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Medicine, Medical Sciences & Research careers

Nutrition & Diet

What does nutrition & diet involve?

These days you can’t turn the page of a celebrity magazine without reading something or other about dieting. You might have heard that Gary Barlow is only eating Jelly Tots or that Ricky Gervais is fasting every Wednesday.

However, there’s so much more to nutrition and diet than celebrities and their wacky ways. You could pursue a career as a professional dietitian or nutritionist, where you would be helping people to eat properly and thus improve their health and fitness.

Why is diet & nutrition so important?

People’s diet and nutritional intake is incredibly important. Poor diet can lead to a huge range of medical problems, such as obesity and heart failure.

The UK’s public is certainly in need of dietary advice –  especially considering that the most recent statistics suggest that over 25% of UK adults are currently classified as obese.*

If you pursue a career as a dietitian or nutritionist you can help to make a valuable difference in people’s lives. Don’t worry though; you won’t necessarily be analysing people’s poo and fainting theatrically in a celebrity-ridden jungle like the infamous nutritionist Gillian McKeith.

You could be offering vital advice, guidance and support to patients in the NHS hospitals, in primary care trusts or on behalf of private healthcare organisations. Alternatively, you could be utilising your scientific knowledge and practical nous to act as a consultant to food and drink companies, pharmaceutical organisations and sports professionals.

What's the difference between dietitians and nutritionists?

The primary difference between dietitians and nutritionists is fairly simple. Essentially, dietitians have clinical accountabilities, whereas nutritionists adopt a purely consultative role.

Dietitians may actually diagnose and treat dietary-related illnesses and problems. They work with all kinds of patients in hospitals and alongside other healthcare institutions, and provide expert advice and support to people with eating disorders, allergies, stomach problems, diabetes and other medical conditions that require them to change their diet.

These guys have an extensive knowledge and understanding of the science behind diet and nutrition. However, they also offer practical solution to patients, which will improve their health and may even save their lives. After the initial diagnosis and patient consultation, dietitians will work alongside people, help them to change their eating habits and support them through this period of dietary change.  

Dietitians may also work on behalf of the NHS and Department of Health to promote good nutritional health in the community and raise public awareness of the importance of a healthy diet.

To kick start your career as a dietitian, it will be essential for you to obtain a relevant degree in dietetics which is approved by the HPC (Health Professions Council). Alternatively, you could start working as an assistant dietitian and study on the side.

Nutritionists may act as nutritional consultants to food companies to make sure their products are as nutritionally sound as possible. However, they can also work in healthcare settings. They will conduct tests to diagnose the quality of people’s nutritional intake (this might be where excrement studies come into play!) and then offer advice on how they can change what they eat. They might also lead promotional campaigns for nutritional health on behalf of organisations such as the NHS.

These guys don’t necessarily need a degree; however, it may be advisable to study nutrition or dietetics at university in order to boost your chances and give you an edge over other candidates in this competitive industry.

While it seems strangely inappropriate to mention defecation three times in one article after emphatically denying that nutritionists don’t work exclusively with it, it is important for you to know that your job will consist of much more than criticising people’s poo in a box on television. It’s actually an incredibly important aspect of health care which can revolutionise the lives of those suffering from allergies, obesity, eating disorders and other health issues.

Nutty about nutrition? Hungry for more? Here's a list of universities offering Nutrition and Dietetics degree courses.

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