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What Does a Nutritionist Do?

Nutritionists use their specialized knowledge of food and nutrition to promote healthy eating habits, treat illnesses, and inspire weight loss in their clients. Working professionally as a nutritionist or dietitian typically means holding formal training and certification.

Most jobs for nutritionists can be found in hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient care facilities, and doctor's offices. A given day might find a nutritionist drawing up a meal plan for a diabetic client, meeting with a group of people in a community center to promote healthy eating for young people, or collaborating with a doctor to help develop a plan for a critically ill person.

Some nutritionists may work as consultants, offering their services one-on-one in private homes or for wellness programs, sports teams, or nutrition-related businesses. Regardless of their exact job duties, many nutritionists are on their feet for much of the day, and some may work in hot, congested kitchens. However, nutritionists appreciate the job for the chance to help make individuals, families, and communities healthier through nutrition knowledge.

Formal Training Required to Become a Nutritionist

Though many use the terms "nutritionist" and "dietitian" interchangeably, the words do have an individual meaning in some locations. "Nutritionist" is often not a protected term in the U.S., meaning that an online nutritionist might not have the same certification or training as a licensed dietitian, and the term "certified nutritionist" is somewhat of a misnomer. In states where the term is protected, the nutritionist degrees are essentially equal to dietitian degrees and careers.

Formal training is still typically required for a dietitian or nutritionist seeking employment. Dietitians and nutritionists working for hospitals or the government typically need at least a bachelor's degree, plus they must meet licensure, certification, or registration requirements depending on their location. One may become a registered dietitian (RD) through the Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic Association.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that bachelor's degree programs in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management, or related areas are recommended for dietitians and nutritionists. Coursework combines science and business, and may include nutrition, institution management, food systems management, chemistry, and biochemistry.

Dietetic technicians work with dietitians to help create and produce meals for hospitals, communities, and individuals. The career requires a post-secondary vocational award. In 2008, 25,200 dietetic technicians were employed in the U.S. The career is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations in the coming years.

The Typical Career Path of a Nutritionist

Dietitians and nutritionists are interested in the chemistry and biology of food and how it affects people. Because of that, a natural aptitude for math and science are common, as are a high communication ability and a facility with teamwork and organization. Nutritionists who work on their own are particularly motivated, and generally have the desire and ability to successfully market their services to the general public. Dietitians and nutritionists should additionally be motivated to keep current on research and trends in diets and nutrition.

Dietitians and nutritionists with years of education and work experience may move into supervisory or management positions, or they may specialize in one facet of the field, such as pediatric nutrition or diabetic work. Nutritionists may also choose to become self-employed, working one-on-one with individuals hoping to improve their diet, lose weight, or integrate local foods into their meals.

Job Outlook and Salary Information for Nutritionists

Opportunities for nutritionist jobs are expected to be the best for those with specialized training, advanced degrees, or certification. Though an increasing interest in public health education and preventative care are expected to increase demand for the position, keen competition is still expected for applicants without bachelor's degrees.

The BLS reports that employment of dietitians and nutritionists is expected to grow 9 percent between 2008 and 2018, about as fast as average for all occupations. In 2009, nutritionists and dietitians earned median annual wages of $52,150. Those working in outpatient care centers earned $54,440, while those working for special food services earned $49,340. Typically, you can expect wages for nutritionists to rise with education, certification, and experience.

Employment (2016)
Average Salary
Expected Job Growth
Dietitians and Nutritionists61,430$58,92016.4%
Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2014-24 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.
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