Editor’s Note: As a new class of students enter college this fall, there will no doubt be questions about the future, careers, and other big picture topics you may not be ready to answer. To give you an idea of what different career paths offer, HackCollege runs the occasional Career Spotlight for freshmen (and major-changing upperclassmen).

A holistic approach to health is one that looks at the person’s body and lifestyle as a whole – not necessarily as just a sum of different parts.

Holistic nutrition is similar in that it takes into account the person’s diet, lifestyle, and overall wellbeing, rather than looking at the specific intake of individual nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. This field has grown in popularity more recently as scientists discover that adjusting specific nutrients doesn’t always fix health problems, and sometimes causes more issues.

This growing field is an offshoot from both nutrition and holistic health, and is expected to continue to increase as demand for alternative health methods rise. The Affordable Care Act focuses more on prevention and wellness, while the previous health care industry focused on treatment.

For these reasons, holistic health and nutrition is considered a great career path for someone with the entrepreneurial spirit who is willing to help grow this industry.

One of the major differences between holistic nutritionists and standard nutritionists is the subject matter. A career in holistic nutrition focuses much more on food and lifestyle, including culinary arts.

Dieticians and nutritionists often look more at the science of nutrients, food science, and food engineering. Both areas of nutrition can include certifications through the National Association of Nutritional Professionals (NANP).

So, how do you get there?

Undergraduate

Books on Nutrition

For starters, if you want to build a career in holistic nutrition, it is a good idea to take a lot of the same classes you’d take as a nutrition major. Start off at an accredited university, major in something along the lines of food, health, nutrition, fitness, medicine, biology, or Pre-med, and take classes like Anatomy & Physiology, Fundamentals of Nutrition, and Community Nutrition.

You should also look into Whole Foods cooking courses, as well as menu & meal planning. Once you’ve completed your undergraduate degree, you can always begin working in an office, but it is a good idea to obtain a further degree from graduate school, or obtain an alternative certification.

Graduate Programs

Holistic nutritionists have a lot of the same schooling as standard nutritionists, including food science and the body, but they believe in the power of “whole foods” over individual ingredients, which is why graduate programs will vary greatly.

Rather than delving further into food science and engineering in a graduate program, you will want to learn more about gastrointestinal health, eating for health, stress and the endocrine system, and food and the immune system.

You can continue your education by obtaining a Masters of Science in Nutrition or Holistic Nutrition from an accredited University, but be sure to choose a program with a focus on Holistic Nutrition.

Alternative Certifications

For many who are interested in the holistic approach, accredited University programs fall short. They focus a great deal on industry- and government-funded research, which can compromise the quality of the information.

For this reason, holistic nutritionists should absolutely complete a certification program specific to the field of holistic nutrition, such as those offered at vocational schools. If you complete a NANP-approved program, you automatically have your certification in that specific program. The certification is valid in the state in which you received it, but there aren’t many further certification options.

There aren’t any current federal, state, or local requirements that limit the practice of nutrition counseling, which means there aren’t any nationally accredited certifications either. You can become a registered dietitian, and you should sit for the Holistic Nutrition Credentialing Board’s (HNCB) Board Examination (a division of NANP).

Opinions vary on whether you should obtain only this certification or obtain this and a master’s degree, but everyone in the field believes that you should get a specific certification or degree in holistic health or nutrition.

Remember that most Nutrition Consultants through these types of holistic programs are not meant to diagnose or treat disease. It is a role complementary to healthcare providers. For this reason, many people prefer to become registered dieticians or M.D.s, with a focus on holistic nutrition, so they have more prestige and respect in their field.

In the process of making your decision, you should definitely meet with advisors of the programs, as well as professionals in the field. Nutritionists are NOT dieticians, and do not get the same freedom to diagnose and treat disease, but a dietician can achieve a career in holistic nutrition. Only you can decide which programs are right for you!

Careers

There are many careers available for holistic nutritionists, and the main ones tend to incorporate working in conjunction with community health, but you can also work as a consultant. Many holistic nutritionists find themselves interested in the restaurant industry, or work in places like Hollywood and Washington D.C. with celebrities and politicians who prefer alternative health methods. Here are a few career options:

  • Nutrition Consultant

  • Independent Private Health Consultant

  • Holistic Nutritionist/Dietician

  • Community Educator

  • Holistic Nutrition Blogger

  • Corporate Wellness Professional

  • Community Garden Administrator (Normally not-for-profit)

  • Holistic Chef

Required Reading