Nutrition & Dietetics: A healthy career choice

India, the global capital for diabetes and other diseases (cardiovascular disorders, hypertension, heart disease, cancers) needs both curative and preventive nutrition,” says Kumud Khanna, Director, Institute of Home Economics (IHE). As a part of Home Science, nutritional studies kicked off in the 1930s in India.

“Earlier, the attention was towards finishing and grooming courses such as cooking and textile management. But nutrition education started gaining visibility in the early 1960s. At present, with new areas of practice, the nutrition domain has taken tremendous strides,” says Prof. Santosh Jain Passi, IHE.

Fast Facts
Best schools: SNDT college, Institute of Health Systems (IHS), Lady Irwin College, Avinashilingam University for Women, Banasthali University,
Qualification: B.Sc Home Science, M.Sc Food & Nutrition,
What you become: Nutritionists, Dietician
Recruiters: Governmental, UN organizations, FMCGs, R&D institutes, schools, colleges

The nutritionist/ dietician’s job

  • Research the nutritive value of food
  • Understand all food components
  • Advise people on eating habits
  • Plan diets that will improve health

A thin line of difference
Dieticians
: Also referred to as clinical or therapeutic dietitians, these titles vary across the workplace. But essentially, they plan and supervise the preparation of diets designed for patients, and work in hospitals, clinics, health care centres, wellness programmes, fitness, sports centres or own private clinics. “A dietician helps to plan and monitor an individual’s diet,” says Namrata Singh, Senior Dietician at Department of Gastroenterology and Human Nutrition, AIIMS. In hospitals, they work closely with doctors and develop expertise in a particular medical domain. “Besides making the rounds of the respective wards, we check the quality and hygiene levels in the hospital kitchen. To excel, dieticians must be in tune with the medical world (diseases, medicines, treatment),” Singh adds. 

Nutritionists: They work in the areas of food science, community development, research projects and Fast Moving Consumer Goods Companies (FMCG). Their work relates to research aspect. It could be in the field, desk or laboratory. Public health nutritionists work in the developmental sector. “They go beyond diets – move into the science of biochemistry, food science. They do not do so much of clinical nutrition as a dietician does,” says Kajali Paintal, Senior Nutrition Specialist, UNICEF, India.

How to kickstart your career
You can opt for a nutrition course after 10+2. There are numerous programmes available at the graduate, postgraduate level, and course combinations, also. At Delhi University, the entry point is BSc Home Science, of which Food & Nutrition is one subject. There are two types of programmes: BSc Home Science (Pass) and (Honors). In BSc Home Science (Hons), a student can specialise in Food & Nutrition in the second and third year, whereas in the Pass programme, there is no specialisation. The Honours programme admits only students from science backgrounds as its subjects include Biochemistry, Botany, Physics, Zoology and Chemistry.

If you are not good in subjects like biology, chemistry, physics  at the school level, then you are likely to struggle with the course curriculum. The top two colleges (Lady Irwin and IHE) allow students from both science and non-science backgrounds. “You must look into the course curriculum and syllabi of the institute closely before taking admission,” Prof. Passi advises.

At the postgraduate level, you can either do a one-year Post Graduate Diploma in Dietetics and Public Health Nutrition (DDPHN) or a two-year Master’s programme.

The MSc Food and Nutrition allows you to specialise in one of these areas:

  • Therapeutic Nutrition
  • Public Health Nutrition
  • Food Science 

M.Sc comprises general subjects such as Research Methods and Computer applications, Biochemistry, Food Microbiology and Food Safety, Food Science and Quality Control, Advanced Human Nutrition, Physiology and Principles of Food Science.

Advancing in the field
Exploring higher studies means coming up with greater ideas and implementing them.  There are some institutes, which spend majority of their time on research. “We take MSc nutritionists for PhD or research work. We hold seminars and symposia, and bring out recommendations. Here, one can finish PhD in 5 years,” says Prema Ramachandran, Director, Nutrition Foundation of India (NFI). One can also look at the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, a renowned research institute in India.

Registered Dieticians
This credential is offered to professionals authorised by Indian Dietetics Association (IDA). It can be used by dietitians working at hospitals, day-care clinics and consultancy clinics. Those who possess these credentials would have specific academic and practice requirements. For more info visit  the website - www.idaindia.com


Skills and aptitude

  • Interest in food/ food preparation
  • Good communication skills to interact with people, individually and in groups
  • Writing skills to produce reports, documentation, leaflets
  • Good research skills
  • Figure out new ways to solve a problem.
  • Patience and a genuine concern for fellow beings
  • Planning, administrative skills and organisational ability

The real challenge
For those working in the field, hospitals and consultancy clinics inspiring clients to eat healthy, is a challenge. ‘It is tough to convince patients, clients and illiterate masses to eat selectively’ - this sentiment resonates with every dietician or nutritionist you speak with. “It is because everyone has different tastes for food and it is not easy to break their eating habit,” says Namrata. So, the trick is to make healthy choices appealing.

A growing demand
Today demand is emerging, especially in these areas, slowly but steadily:

FMCGs and Pharmaceutical companies: Like Nestle, Cadbury’s, Unilever, GSK, Eli Lilly, Novartis require nutritionists in two areas - R&D and medical marketing. Ruchika Chugh, Senior nutritionist at Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) who worked in the food industry for  8 years shares her experience in the R& D centre of GlaxoSmithKline - Consumer Healthcare (GSK). “I used to  develop new product concept, work on the claims, interface with different department regulatory and give them technical support,” she recounts. At Dumex, her role was diversified. She prepared medical marketing kit. “I used to organise scientific conferences, KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) management, prepare manuals, flip charts, leaflets, posters for sales force and eventually trained them. We also met doctors frequently to understand if a product is working,” she adds.

Government bodies: Many are hiring nutritionists for social welfare and developmental work. They also work in public health departments. “Depending on the number of vacancies available, UPSC conducts interviews for posts at Food & Nutrition Board (FNB). If recruited you jump on to become a class-I gazetted officer,” says Dr Surindra Jain, Assistant Technical Advisor, Nutritionist at FNB, Ministry of Women and Child Development.  There are a sizeable number of nutritionists working as Advisor, Technical Advisor or Deputy Advisor.  “There are 43 food and nutrition extension/field units across the country where a nutritionist’s support is needed,” she adds.

 

Salary talk
The pay scale varies depending on the area of location, education and experience. For instance, a nutritionist in a small town would be paid less as compared to one working in a metro, while a dietician in a hospital may earn less than a dietician with his or her own practice.

A fresher can earn between Rs. 15,000 to 20,000 per month. After gaining a good experience, you may touch Rs 30,000 plus. “In government hospitals, with the Sixth Pay Commission, the salaries have risen to Rs. 25,000,” says Namrata. Nutritionists working in the private sector will have differing pay amounts.

Keeping India healthy
Balanced representation of different types of work has brought legitimacy to the profession. Even though it is a female-dominated field, there are options for men, too. Last but not the least, it’s a profession that gives you an opportunity to make a difference to your nation’s health and well-being. 

 

Kumud Khanna,
HoD, Home Science, Director, Institute of Home Economics

EXPERT SPEAK

"Attractive openings even for men!"

Both dieticians and nutritionists have thesame degrees. Why two different titles?
The studies are interlinked and complementary to each other. The career shapes up with the choice of specialisation you take up at Master’s level. Dietician role is restricted to hospitals, hotels, weight lose clinics. They know more about clinical nutrition and therapeutic nutrition. A nutritionist’s role is more diverse. They can move into an array of fields - like scientific research, NGOs, UN organisations, food industry, health care centres (sports complex).

 

Is it compulsory for dieticians to be members of the Indian Dietetics Association? 
No, but registered dieticians (RD) - gets some weightage in hospitals, consultancy clinics, etc. For this – graduates/postgraduates can take the all India entrance exam, which is set by IDA once a year. To crack the exam, you must keep abreast of IDA syllabus and current events in the Indian dietetics industry.

Why do fewer men join the profession?
There’s a lack of awareness. But there are attractive openings in the food service industry, sports nutrition and scientific research. It is possible to enjoy a challenging and fulfilling career as a male nutritionist.  We have a lot of nutritionists coming from biochemistry and community medicine lines. 

What is the focus of nutrition today? 
 Earlier, India was only addressing the problem of malnutrition. Today, the health scenario has changed drastically. Despite economic boom, India has enormous under/over-nutrition problem. So, our national plans and nutritional advice targets these two issues.

What type of study is involved?
Unlike pure science, nutrition is an applied science. It brings out effective and sustainable solutions to problem. To be eligible, one should be from a science background (PCB). The study also supports other aspects like psychology, sociology and history.

 

Kajali Paintal,
Nutrition Specialist, UNICEF

PROFESSIONAL TALK

“India needs passionate public health nutritionists”

Tell us about your job profile at UNICEF.
I manage infant and young child nutrition programmes, and focus on the first two years of a child’s life. There are cases of a child getting mental disorders because of malnutrition. I focus on the prevention of malnutrition in those years. I tackle essential nutritional interventions to address malnutrition.

What is the UNICEF in this field?
UNICEF gives technical advice and support to government bodies like Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). We work in different tie-ups – at community, district, state and national level. So, we do both downstream (community level) and upstream work (advises the government).

How many nutritionists does UNICEF hire?
In India, UNICEF has more than 35 nutritionists working in 14 states. UNICEF also has a good bulk of consultants. There are about 100 consultants working country-wide. The distribution of nutritionists depends on the magnitude of the problem in each state.

Do we need community-level nutritionists?
We need enthusiasm, energy and the drive to work at the grassroot level. Nutritionists may have to work with villagers/ illiterate masses and give them solutions which are practical for them to actually implement it. But most don’t want to work in the development sector – because it’s hard work! They would rather work in urban set-ups. Graduates are moving more into diet management, obesity consultancies and hospitals. There’s a dearth of public health nutritionists.

Opportunities in the government sector
They are gradually opening up. Now we have missions like ICDS, NHRM which have started hiring nutritionists. You also have Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), Diabetic Foundation of India, Nutrition Foundation of India, Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) which keeps nutritionists in the research domain.

 

Anushree Shiroor

STUDENT SPEAK

“Community work is my calling”

Anushree Shiroor
Degree
: M.Sc Food and Nutrition, Lady Irwin College
Specialisation: Public Health Nutrition (PHN)

While cleaning out her mother’s bookshelf, Anushree stumbled upon her mother’s Class 8 Socially Useful Productive Work (SUPW) notes. It ranged from caring for pests, hygiene, textile management, and cooking and nutrition.  Fascinated, she took up Home Science as a subject in Class 11, alongside PCB.

After securing 90%, she joined the BSc Home Science Honour’s programme at Lady Irwin. She specialised in food and nutrition, and in Public Health Nutrition (PHN) during MSc.

In her second year, she interned with Salam Balak Trust, an NGO which works for street children. She worked on a kitchen project with a focus on low cost recipes. The challenge was to make food from low cost seasonal vegetables. For instance, she added carrots, peas and dal to staples like upma, poha and roti. 

Anushree also completed a one-month internship with GlaxoSmithKline - Consumer Healthcare (Nutrition and Claims Support Department). “I was exposed to nutritional product research, marketing, communicating product,” she says. But her true calling was different. “I am interested in the masses, and want to address community-level problems,” concludes Anushree. 
 

 

 

Anjani Bakshi

STUDENT SPEAK

'Dietician’s day out in the hospital'

Anjani Bakshi
Degree
: MSc Food and Nutrition, Lady Irwin College

Specialisation: Therapeutic Nutrition

 

Anjani’s passion revolves around therapeutic work. “When we plan individual diets, the patients share a bond with us,” she says. Anjani wants to become a registered dietician (RD), and aims to set up her own clinic some day.  She is currently pursuing a three-month internship at the Dietetics Department, AIIMS.

Anjani’s day starts at 9.45 a.m., with ward visits, during which she carries diet sheets and her record book. For instance, the pediatric ward has 42 beds. Here, she checks face sheets (attached to the patient’s bed which mentioned name, age, gender, diagnosis, temperature, height, weight, fluid) and file (history of the patient, diagnosis, medicine intake) to understand the case, so she can advise, accordingly.

The dietician’s role is vital in a hospital. “A  balanced meal is like  medicine for the patient,” explains Anjani. She talks to every patient in the ward and modifies their diet as per their need. Then all diet sheets are submitted to the main kitchen, with specifics such as calories, etc. From 2.00 to 5.00 p.m, she sits in the OPD (Out Patient Department) with other interns and counsels patients. “The internship has exposed me to new diseases and new medical terms,” she adds.
 

 

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JOB PROFILES IN THE FIELD
Sectors
Job functions
Food Service, Institutional Catering
Plan, supervise and prepare nutritious and well-balanced meals for schools,
colleges, restaurants, factories or office cafeterias
Health Care field
Prepare diet charts and monitor and maintain records. Take care of the eating habits of people suffering from diabetics, heart diseases, obesity etc (hospitals, nursing homes, weight management clinics, health resorts, wellness spas, fitness centres)
Research and Development
Conduct research on various food items to locate right type of food which provides a balanced mix of the essentials like vitamins, minerals etc., needed for the body 
Food product companies
Plan and research new products and check the nutritional quality of their products
Research and field work
Research on various issues relating to health in universities, specialist institutions, food product manufacturing companies and hospitals
Government and UN Organisations
Work for social welfare. Public health departments which help at community levels to improve the health of the public
Education
Schools, colleges and hospitals require people to conduct courses in nutrition and dietetics
Media houses
Engage in producing books, articles, promotions, television programmes on optimum dietary practices (TV, radio, magazines, newspapers) 
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