Nutrition is life. It's right down there on the foundational level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs – food. We all know we need to eat to sustain life. But what science is increasingly realising is just how connected our nutrition choices are to other aspects of our health.
If you’re currently working in healthcare – perhaps as a nurse, psychologist, physiotherapist, occupational therapist or exercise physiologist – chances are the subject of food comes up a lot, even if it’s not your main area of expertise. You might be finding that to provide holistic support to your clients and community, having a knowledge of human nutrition principles is vital.
Here's how studying human nutrition at Deakin can help.
Why nutrition matters
Nutrition plays a key role in most of the ailments and conditions for which people seek help from an allied health professional. From chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes to growing public health concerns like obesity and mental health problems, nutrition is an important consideration when it comes to prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
'Nutrition underpins and plays a role in most health conditions that we are seeing the rise of in modern society,' says Dr Catherine Milte, course director of postgraduate human nutrition at Deakin University. 'For most chronic diseases, one of the number one risk factors is poor nutrition. It really makes sense for healthcare professionals to consider nutrition as one of the ways to support the health of the whole body.'
Many allied health professionals may not have covered nutrition in great detail in their previous training. And having a thorough understanding of nutrition is especially important as the general public becomes increasingly curious – and perhaps misinformed – about everything from fad diets and superfoods to the effect of food on mood.
'Deakin's human nutrition courses give students foundation knowledge in nutrition,' Dr Milte says. 'We cover how nutrients are absorbed and used by the body, the role that food plays in supporting health and prevention of a wide range of health conditions. This helps students sort fact from fiction, which can be a bit of a minefield in nutrition.'
Using nutrition on the job
How can studying human nutrition help allied health professionals out in the field? In addition to an exercise plan, a physiotherapist working with an older person to prevent falls and frailty might recommend a diet higher in protein and other nutrients to help build and maintain the muscle they need to promote strength.
A growing body of nutritional psychology research shows better quality diets are consistently associated with reduced depression risk, so a psychologist treating someone for depression and anxiety might make food recommendations in addition to providing traditional forms of therapy.
Being able to recognise nutritional problems and refer people to nutritionists or dietitians adds another string to an allied health professional’s bow. For example, malnutrition can be a serious problem within services like aged care, and allied health professionals with nutrition knowledge are able to identify it and seek specialist assistance.
Choose the right course for you
Deakin offers three postgraduate human nutrition courses for allied health professionals keen to expand their expertise and career prospects: the Master of Human Nutrition, the Graduate Diploma of Human Nutrition and the Graduate Certificate of Human Nutrition.
'The Graduate Certificate of Human Nutrition offers a foundation in nutrition science, so it really gives you a good understanding of the physiology and biochemistry behind nutrition, the importance of nutrition over the lifespan, the nutrients in food and how they work,' Dr Milte says.
'The Graduate Diploma of Human Nutrition and the Master of Human Nutrition allow more choice of elective units so students can pick what they're interested in such as nutrition in childhood, nutrition policy, nutrition in ageing and nutrition promotion. In the masters program, students also have the opportunity to do an independent research project.'
One of the most popular aspects of Deakin's postgraduate human nutrition courses is they're delivered online. The flexible delivery mode makes it easier to combine study, work and home life.