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Nutritionist: Education and Career Information

Nutritionists are highly specialized, scientific positions, charged with the research and creation of meal programs for healthcare facilities, schools, and other entities. Nutritionists are on the board of consultants who help decide the National Dietary Standards and offers guidance in a number of areas for healthy eating and quality-of-life initiatives. A nutritionist is also called a dietician, depending on their role and where they work. This can be a very rewarding career path designed for individuals who place a high priority on helping others maintain good health.

What does a nutritionist do?

A nutritionist is a specialized position that provides guidance and education in a number of areas. There are a number of specialties where nutritionists are needed:

Food Nutrition: Food nutritionists typically work in a setting where research and science is the primary objective. These positions are found in food manufacturing, academic settings and entities that benefit from providing nutritional values and content, such as the food-service industry, public relations and advertising companies, supermarkets, pharmacies, and regulatory agencies. This role is also highly involved in community development and health improvement initiatives.

Animal Nutrition: Animal nutritionists are scientists that use anatomy and physiology as a basis for understanding the dietary needs and disorders of animals. They run nutritional experiments and make recommendations for pet food companies to increase the nutritional value of their products. These scientists work in education, research-based companies, or as consultants.

Nutrition Science: A nutrition scientist examines how food and nutrients affect the metabolic and physiological responses of the body. This person thoroughly understands molecular biology, physiology, biochemistry and genetics to make informed choices and recommendations. These positions usually work in a research capacity.

Sports & Exercise Nutrition: These nutritionists work on the development, implementation and evaluation of strategies designed to provide optimal performance in exercise and sports scenarios. They analyze statistics to properly determine the fluid, energy and nutrient demands for particular sports and athletes according to their metabolism, size, and chemical makeup. Nutritionists work with professional sports teams, supplement companies, recreational athletes and others on every level of the sports arena. They also work in sports physiology programs in academic settings.

Public Health Nutrition: Nutritionists who work in the public health setting develop, implement and evaluate programs and policies based on empirical evidence and scientific knowledge to educate the public on the impacts food and diet have on the well-being of communities and individuals as a whole. Their role includes advocacy, policy and programming, evaluation and assessment, and providing research and education that link food, nutrients and diet to better health.

These roles may also assess nutritional needs and dietary restrictions, advise and consult with physicians and other health care practitioners to determine nutritional courses of action, advise and consult with patients on their nutritional needs, monitor food service operations, counsel groups on healthy eating habits, and provide concepts and standards for recipe development in food service organizations.

How much do nutritionists earn?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the salary of a nutritionist to be about $56,170 after a few years of experience, but they can make up to $82,650 depending on location, specialty and education. Nutritionists just starting out usually earn a salary around $34,500. All nutritionists must be licensed based on the outlined professional standards by passing a national examination.

What types of skills are needed to be successful in this field?

According to Career Planner, there are a number of skills needed to be successful in this role:

Speaking: Nutritionists have to speak to professionals and individuals on a number of topics. Being able to clearly articulate the issues and solutions is important.

Research: Nutrition requires a lot of research and data evaluation. Research skills are needed to find, extract, evaluate and disseminate huge quantities of information.

Writing: Many nutritionists are involved in writing proposals and other communications that must be distributed to officials on all levels. A good grasp of writing is crucial.

Active listening: Being able to work with clients and patients also means being able to listen to their issues, concerns and needs. Actively listening to directives will help in creating and implementing the best solutions.

Time management: Dietary restrictions can be very time sensitive. A good nutritionist should be able to place patients on a viable schedule in short amounts of time, and work with medical professionals to meet time constraints. If the nutritionist’s role is in policy and management, meeting deadlines is an integral part of the job.

Problem solving: Understanding and providing solutions to nutritional issues requires good problem solving skills to get the job done and provide effective resolutions.

Persuasion: There are many situations where nutritionists need to persuade patients, clients, community officials and policy makers on how their suggestions will make a positive impact. Being able to effectively persuade your audience is key.

Monitoring and Assessment: Being able to monitor and assess the outcomes of recommendations is important in ensuring each protocol is followed and the results are conveyed.

Coordination: A nutritionist has to carefully coordinate a number of elements and components to be effective.

Budgeting: In this role, knowing how to budget goes a long way. This will help in providing grocery lists for patients, putting together cost-containment procedures for food-service industry clients, and plays a major part in implementing new initiatives on the national level.

Administrative skills: Being technologically savvy and having good administrative skills will assist in keeping research, documentation and communications organized. Having administrative skills are also an essential part of being productive.

Internship requirements

All individuals in a degreed nutritionist program have to complete an ACEND-accredited supervised practice program. This should be done at a healthcare facility, food-service corporation or community agency based on your area of specialization. This can be combined with both undergraduate and graduate programs of study and usually last for 12 months.

Education requirements

Individuals who wish to become registered dieticians have a number of requirements to meet. There is a rigorous coursework schedule consisting of diverse subjects such as chemistry, science, food and nutrition, culinary arts, sociology and communication, anatomy and other sciences which include chemistry, biochemistry, physiology and microbiology.

Dietician programs are offered at a number of universities and require coursework that will grant a bachelor’s degree. The program must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). A national examination must be taken after the program is completed to obtain licensure, and there are additional continuing education requirements necessary to maintain the license. Depending on the state, there may be additional requirements for licensed registered dieticians and nutritionists.

For those individuals who wish to pursue a career in nutritional academia, master’s programs are available. There are a number of specialties that require additional certifications, which are awarded through CDR. Some of these specialties include sports dietetics, diabetes education and nutrition support.

The work of a nutritionist always lingers in the background of the sports, recreation, foodservice, national healthcare and medical industries and is an integral part of their corporate strategy. This role is a playmaker in the foundation of health and wellness initiatives that make an overall difference in how food is prepared, presented and perceived every day.

Nutrition/Dietitian Scholarships

CANfit Scholarships California Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (CRAEF) Scholarship Grand Rapids Community Foundation Scholarships
Kikkoman Foods Inc. – FFA Scholarship Health Research and Educational Trust Health Center Scholarships National Poultry & Food Distributors Association Scholarship
Institute of Food Technology Scholarships General Mills Graduate Scholarship Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior


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