How Do I Become a Nutritionist?

If you have an interest in food and science and enjoy working with people, you may be wondering how to become a nutritionist.

A nutritionist is an expert on the effects of food on health and a professional advisor of what foods to eat in order to achieve or maintain a healthy lifestyle. Nutritionists are so closely related to dieticians that the terms are sometimes used interchangeably in the United States. Although the profession is part of the health care industry, nutritionists may function in more of a public health education role than their dietician counterparts, who are more likely to develop meal plans or provide individual consulting to patients in hospitals, inpatient care facilities or outpatient medical offices. Nutritionists are also more likely than dietitians to embrace “holistic” or “alternative” nutritional therapies, like adding nutritional supplements to a diet. They may aim to prevent an unfavorable health condition through nutrition rather than simply using diet to control existing conditions.

As a food expert, a nutritionist must not only know the scientific research behind nutrition but must also be able to communicate that research and explain the rationale behind suggested dietary changes. Some nutritionists work one-on-one with clients on a consulting basis. A nutritionist may begin helping a client by evaluating their current dietary choices and their needs based on age, gender, height and weight and level of activity. A nutritionist may then encourage the client to make dietary changes and develop a meal plan for the client to follow. In a public health role, nutritionists may provide educational programs and lectures to communities, schools and workplaces.

Nutritionists must have a solid grasp of the sciences, including biology, chemistry and especially nutrition. They must also be comfortable interacting with people, either on a one-on-one consulting basis or as a public health education provider, so communication skills like public speaking are important. Aspiring nutritionists should possess organizational, analytical and managerial skills, especially if they intend to work in a position that oversees the development of a facility-wide meal plan.

Licensing requirements vary by state. Though some states do not have strict, or even any, licensing, certification or registration laws regarding nutritionists, an excellent education is a necessity for those candidates interested in pursuing the field and establishing a legitimate career. Nutritionists should earn a bachelor’s degree in food, nutrition, dietetics, health or a related field. Many programs include work experience in the form of an internship as part of a nutritionist’s education. An aspiring nutritionist should complete any licensing, certification or registration requirements necessary in the state in which he or she intends to practice. To further establish their legitimacy and expertise, a nutritionist may apply for memberships or certifications in nutrition organizations, such as the Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) certification from the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB).

Nutrition is a growing field within the health care industry. If you have an interest in science and food, knowing how to become a nutritionist can help you start your rewarding new career.

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