Becoming a nutritionist is one of the most complicated educational paths. Here’s 4 steps you need to know



Nearly all Americans—9 out of 10—consume too much sodium, according to the CDC. Most of us also eat too much sugar and saturated fat—not to mention a lack of regular exercise. All of these factors contribute to a seemingly laundry list of potential health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

If all of this worries you (and it should), then exploring a career in nutrition may be a path for you. Not only can you become an expert in food science and healthy habits, but more importantly, you get the opportunity to help others through goal setting and advice. 

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Over the next decade, the demand for nutritionists and dietetics is set to rise faster than the national average for all jobs, based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Plus, the median pay is just shy of $70,000. 

While the field of nutrition sounds like a promising space, it is one of the most complicated to understand from an educational perspective. It is true that largely, anyone can claim to be a nutritionist, but in order to give professional advice—especially in a clinic setting—individuals must receive proper certification.   If you follow these four simplified steps, you can be well on your way to a career as a nutritionist:

1. Explore the subject

2. Know your state’s rules and requirements

3. Highly consider getting a degree

4. Engage in lifelong learning

Explore the subject

The best way to figure out if you truly enjoy the world of nutrition is to learn the day-to-day life of someone in the field.

As a result, it is a great practice to start watching YouTube videos or TikToks about the world of nutrition. If it fascinates you but you still aren’t entirely sold, explore nutritionist programs on education websites like Udemy or even enroll in a nutrition certification. Fortune has ranked the best nutritionist certifications to provide you with some of the best places to start that can provide a balance of having a thorough curriculum while also being affordable and flexible. However, it is important to keep in mind that these won’t propel you necessarily to a career just yet (keep reading below about state requirements).

During your exploration process, also begin thinking about where you would like to apply your nutrition skills—because it doesn’t have to just be in an office-like setting.

“Typically, nutrition professionals will be in a one on one setting, but there’s also many nutrition professionals that will study the science of nutrition and venture off into research or corporate wellness or any other of those sectors,” says Shaina Painter, MS, CNS, and nutritionist at Being Health.

Having a passion for scientific knowledge, in areas like nutrition science, biochemistry, and pathophysiology, will prove useful, Painter adds.

Know your state’s rules and requirements

Every single state has different guidelines when it comes to who can become a nutritionist and how; moreover each state may have different titles. Websites like nutritionED.org have plenty of resources that can help you find your states’ rules as well as advice for how to meet the requirements on a state-by-state basis. 

Though, you still may want to conduct a Google search of your state’s nutritionist governing body—which may fall under the umbrella of a state’s department of labor or commerce—to find the most up-to-date requirements. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Nutrition Association are two of the largest organizations in the space and are partnered with many state entities.

For example, the state of Florida requires those wanting to become licensed in the field of dietetics and nutrition to have a bachelor’s degree in a field relating to human nutrition, food and nutrition, dietetics, or food management. Plus, individuals must have 900 hours of pre-professional supervised practice in dietetics and nutrition, along with passing the Commission on Dietetic Registration exam. 

Other states, like Colorado and Arizona, have no regulations in the nutritionist space. However, it is important to keep in mind that certain jobs may require you to have industry-recognized certifications and licensures. 

Highly consider getting a degree

Love it or hate it, but the most successful and experienced nutritionists are the ones with an educational backing. In most instances, a bachelor’s degree with a major focused in the world of nutrition is a baseline requirement. And in most states, an advanced degree—meaning a master’s or even doctorate—is required to meet licensure requirements.

Painter says having a master’s degree enables students to learn the standardized and structured information to succeed—which only provides safety to clients but also efficacy in making recommendations.

“If somebody has a medical condition, they really should be seeing a registered dietician who has the credential and the science background to help them,” explains Michelle Routhenstein, MS, RD, CDCES, CDN, owner of Entirely Nourished.

Even beyond state requirements, having an advanced degree can only help you in terms of having the expertise and skills to be providing professional medical advice. Nutrition is a serious business as different foods can have drastic effects on peoples’ bodies, so it should go without saying that you need to have the proper education with facts driving your assessments.

Luckily, finding a place to obtain a degree in nutrition isn’t too much of a complex task as hundreds of schools across the country have both bachelor’s and master’s programs—many of which are even offered through an online format. And since the process for becoming licensed can be complicated, having professors and peers who you can consult with is also an added perk.

Engage in lifelong learning

The way we ate 50 years ago is in many ways completely different from what we eat today, so nutrition is no exception to the idea that lifelong learning is of the utmost importance. 

This is especially notable considering the amount of misinformation about proper nutrition. A study released earlier this year found that only 2% of nutrition content on TikTok was proven accurate based on regulated public health and nutrition guidelines. 

As a result, constantly reading up on new studies, new types of popular food ingredients, as well as simple medical community research is important for a successful nutritionist. Your clients will likely bring you questions about new trends and popular foods, and you must be ready to bust any myths and/or explain how they can affect one’s body.

The takeaway

When considering a career as a nutritionist, one of the most important things to remember is that you will need years of education and professional training to not only have the appropriate expertise to provide nutrition recommendations to clients but also to be recognized by top employers. While this may sound daunting, the world of nutrition has many benefits, including simply being able to help other people improve their lives by what they consume—or not consume.

While it is a complicated educational space to follow, one of the best practices is to find yourself a mentor who may be able to explain the world based on their own experience. Above all, though, if you simply follow your state’s guidelines, you can be well on your way toward becoming an expert nutritionist.


Check out all of Fortune’rankings of degree programs, and learn more about specific career paths.





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