritionist or dietetic, you'll work mainly in hospitals or private clinics. With a little help from the doctor you'll draw up special menus for patients suffering from diabetes, ulcers, heart disease, tuberculosis, etc. The menu is first discussed with both the physician and the patient, to explain the purpose of the diet, discover food preferences and prepare the patient for continuing the diet at home. The point is to prepare a daily meal pattern that combines the patient's food habits with remedial needs. As a nutritionist or dietetic, you'll also keep records of patients-responses to new diets.
Clinical Dietetics: This differs slightly from therapeutic nutrition, in that it concerns patients who are not hospitalised, but are referred to the clinic by a physician. They include expectant mothers, and people suffering from obesity or other nutritional problems who are taught to understand and use diet effectively.
Public Health Nutrition: As a nutritionist or dietetic, you will be working with para-medics in rural and semi-urban areas for giving advice and guidance to expectant mothers for pre-natal and post-natal care with regard to diet and hygiene.
Community Nutrition: This is a part of the Government Health Scheme, which handles the nutritional needs and shortcoming of the concerned.
Food Technology: It is widely applied in the food industry, where nutritionists are employed at various levels in the development, manufacture and making of food products.
You could opt to work in:
• Health care centers
• Supervision of food service workers in a cafeteria
• Public health departments
• Private clinics
• Armed forces
• Sports centre
• Research centre (community or lab research)
• Government offices
• International organisations
• The media and communication agencies
• Schools and colleges (teaching and counselling)
• Industrial or institutional canteens
Self-employment also offers some scope to professional as freelance consultants, fast food entrepreneurs, and large-scale, door-to-door or party-catering services. Some dieticians work in the Home Economics divisions of food, equipment and utility companies.
With the newfound fitness boom in India the scope in this field is increasing by the day. Testimony to this is the mushrooming of health spas and fitness centres all over town. Along with high voltage aerobics you got to control those aloo parathas too.
This is where a nutritionist steps in. You'll devise healthy and nutritious options to these people. Thus, it becomes a dietician's challenge to come up with a diet plan that is suitable both to the tongue and tummy.
Corporates too are waking up to ensure fitness of its employees and are now employing nutritionist to look and develop healthy diet programmes.
Abilities & Traits Required
You should have these personality traits to be a good nutritionist or a dietician:
• Strong interest in science, food and health
• Communication skills are used to develop teaching tools such as pamphlets, posters and presentations to educate their target audience
• You should enjoy working with people
• Welcome new challenges
• Adjust well to varied roles
• Analytical and logical skills
To be a trainee the minimum requirement is BSc Home science and a Diploma in Food Science. A formal training of at least a year is necessary to have a successful career. You can also have a Diploma in Dietary services/Nutrition/ Dietetics/Food & Nutrition/Nutrition & Dietetics or any other related courses.
You can have a Post Graduate Diploma in Dietetics and Public Health Nutrition.
Other option is an MSc Home Science (Food & Nutrition)/ MSc Food Technology/MSc Food & Nutrition/MSc Applied Nutrition/MSc Food Science & Nutrition/any other related course.
With a BSc Home Science and a diploma in dietary services with 1-2 years work experience or a MSc in home science with work experience you can start of as Nutritionist/Dietician.
However, preference is given to candidates with a postgraduate diploma in dietetics and public health nutrition.
Postgraduate diploma in Dietetics and Public Health Nutrition (DDPHN) requires BSc Home Science (10+2+3 scheme) from a recognised university, with 50 per cent marks in the aggregate and 50 per cent or above marks in the aggregate in foods and nutrition, physiology and biochemistry. Selection is based on merit and three months internship is compulsory.
For MSc Home Science (Food and Nutrition) the requirement is same as DDPHN and 55% marks aggregate in foods and nutrition, food science, biochemistry, nutrition and the family, in the Honours course, in the Pass course, food science, biochemistry and nutrition and dietetics. This is a two- years degree course.
You could be a nutrition manager after completing a two-year program via correspondence course or college.
You could start off with Rs 20000-30000 a month with a small organisation. Hospitals pay better - around Rs 35000-45000. With experience you could double that in a few years time.
International organisations such as UN offer much better salary structures and incentives.
As a consultant you can charge on a session basis charging anywhere between Rs 1000-1500 per session.