No, a degree or a certificate is not enough. That’s just a credential you get after you pass a bachelor’s or master’s degree exam, or a diploma or a certification. Nutrition is way too big a field to be taught in a single degree or certification. It has to be studied and analyzed from various angles. Nutrition is not just studying macro and micronutrients, or how to design a diet for a special population case, or nutritional biochemistry, its way beyond that. Nutrition takes into account your history, epidemiology, cultures and traditions, taste buds, allergies and sensitivities and a lot more.
Though we can’t discuss everything, but we will discuss the formal path of studying nutrition either through a degree route or a non-degree route. But before that let’s understand the difference between nutritionist and a dietician, as many of us use these terms interchangeably. Though these are related fields, but have clear distinctions among them.
In most countries, ‘nutritionist’ a general term used for anyone who does not have a registered practice of nutrition with the country’s government. Nutritionists are generally not regulated by law and anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. To become a dietician, most countries have their legal and official registration systems in place, for which certain qualifications are needed and then basic exams are conducted, after which you may be allowed to add the tag of registered dietician (RD) after your name. it’s just like adding “Dr.” before your name.
Dieticians are registered and licensed professionals who are qualified to prepare meal plans for medical cases and are the ones who can be employed in hospitals, clinics and medical centers. Nutritionists, on the other hand, are focused on promoting healthy eating habits and a balanced lifestyle. They do not treat individuals suffering from illnesses (e.g. diabetics, people with high blood pressure). Instead, they work exclusively with healthy individuals who are seeking to improve their nutrition intake and lifestyle by making better choices about the food they eat. That’s why nutritionists are found mostly in gyms, diet clinics, some corporates, in restaurants and hotels etc.
Nutritionists are much less protected under the law, and anyone with a basic knowledge or certification of nutrition can use the tag of nutritionist. In some countries even a nutritionist would need some basic licensing, but in India there is no such provisions, as a result of which many malpractices go undetected.
THE DEGREE ROUTE TO BECOME A DIETICIAN
Acc. to the Indian Dietetic Association, “RD stands for Registered Dietitian, who is a qualified, skilled and knowledgeable professional. A Registered Dietitian is authorized to prescribe Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT), which is evidence-based, and to counsel people to achieve and maintain good health.
An RD is food, nutrition and dietetics expert with:
- 3 to 4 years’ degree in Nutrition and Dietetics with a UGC approved curriculum & PG diploma or master’s in nutrition & Dietetics as regular course
- 6 months of internship with Competency package in IDA approved hospitals under guidance of eligible Registered Dietitian.
- Pass in RD Board Examination and acknowledged by RD Board with RD number. This is under Indian Dietetic Association.
With this expertise RDs are well equipped with knowledge in the field of Clinical Dietetics and Medical Nutrition Therapy.
A dietitian integrates and applies food, nutrition, social sciences and management theory, works with individuals and populations to create strategies to enable clients/patients to achieve their food, nutrition and health-related goals.
Unqualified practitioners mislead the community with unscientific information and half-baked knowledge. This can lead to serious health hazards. Nutrition supplements, food products, meal plans or dietary recommendations should be done only by qualified experts who have the required competence.
RDs are the most credible and valuable source for nutrition advise. They are professionals with sound qualification who have received specialized formal accredited education and training and undertake internship in hospitals. They are life members of Indian Dietetic Association (IDA) & required to adhere to IDA’s code of ethics.
The RD title is a differentiator for quality advise for patients. While all registered dietitians are nutritionists, not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. The IDA Registration Board awards a registration number to applicants who successfully complete the registration examination after going through an intensive internship program designed by the RD Board which is on par with international standards.
The IDA RD Board’s main objective is to ensure standards in dietetics practice and maintain a register of professional dietitians.”
Just like the Indian Dietetic Association, other countries have their own licensing and registration bodies in order to become a registered dietician. On the other hand, even with a basic nutrition certification, you can call yourself a nutritionist. In fact, some even don’t have that, which is again fine in a way till anyone misguides you.
Dieticians can be broadly divided into the following categories:
- Clinical Dietitians are specialists in food nutrition services in hospitals, outpatient clinics, and private practices. They assess patient nutrition, develop dietary plans, provide patient counselling, and monitor patient’s progress.
- Community Dietitians work in public health agencies, health and fitness clubs, and day care centres. They counsel people on food choices and direct programmes in nutrition awareness and disease prevention.
- Management Dietitians specialize in food service systems or clinical management. They work in hospitals, nursing homes, school food service, cafeterias, and restaurants. They manage personnel, plan and conduct employee training programmes, design food systems, and plan budgets.
- Consultant Dietitians are independent business people who work as nursing home consultants, book authors, and patient counsellors in medical centres and fitness programmes. They also develop and evaluate food service systems and serve as independent advisors to industry
Dieticians have multiple roles to play:
- They can work alongside doctors and medical professionals to help prepare nutrition plans for medical cases.
- They can work with the government agencies to develop nutritional policies and guidelines.
- They can consult industries and companies on food systems, food sustainability, food service management, production, and marketing
- Engage in market research to better understand food science.
- Educators in form of teachers, professors etc.
- Conduct nutrition research
- Work at sports and health clubs and consult pro athletes
Now, there is another thing you need to understand that, many people who study nutrition, may complete their Bachelors or Masters, but may or may not do their internship, and may not appear for the RD exam under Indian Dietetic Association. That doesn’t make them any less knowledgeable, but their job prospects may cut short a bit, especially when asked for a RD license number.
In India, you can opt to do a Bachelors in Nutrition & Dietetics or similar subjects, like:
- B.Sc. in Clinical Nutrition
- B.Sc. in Nutrition and Dietetics
- B.Sc. in Food Science and Nutrition
- B.Sc. in Applied Nutrition
- B.Sc. in Dietetics
- B.Sc. in Home Science (Nutrition and Food Science specialization)
Thereafter, they can do their masters in various specialized subjects, like M.Sc. Clinical Nutrition, M.Sc. Food Science, M.Sc. Public Health Nutrition, M.Sc. in Food, Nutrition and Dietetics
Post Graduates can do further PG Diploma courses in subjects like:
- Clinical Nutrition
- Paediatric Nutrition
- Public Health Nutrition
- Food Science/Technology
- Sports Nutrition/Dietetics
- Gerontological Nutrition
- Renal Nutrition
- Therapeutic nutrition
- Sports science & nutrition
- Food allergies & sensitivities
There is a long list of colleges and Universities in India offering these degree courses. Please check the list online. The fees of these courses is generally not very high and is well within everyone’s affordability. But some private universities may charge a very high fee for the same course. So, before spending money on these courses, think and evaluate properly.
NON-DEGREE ROUTE TO BECOME A NUTRITIONIST
As we discussed the difference between a nutritionist & dietician and the degree route to take to become a RD (Registered Dietician). But not everyone has that luxury or has chosen the path. For some, the interest in nutrition studies ignites much later, but by that time it gets virtually impossible to do any regular degree courses like bachelors or masters.
There are many Indian universities, both public and private which offers distance learning PG Diploma, Diploma & Certification courses in different nutrition subjects. But let me tell you the reality. Most of the them have extremely substandard course material and are run-of-the-mill institutes.
You can do any amount of courses or certifications, but that won’t mean much in terms of knowledge. The bitter truth is that the term most nutritionists use like ‘certified nutritionist’ has actually no meaning. Be it an Indian or International institute, getting a certificate gives you very little credentials in nutrition. This is where the dilemma lies.
For e.g. you may do a number of certifications from Indian or International institutes, but that doesn’t make you eligible for anything in terms of proper jobs in India or abroad. Anyone with a proper nutrition degree or RD license under their belt will always have better prospects.
Also, if you are going the certification route, then there are many good international and Indian institutes that offer you very insightful courses and extremely good course content. But, as I said, in such a case writing the credentials ‘certified nutritionist’ in India, actually makes no sense or meaning. Because, there may be a person who is extremely passionate for studying nutrition quite deeply, and actually possess more knowledge than a lot of RDs.
But, on the other hand, are fake dieticians, with no degrees or licenses, or degrees from fake institutes. Couple of years ago one such fake dietician was caught who used to add the credentials of ‘Dr.’ behind her name, and had over sixty diet clinics running in her name. What happened after that? Nothing, a bit of hue and cry and the clinics are still running in the same manner.
On the same path are dumb nutritionists who do any stupid nutrition certificate course and even they can call themselves a ‘certified nutritionist’. Therefore, someone writing ‘certified nutritionist’ or ‘certified sports nutritionist’ doesn’t really mean anything.
Also, just like these nutritionists, the institutes offering the nutrition courses, have no standardised course material and can teach you anything they feel like. They can add any of their self-made theories or concepts, as there is no one to question them. For e.g. there are institutes offering courses in the name of ‘certified nutritionist’ or ‘sports nutritionist’, with course material totally based on low-fat or keto-based diet. This is extremely wrong and misleading. You may teach someone about low-carb or keto-diets as a small part of a nutrition course, but you cannot teach them low-carb or keto-diets as the only thing in nutrition, because some brainless people believe it to be the best of way of eating. Similarly, there are institutes offering certifications in anything you feel like, be it vegan nutrition, keto diet etc.
Also, another thing I have observed about these overnight fitness education factories (they are not institutes), is that to prepare a manual, they straight away copy paste an international nutrition book, forgetting the fact that, Indian food habits have an absolutely different way of studying and understanding. Most of these institutes actually sell certifications, they aren’t interested in education.
But nevertheless there are some great institutes internationally, which are renowned worldwide for their quality education and course content. This list is not an exhaustive one, but one can be confident enough to take any of these courses to enhance their knowledge and credentials:
- NASM (NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SPORTS MEDICINE) CERTIFIED NUTRITION COACH
- ISSA (INTERNTIONAL SPORTS SCIENCE ASSOCIATION) SPORTS NUTRITIONIST CERTIFICATION
- PRECISION NUTRITION
- AFPA (AMERICAN FITNESS PROFESSIONALS & ASSOCIATES) NUTRITION PROGRAMS
- ACE (AMERICAN COUNCIL ON EXERCISE) FITNESS NUTRITION SPECIALIST
BITTER TRUTH – NO ONE TELLS YOU ABOUT
Well, I hope that most of you are clear with the path of nutrition, when taking it up as a career, the difference between a Registered Dietician & a Nutritionist, the degree & non-degree options you have, the non-degree options you can choose from, and much more.
But there is one aspect which no one tells you, i.e. the money you earn. Even if you do a proper degree course and become an RD in India, the salaries offered are not very high, and for many years, you may have to struggle with very meagre salaries. The salaries even in top hospitals can start from 15-20k as a beginner and may not even reach 40-50k even after a long time in the job. Private companies may offer better salaries but the growth path is not very rewarding.
On the other hand, people with one odd basic certification can earn many times because they understood the most important aspect which no one teaches you about i.e. business and marketing. Nutritionists/dieticians with a proper understanding of business and marketing have no limits to how much they can earn. Therefore, it’s not enough to gain knowledge, learn how to sell it.