Study Holistic Nutrition: PhD, Master's Degree & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a holistic nutrition program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD in holistic nutrition and potential careers.
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Holistic Nutrition Master's and PhD Degrees at a Glance

Practitioners of holistic nutrition integrate a patient's lifestyle into a nutritional regimen. Professional credentialing can be obtained through the Holistic Nutrition Credentialing Board (HNCB), which recognizes holistic nutrition as separate from and complementary to allopathic approaches. Aggregate data for growth of the industry is not collected at this time.

Master's degree programs in holistic nutrition are available. Individuals looking for a PhD program in holistic nutrition will not find programs separate from more mainstream doctoral nutrition programs. These programs are science-heavy and focus on research. They work from the paradigm of allopathic or evidence-based medicine (EBM).

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in studying holistic nutrition at the graduate level Individuals interested in performing professional-level research regarding holistic nutrition from a biomedical standpoint
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Nutritionist ($55,000 - some master's programs meet state licensing requirements)*
- Life coach ($23,000-$107,000 - range depending on time in practice)**
- University nutrition professor ($65,000)*
- Medical scientist (except epidemiologists, $76,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full time 3-5 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 20-30 courses
- Master's thesis or research paper
- Master's exams
- Roughly 16-20 courses
- PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation
- Teaching requirement
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree Bachelor's or master's degree in nutrition, chemistry or related field with nutrition coursework
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Payscale.com (January 2013 figures).

Master's in Holistic Nutrition

A master's degree in holistic nutrition is the highest-level degree awarded at this time in this specific field, and holistic nutrition master's programs are not all that common. These master's programs may or may not be designed to address state credentialing requirements for more generalized nutritionists. Those addressing state requirements are more likely to have in-depth physical sciences requirements, addressing such areas as biochemistry, anatomy and physiology. Additionally, these programs are likely to be more useful in seeking a PhD in the field of nutrition.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Courses in holistic nutrition programs may have been carefully selected to match certain credentialing requirements
  • Some programs are designed to fulfill standard nutritionist board certification requirements while holding true to their holistic roots
  • Holistic nutrition programs may offer practical programs where foods are prepared in 'laboratory' exercises

Cons

  • Holistic nutrition programs at the master's level are fairly rare and may require relocation
  • Holistic nutrition board certification does not count toward state credentialing requirements for dieticians
  • Becoming a holistic nutrition specialist does not always require a master's degree

Courses and Requirements

Programs come in two varieties. One tailors training specifically to the field of holistic nutrition, while the other also fulfills the requirements for licensing as a more mainstream professional nutritionist, matching the requirements of many states. In either case, requirements for the HNCB test are generally met, while those offering training to prepare for state licensing will also give training necessary for understanding allopathic implications of diet and nutrition. Topics covered in these programs may include:

  • Applying statistics in a nutritional setting
  • Assessment and pathophysiology
  • Integrative medicine and research methods
  • Nutritional biochemistry
  • Therapeutic diet
  • Lifelong nutrition

Online Degree Options

If you're seeking out online training in holistic nutrition, you may want to carefully examine several aspects of prospective programs. For those seeking out nutritionist and holistic nutritionist certifications of specific types, selecting a program that fulfills course and training expectations may require that you research and communicate with both programs and credentialing boards. Additionally, some online nutritionist programs may cover holistic approaches as part of the training.

Stand Out with This Degree

If you're looking to stand out with a master's degree in holistic nutrition, you may want to seek out professional credentialing through the HNCB. You may even go further and seek credentialing as a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS). This credential generally applies for those seeking state licensing. As some employers look for the CNS designation, this route may open up additional employment opportunities.

Doctorate in Holistic Nutrition

Students looking to earn a PhD in the area of holistic nutrition, often for research and teaching purposes, will likely need to enroll in broader nutrition doctoral programs. These programs, like most PhD programs, are extremely rigorous, working from a strict allopathic position to determine clinical applications and effectiveness of approaches to nutrition. Because of the gap between the approaches of holistic nutrition and nutrition, both in terms of physical sciences training and medical rigorousness, students looking to take this route need to carefully prepare academically for entry into the desired program.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A PhD in the broader area of nutrition may lend itself to employment opportunities that go beyond the scope of holistic nutrition
  • A research-focused doctoral degree in nutrition may provide the chance to influence the larger field of nutrition with holistic approaches through clinical research and trials
  • This graduate degree, with appropriate experience and publication, can provide a launching point for an academic career of teaching and advanced research leadership

Cons

  • Earning a PhD in the field of nutrition requires a significant outlay of both time and money, similar to many doctoral programs
  • Nutrition programs, founded on allopathic principals and clinical testing, may at times challenge the assumptions of holistic nutrition
  • Because of the relationship between holistic nutrition and more middle-of-the-road nutrition programs, interested students may want to be careful in selecting the program to which they apply

Courses and Requirements

If you are looking to research and study holistic nutrition in an academic setting, some nutrition doctoral programs are highly customizable and may allow you to focus on specific areas, such as holistic nutrition. Some, but not all, programs offer coursework in holistic nutrition and related topics and may encourage coursework outside of the department to round out a program. Additionally, specific coursework having to do with disease prevention and limiting the effects of the aging process may be found in some programs. Because of the research-based nature of doctoral programs, mathematical, statistical and other analytical methods may also be required. Such programs likely cover:

  • Human physiology and anatomy
  • Clinical research methods in nutrition
  • Research multivariate statistics
  • Exercise physiology
  • Family nutrition
  • Health promotion

Online Degree Options

Perhaps because of the critical role that these nutrition programs hold in the formation of teachers and researchers, there are no online or hybrid nutrition programs available at the doctoral level at this time.

Stand Out with This Degree

As with many graduate programs, if you're looking to stand out above the crowd, you may want to select an area of research that is pertinent to the field as it stands. Special notice can come from seeking out opportunities for internships or funded research through such sources as the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In addition to research money and opportunities, these awards carry professional recognition and prestige.

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George Mason University

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The George Washington University

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Northcentral University

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