CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a nutritionist.
Is becoming a nutritionist right for me?
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Most undergraduate degree programs in nutrition require a high school diploma or GED, a satisfactory GPA, and satisfactory Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or American College Test (ACT) scores.
As noted, some practitioners who use the title ‘Nutritionist’ are self-taught and/or self-proclaimed. This is not illegal, because there are no regulatory bodies governing titles such as Nutritionist, Health coach, Registered Nutritionist, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Wellness Coach, and Nutrition Specialist.
However, formal education options to enter the field do exist, at the Certificate level, the Associate’s Degree level, and the Bachelor’s Degree level. While curricula for these different credentials vary in scope and intricacy, the subject areas covered are similar:
• Food Science and Nutrient Composition of Foods
• Nutrition and Supporting Sciences
• Education and Communication
• Screening and Assessment
• Planning and Intervention
• Monitoring and Evaluation
• Quality Improvement
• Menu Development
• Sanitation and Safety
Potential work environments for nutritionists are diverse. They include:
• hospitals, clinics, and long-term healthcare facilities
• social service agencies
• correctional services
• pharmaceutical and medical supply companies
• fitness centers
• home health agencies
• corporations (employee wellness programs)
• food processing, food service, catering companies, restaurants
• non-profit and community organizations
• colleges and universities
• public and private schools and school districts
• self-employment / consultant
Where nutritionists are employed dictates, to some degree, what exactly they will do. Those who work in a healthcare setting may focus on the prevention and treatment of illnesses such as obesity and hypertension through proper diet. Nutritionists who work with personal trainers or athletic coaches may be responsible for optimizing athletes’ levels of performance.
Certification (optional) & Resources
Various organizations offer voluntary certifications in the area of nutrition:
How to become a Nutritionist
Before beginning the discussion about how to become a nutritionist, it is imperative to make an important distinction.
Registered Dietician Nutritionists typically hold a Bachelor’s Degree in dietetics, which includes the coursework mandated by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). These professionals are regulated and occupy a very specific niche in the nutrition field. They have a dedicated section on this website and therefore will not be discussed here.
In both the United States and Canada, ‘Nutritionist’ is largely an unregulated term. This means that practitioners who use the title are not legally defined. They are likely to have varying degrees of nutrition-specific education and are not subject to any licensure mandates. Some may be self-taught, self-proclaimed nutritionists; some may have only a certificate; others may hold a Bachelor’s Degree in nutrition, nutritional sciences, or dietetics. And still others may hold a Master’s or Ph.D. in the field.
Nutritionist programs may be available at traditional colleges and universities and at specialized trade schools, alternative medicine centers, and clinics. They often provide instruction in both science and nutrition. Science courses typically include anatomy and physiology, chemistry, microbiology, biochemistry, and biopsychology. The nutrition portion of the curriculum covers food science, nutrition and disease, nutrition assessment and counseling, nutritional supplements, and nutrition in the life cycle. Some training programs offer students the opportunity to gain real-life experience via practicums or internships in clinical or medical settings.
In North America, nutritionists may establish their practice under titles such as Nutritional Practitioner, Holistic Nutritionist, Nutrition Consultant, or Health Coach.