“This master's programme has helped me deepen the understanding on physiological aspects of nutrition and health”

Master’s Programme in Human Nutrition and Food-Related Behaviour is for people who are interested in any aspect of nutrition. Read Elisabetta Cantini's experience of studying in the programme.

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietics in Scotland, Elisabetta Cantini, originally from Italy, joined the Master’s Programme in Human Nutrition and Food-Related Behaviour in Helsinki. She had already gained some professional experiences as a dietitian and wanted to deepen her knowledge.

Who is the Human Nutrition and Food-Related Behaviour programme for?

I would say the programme is for anyone interested in any aspect of nutrition. It is a genuinely multidisciplinary programme, with courses and topics ranging from molecular mechanisms on how nutrition affects chronic diseases, as well as covering political aspects including transition to more sustainable diets and public health, and sociological features, like how different type of diets can shape our identities, traditions, and how social media can influence what we eat. Students come from different backgrounds: while I’ve studied nutrition and dietics previously, and have some professional experiences too, other students in the programme have a background in psychology, business, and home economics, as well as other fields such as biotechnology. 

What is unique about this programme?

Working as a dietitian made me realize I wanted to deepen my knowledge on nutritional physiology and molecular mechanisms, so I started to look for Human Nutrition courses in Europe. This one at the University of Helsinki caught my attention straight away because of the multidisciplinary approach they offer. This programme suited me perfectly because of the flexibility: students can choose from many courses, for example in my case, on sustainability, pharmacology, and language studies (including Finnish).

This programme has a relaxing atmosphere for learning. The lecturers and other teaching staff are available and easy to approach, and they encourage openness and dialogue in the classroom and with them too. Usually, our classes are pretty small, and it is easy to get to know the other students. You can also do internships, or sign up for open university courses.

What is it like to study in the programme in practice?

There are some reading and written assignments to do independently, which are then put into practice. The Human Nutrition side of the studies includes also many practical classes such as Nutritional Status Assessment in which we did, for example, anthropometry analysis on ourselves. In Experimental Nutrition Research we did a small task in the cellular laboratory and a mini-intervention plan on ourselves to better understand what designing a randomized controlled trial involves and what it means to be a subject of a nutrition trial.

There aren’t many big exams as such, but instead our assessment is through assignments, group project works, peer reviews and article workshops. These types of assessments suit me best as I believe the learning process is more personal and I can myself identify what I need to read more about if I am not understanding a particular concept. Working in peer groups is also quite enriching because you can see how other people approach the assignments. They make you think a bit more critically of your own understanding of things.

What kind of professional options do students have after graduating?

There are many options. One career option is in research, perhaps starting as a research assistant in an international organisation. Another great option would be to give reliable, evidence-based nutritional advice to the general public by working, for example, with local or international NGOs. Other options could be in commercial sector in food product development, or working for governmental organisations carrying out nutritional public health-related research. The career choices can extend also to working with healthcare companies.

Is there something in particular you would like to achieve with your studies? 

I want to deepen my understanding on physiological aspects of nutrition and health. The programme also broadens my job opportunities, which is great because I want to have more extensive job opportunities in the research field, as well as in clinical nutrition (mainly hospital-based).

How is your student life in Helsinki/Viikki Campus?

Student life is active and there’s something for everyone who wants to get involved. There is a nutrition-related student club that organizes days out in the nature, team-sports afternoons, and social gatherings.

Helsinki student union is also quite active and organises various events in the city center and elsewhere. Viikki Campus, which is the main campus for HNFB students, is not far from the city center and there is a very nice cycle path that connects them. As a student you also get many discounts: a train ticket is half the price and there are many University restaurants around the city: they are cheap and nutritious food is guaranteed! Also, the Finnish students and teachers have been super helpful in giving some guidance and tips on practical daily things. I am definitely having a positive experience!

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Master’s Programme in Human Nutrition and Food-Related Behaviour

What happens to food in our body? How does nutrition maintain our health? How do we study the way people use food? How does culture influence our food choices? How is food discussed in the media? How can we change food-related behaviour?

The Master’s Programme in Human Nutrition and Food-Related Behaviour (HNFB) focuses on human nutrition, food-related behaviour and food consumption from the perspectives of public health nutrition, nutrition physiology and the social sciences.