One should eat to live; not live to eat.
~ Socrates ~
As far as good health goes, Socrates was absolutely right — in reality, food is little more than fuel to keep our bodies healthy and functioning. However, as society has developed, food has become more of a social and emotional 'event'.
Food and sharing a meal brings families and communities together — in love, in celebration and in grief.
Food, and its consumption, can also have powerful emotional effects, and this is where some of the problems occur. The rest of the issues centre around the convenience of fast food, instant meals and snacks.
In Australia, even though our intake of fatty and sugary foods has declined slightly, we generally have a poor diet. Education around healthy eating is gradually changing the mindset of many Australian people and, with this, there has been an increase in demand for the services of a nutritionist or dietitian.
If you are interested in the fitness industry, particularly in the areas of health and nutrition, and think this may be the career path for you, Superprof has put together a short guide on what is involved in the job of a dietitian or nutritionist and what you need to do to become a nutritionist in Australia.
What Does a Nutritionist Do?
The important thing to realise is that, in Australia, there is a distinction between dieticians and nutritionists.
To put it simply, because the word 'nutritionist' is not regulated, anybody can describe themselves as a nutritionist. However, to be registered or accredited as a nutritionist, you must have a university qualification.
This qualification or degree means you can provide nutrition advice and services in the private and community health areas.
Dieticians provide these services as well, plus they are accredited to provide diet therapy and food service management. An additional qualification is required.
The roles of registered nutritionists are varied and may include:
- consulting with clients to provide individual diet plans and determine fitness goals
- monitoring the progress of client health and modifying their program or diet accordingly
- supervising the preparation of meals in group situations
- providing public education about current trends and nutrition research
- researching and analysing nutrition data or dietetics theory
- calculating nutritional values of food.
Success as a nutritionist requires communication and team work skills, an aptitude for research, and an interest in health, wellbeing and, of course, food.
Where Do Nutritionists Work?
Much of the work undertaken by registered nutritionists involves a high degree of public contact. However, if you are not really a people person, you can also apply for a job in the research or promotions industry.
Either way, nutritionists can find a job in either the public or private sector, in large business and government settings or in their own private practice. They may also be on a parliamentary advisory board dealing with the state of nutrition in Australia.
Work settings in the Australian public sector
- Community health care: nutritionists will often work in government organisations, including state and local agencies, within a specific program such as the Healthy Children Initiative.
- Hospitals: a nutritionist working in a hospital or aged-care setting may be required to provide advice on meal plans for specific units, such as the maternity ward or rehabilitation, or for patients with severe health problems or allergies.
- Schools: in the school setting, a nutritionist will either work directly with students to provide them with a nutrition education program, or they will be responsible for food options in the canteen, cafeteria area or in food technology courses. Nutritionists may also provide advice to the board of education.
- Hospitality industry: this includes retail sales, restaurants, hotels and day spas where nutritionists may be employed to advise and supervise menu development and food preparation.
- Food production industry: work in this industry is usually undertaken by a nutrition specialist, or food technologist, and involves food product testing and development or food production.
Work settings in Australian private practice
- Fitness centres: in both large and small fitness centres, nutritionists can be employed to guide coaches or clients in healthy food choices to supplement their fitness program. This may occur at a client's initial fitness assessment, periodically throughout a 12-week program or occasionally when the centre runs group courses.
- Private practice and consultancy: a nutritionist may work in their own practice, or in conjunction with another private practitioner, to provide personalised nutrition services.
Job Opportunities and Salary
If you are wondering about your job prospects should you decide to undertake a university degree to become an accredited nutritionist in Australia, you need not be concerned.
The nutrition industry is showing signs of very strong future growth and lower unemployment trends than other food or hospitality sectors. Around 88% of people who work as nutritionists are female, with the best job opportunities in NSW, Queensland and Victoria.
Full time hours average out at around 43 hours per week with an average pay packet of close to $2000 per week.
Where Can You Study Nutrition in Australia?
There are a number of study and degree options for people who wish to become a nutritionist in Australia. These range from Certificate IV and diploma level courses, through to an undergraduate bachelor degree or a postgraduate degree.
It's important to weigh up your career preferences, skills and interests before embarking on further study.
All options listed below can be undertaken in-person, online or as a hybrid course and completed as full time study or part time.
- Certificate IV in Allied Health Assistance
Graduates of a Certificate IV course will work in therapy and program support under the guidance of a health professional. The supervision level is determined by the organisation. Amongst the specialisations students are exposed to, the ones related to nutrition include the provision of nutrition advice and education, implementing a food safety practice, planning and evaluating meals and menus, food safety audits and development of a food safety program. Certificate IV courses generally span 40 weeks at a full time load and can be delivered online, apart from the practical component.
- Diploma of Nutrition
The diploma level course has a focus on health science and the role of nutrition in health. The course covers chemistry, human anatomy and physiology, and the relationship of these to nutrition, digestion and metabolism. A diploma level course takes one year at full time equivalent, or two years part time. Most education institutions that offer the diploma of nutrition can provide both online and in-person course options. Completion of all course units gives you the flexibility to continue into the Bachelor of Nutrition if you wish to gain a further qualification, apply for accreditation or gain full professional membership with the Nutrition Society of Australia.
- Bachelor of Nutrition Science
There are a number of variations to this degree, depending on the university you enrol at and the specialisation focus, including a Bachelor of Health Science (Clinical Nutrition), Bachelor of Nutrition Science (Dietetics Pathway), Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics, Bachelor of Science (major in Human Nutrition) and Bachelor of Health Science and Nutritional Medicine. All bachelor degrees are 3 years full time equivalent and can be delivered online, in-person or a combination of both. A nutrition degree at this level incorporates the study of human physiology, anatomy and biochemistry, along with nutrition education and the study of health needs of specific populations.
A university will usually also offer the option of a double degree, where you can combine a Bachelor of Nutrition with another bachelor degree, such as commerce or business administration.
- Postgraduate Nutrition Degree
There are a number of options for postgraduate degrees, including honours, graduate certificate, graduate diploma and a Master of Nutrition and Dietetics. A postgraduate degree will generally take one to two years to complete if you study full time.
As mentioned previously, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, however, if you wish to gain accreditation and become registered with the Nutrition Society of Australia, you will need the following industry requirements:
- relevant university or other tertiary qualification with at least a major in nutrition or another related science field
- professional experience in your field of specialisation
- various checks, including police checks, first aid certificate, immunisations and a working with vulnerable people check.
Can You Specialise in Sports Nutrition in Australia?
The importance of good nutrition for elite sportspeople is widely recognised. The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) is known globally for leading the way in the research, knowledge and education around sports nutrition in Australia and for their support of Australian athletes.
If you are keen to move into sports nutrition, you have the option to do a double degree, undertaking a bachelor of exercise and sports science with your bachelor of nutrition degree. Alternatively, you can take a 13-week online sports nutrition course with a company such as Sports Dieticians Australia.
"The doctor of the future will no longer cure the human frame with drugs, but will cure and prevent disease with nutrition."
~ Thomas Edison ~