Rupali Dutta, chief, clinical nutrition, Fortis, New Delhi, started working as a clinical nutritionist in 1987 and she has, over the years, seen a marked change in the way people and doctors look at nutritionists. “At one time doctors used to do everything and we had to follow whatever they recommended. But now, with medico-legal issues involved, the scenario has changed. Nutritionists are specialists today,” she says.
Nutritionists make a very balanced combination — they are people with expertise in clinical and nutritional matters and assess the dietary needs of patients.
With changing lifestyles and food habits the importance and need of a nutritionist has increased manifold. A nutritionist has to take inputs from the patient and check his/her medical records and genetic patterns and then suggest modifications in his/her diet if required. The nutritionist has to check whether the modifications made by him/her are within the biochemical parameters or not. And they have to check these parameters according to the patient’s history. Some nutritionists specialise in particular fields such as obesity, paediatrics or diabetes.
A nutritionist is either attached to a hospital or with a leading doctor. Some are even getting jobs with gyms and healthcare centres. Today, there’s a big demand for nutritionists in the processed food industry. They are required to work for the development and improvement of food products and production methods, conduct research on food items to ensure their quality and also to study their effects on humans. Residential schools often hire nutritionists to take charge of catering. “A lot of food packaging is happening; ready-to-eat food stuff is available. Companies want the packaged food to be nutritionally adequate, and to do that they need nutritionists. In research a lot of genetically modified vegetables are coming in and nutritionists have to check their food value,” says Dutta.
Teaching is another option. Work is also available in health and recreation clubs, nursing care facilities, catering departments of star hotels, research labs of food manufacturers, etc.
Actual work experience counts. “You have to understand that you are dealing with people who come with a lot of baggage when it comes to food habits. You have to work out a solution; you have to make them understand the modifications you are suggesting. To do this you will need (to have) good communication skills, which people in the science field, generally, do not focus on,” says Dutta. Another challenge for a nutritionist in the Indian scenario is that “here you deal with the whole family. Because food is a way of life for most people, to change it would be like changing people’s lifestyles,” she adds.
What's it about?
A nutritionist is the person who studies diet — food, from the time of harvest till it is consumed. A nutritionist has to do a qualitative analysis of the food being consumed. S/he is not only aware of the qualities of a particular food item as it is consumed but also keeps track of how it benefits the person who has consumed it. Apart from in-depth knowledge of human physiology, s/he also has to study food varieties and their nutritional aspects, etcs
. 8 am: Wake up, plan meals for the family, start work
. 9 am: Leave for office
.10 am: Meet patients. Check records and make modifications in patients’ diet charts
. Noon: Check medical reports. Make next day’s diet plans. Compile reports and give it to the supervisor to check and add inputs
. 4 pm: Call it a day. Give advice to patients who call after working hours
Entry level: A fresher with a diploma can get anywhere around Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000. Those with an Master’s degree can expect Rs 11,000 to Rs 15,000 per month Salaries get higher with experience
. Should be able to handle people well
. Good understanding of human physiology
. Good knowledge of food and diet requirements and knowledge of cooking/recipes
. Good communication skills
. Good writing skills for producing reports, leaflets etc
How do i get there?
. The first step is to take up a home science course after Plus Two or equivalent. This course is offered as BSc (home science) or BA (home science). The next step is to do an Master’s in home science with specialisation in food science and nutrition. Some agricultural universities also offer BHSC/MHSC programmes. Preference is given to candidates with the science background at the Plus Two level
. The other way is to take up a full-time catering diploma and then do a specialisation in nutrition as part of further education.
. Food science & technology/nutrition can be taken up for BSc or as a Bachelor’s degree in applied science
Institutes & urls
. University of Delhi Bachelor of Applied Sciences (Hons.) Food Tech,
. Institute of Home Economics, Delhi BHSC; Dip in Dietetics & Public Health Nutrition,
. Jadavpur University, Kolkata B.Tech./M.Tech. (food & biochemical engg.),
. University of Madras PG Dip in nutrition & dietetics after BSc (chemistroy/zoology or human nutrition) or home science
. University of Mumbai PG Dip. in dietetics and applied nutrition,
Pros & Cons
You help and care for people
Decent working hours and a very good working environment
If you are attached to a hospital you have to work in shifts and sometimes are required to do night shifts
There is more work nowadays
A senior practitioner talks about the changing role of a nutritionist
How has the scope of work of a nutritionist changed over the years?
I must say that people have now recognised the importance of a nutritionist in their day-to-day life. Actually, in our set-up a lot, still, depends on the doctor’s recommendation. Sometimes it happens that doctors try to solve the problem on their own. However, in the metros people are aware of nutritionists and are regularly consulting them to get rid of a bevy of problems, including weight gain.
With the opening of spas, ayurvedic and healthcare centres, the scope for nutritionists is increasing by the day. In fact, many MNCs are recruiting nutritionists to help their employees stay fit and healthy.
Dieticians or nutritionists can also join research institutes like the Indian Council of Medical Research. If you have good writing skills then you can also contribute articles to health magazines and newspapers.
Is there a difference between a dietician and a nutritionist?
In my opinion, there is no such difference. You have to go through similar courses. It is seen that people working with hospitals stick to the tag of dieticians whereas people working in other set-ups such as gymnasium or other healthcare centres call themselves nutritionists.
What are the difficulties that a nutritionist has to overcome?
First of all keep in mind that if you are working in a hospital set-up then chances are that the pay package will not be very enticing. If you work in spas or other reputed health centres then you can expect good money. It all depends on what career path you choose. You can also start with working in hospitals and then with experience move to the health centres.
Megha Puri, Dietician, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital Interviewed by Syed Amir Ali Hashmi