Food Science Vs Nutrition

*note: excuse my ignorance on the nutrition degree segment. I do not have a BS in Nutrition, just Food Science. I do however, have a lot of friends with degrees in Nutrition.*

A couple of students have asked me about the similarities and differences of having a food science degree and a nutrition degree. At first, I’ve always made a distinction that a food science degree is to process food better and nutrition is to see how food affects the body. Though this is generally true, can the degrees be interchangeable when it comes to getting an entry level job?

Related: Should I Take Food Science or Nutrition?

I’ve noticed that most nutrition students are actually kind of hesitant to apply for R+D food jobs. Somehow in your head, they think you need a food science degree to work in this field. Whenever I checked up job offerings, they actually state the major and ask for degrees in Food Science, Nutrition, Biochemistry, etc.

As I’ve been helping students decide their path, but also working in the wonderfully complex health and wellness space, I realized that maybe the degrees are a bit interchangeable. I think when hiring someone of either degree, they have their strengths, weaknesses and interests, but maybe the science part for an entry level job is pretty much the same.

A Food Science Degree

Is a food science degree required for a food industry job? The obvious answer is no. If you’re in quality, production, microbiology, or product development, do you really need a food science degree to get these jobs?

In most cases, this is an issue of supply and demand. Some states like California will require food scientists because there are so many universities churning them out. Arizona is a different story because it has no feeder schools. In fact, I believe I’m the only person with a US food science degree in my team of 13 R+D people.

I’ve noticed recently a lot of health and wellness companies have very few food scientists in their arsenal. The big reason for this is because health and wellness companies can hire formulators to manage and supervise outside sources which have teams of food scientists. A big example of this is the botanical industry who supply Health and Wellness companies tools they can just plug and play with.

Overall, having a bachelors of Food Science is nice, and will give you a firm advantage above many of your peers, but it won’t really set you apart unless the role is super specific. I’ve noticed no one cares about my degree anymore. They jump on my manufacturing experience instead.

So what does a food science degree offer to an employer?

  • An understanding of how macromolecules like carbohydrates, proteins, fats, water interact with each other
  • A basic understanding on the importance of efficiency, speed, energy, brix, pH in how it affects products
  • An appreciation for additives that may or may not be good for you
  • A general interest in food trends
  • A general understanding on how food is processed and acquired
  • A proven mindset on how to set up experiments and record data
  • A passion for food

A Nutrition Degree

In my university, nutrition classes were three times bigger than the food science classes. Nutrition is more widely known and more tangible than a food science degree, and it also sounds a bit better because you are trying to get people to be healthy instead of the many implications food scientists get when you first hear of them.

A handful of bright, ambitious students will want to get to be a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) which is a pretty tough process. I guess young, ambitious high school students love to drag their feet on glass to become a doctor/veterinarian/RDN. I think being an RDN is an amazing profession, but it’s tough which is why after a couple of years in college, some people must find other paths.

Some of those paths lead to food industry jobs. From what I can figure out, a lot of food technologists have nutrition degrees. Most of the staff where I work have nutrition degrees and we also have RDN’s on staff. In terms of what you have to do as a food technologist, having a nutrition degree won’t give you the facts, but it will give you the process.

In fact, being an RDN requires you to take cooking and food service classes which teaches you how to weigh and process food, giving you a practical understanding of bench top lab work. Food scientists are not required to even take cooking classes (though most do because it’s a fun class)

What does a Nutrition degree offer to an employer?

  • An understanding on what is healthy in a product
  • A basic understanding on the health benefits of macromolecules
  • An appreciation for health trends that may or may not be good for you
  • A general interest in health trends
  • A general understanding on how food benefits the body
  • A proven mindset on how to set up experiments and record data
  • A passion for food

How they are slowly merging together

Notice the difference and similarities between the two lists, especially at the end. Food Science and Nutrition majors have a strong chemistry backbone and any entry level job you take will either involve communicating, weighing or recording information. This is every food industry job ever.

The other parts, the facts, the creativity, is teachable. If anything, learn to be teachable.

We now live in a world where both Food Science and Nutrition are merging at a rapid pace. This is because the current trend in product development is highly focused on making processed food nutritious.

Instead of having nutritionists tell people to not eat “this”, they are working with food scientists to create “that”.

Therefore, being knowledgeable in both is vital.

A food scientist should learn about nutrition topics so he or she can question if the ingredients you put in a product are actually good for you.

A nutritionist should learn about food science to understand that food is processed and stored because it makes economical sense.

Being ignorant in both aspects is highly damaging in the food industry (cough, marketing) and if you see this in your company, you need to step up and educate.

I talk with my RDN every day, because she’s smart and understands what goes in our products in great detail. Every product I make, I consult her. At first, it was to balance digestive distress in fiber syrups, but now I generally ask her everything I can so I can use these to create great products.

Because I want my products to impact people. Not only in taste, but in their lifestyle.

Author: Adam Yee

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