How to Become a Nutritionist

Doctors and others in the medical community are looking toward prevention to help hold down health care costs. Increasingly, they are realizing that healthy patients are the key to the future of health care. Preventative care depends largely on convincing people to eat well, exercise, and avoid dangers to their health. Experts in these fields are a growing part of a health care team that in the past relied on surgeons and physicians to heal the sick. Dietitians and nutritionists are the medical professionals who advise patients how to improve their diets and how to use a diet to heal themselves. Nutritionists also work for institutions and the food industry, advising and creating healthy diets.

Food science has a long and somewhat colored history. For years, nutrition and medicine were virtually inseparable and the only medical treatments for illness and injury were often natural products, essentially food. Food science became fashionable early in the last century as food, previously a whole organic substance, was broken down into discrete bits like calories, vitamins, and carbohydrates. By studying the different properties of foods, scientists uncovered a new science of nutrition. Along the way, as in many nascent sciences, mistakes were made. The failure of many baby formulas to promote infant health is just one example of overstepping. Scientists distilled the elements of food while ignoring the goodness and integrity of natural foods. Dietary fads for weight loss are another instance of food science turned on its end and confusing people rather than having it add to their overall health. Dietary knowledge has begun to gel with older wisdom about food so that nutrition is used in conjunction with other medicine to both promote health and treat disease. If you learn how to become a nutritionist, you can join the science as it fully matures.

Nutritionists have different educational requirements than dietitians. Dietitians must earn a degree in food science or dietetics in order to become licensed as clinical dietitians; they usually have a masterís degree in their field. The term nutritionist is broader and may be applied to a variety of careers in the health care or food industry. Most nutritionists earn a bachelorís degree in either food science or dietetics but it is possible to begin a career as a nutritionist with an associateís degree in food science. Private associations, adhering to state standards, license dietitians. Nutritionists might also be required to attain a license or a certificate, depending on their career title. Deciding on a degree program is one of the first areas to examine.

After pursuing an appropriate degree, or while doing so, it is time to consider how to use the skills learned in a degree program. Nutritionists fill a number of niches in health care, the food industry, and in institutional management. In health care, nutritionists often work with patients before they are sick, consulting on diets designed to prevent conditions such as diabetes or gout. They also consult with other care providers to create diets for patients who a disease or injury. Nutritionists also work in the food industry, advising food producers on labeling and improving products. Nutritionists can design meal plans for large and diverse populations in institutions like schools, hospitals, and even prisons. They also consult with institutional authorities to encourage healthy eating and attitudes. Salaries across these disciplines differ quite a bit. When looking into how to become a nutritionist, comparing salaries with job titles is one of the most important facets to explore. Additional education and specialization will influence earnings.

Last Updated: 05/22/2014