How to Become a Nutritionist

6 Min Read Published October 3, 2023
how to become a nutritionist

Nutritionists educate patients and organizations about healthy eating habits to prevent illness and promote a healthy lifestyle. By using fact-based dietary advice, nutritionists help people live healthier lives with food education and behavior modification.

This guide will provide an overview of what a nutritionist is, what they do, salary outlook, how to become one, educational requirements, and everything else you wanted to know about becoming a nutritionist!

What Is a Nutritionist?

A nutritionist is a healthcare professional who educates people with fact-based food guidance to help them make better food choices and lead healthier lifestyles.

Nutritionists often take on a variety of tasks, including:

  • Wellness coaching
  • Sports nutrition
  • Consulting with individuals or groups on weight loss and weight maintenance
  • Creating nutrition plans and meal plans for organizations

Though becoming a nutritionist requires no official formal training, licensing, or certification, many still pursue a minimum of a bachelor’s nutrition degree and additional certifications.  

Nutritionists work in many patient care environments, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Clinics
  • Private practices
  • Schools
  • Food service areas
  • Government agencies
  • Health departments
  • Sports organizations
  • Research settings

Nutritionists can work with clients one-on-one or as a group. For example, nutritionists who work individually with clients may provide the appropriate dietary strategy to address a particular issue such as diabetes or gerontological nutrition.

However, many nutritionists work in a community setting, such as a school or corporation. In this setting, a nutritionist may create a “healthy food challenge” or set group health goals that encourage peer support.

Some nutritionists are entrepreneurs who work as consultants. In this situation, nutritionists may need to work evenings and weekends to meet with clients unavailable at other times. 

What Do Nutritionists Do?

A nutritionist’s main job is to promote healthy eating by educating and supporting their clients through various methods. 

Daily responsibilities that a nutritionist may have include: 

  • Reviewing patient’s medical and physical history to identify nutritional and health needs
  • Developing nutrition plans for individuals or large populations or groups
  • Assessing the effectiveness of nutritional and behavioral modifications and making changes if needed
  • Creating educational pamphlets or other materials about how food and health are related
  • Educating individuals and large groups about the importance of healthy eating habits and overall well-being
  • Conducting nutrition research
  • Recording patient and group progress toward nutritional goals

Nutritionist Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for nutritionists and dieticians is $66,450 or $31.95per hour. However, there is a wide range in income across the country, with the lowest ten percent of professionals earning less than $44,140 and the highest ten percent earning over $95,130. 

The wide range is due to many factors, including education, years of experience, work environment, and geographic location.

Highest Paying States for Nutritionists 

The five top-paying states for nutritionists, according to the BLS, are:


Annual Mean Salary 

District of Columbia






New York


New Jersey


Nutritionist Salary by Place of Work

The BLS also states that the type of business a nutritionist works in also plays a significant role in the median annual salary they can earn. 


Annual Mean Salary

Computer Systems Design and Related Services


Home Health Care Services


Scientific Research and Development Services


Merchant Wholesalers, Nondurable Goods


Federal Executive Branch


Nutritionists who work in hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and other organizations may also receive additional compensation in paid time off, sick leave, health insurance, tuition reimbursement, or other bonuses.

How to Become a Nutritionist

There are no formal education, licensure, or coursework regulations for clinical nutritionists in the U.S. Therefore, the path to career entry mainly depends on the individual candidate’s goals. Becoming a nutritionist can include one of the following pathways.

1. Nutrition Certification

There are many types of certification programs for aspiring nutritionists who do not want to obtain a formal education in nutrition science. You can educate yourself through in-person or online certification courses. The instruction can also be traditional or holistic and can take as little as two to four months to complete.

2. Nutritionist with a Bachelor's Degree 

Although not required, many nutritionists earn a four-year bachelor’s degree in some type of health science or related degree. Many nutritionists with a health science background also complete additional nutrition certification programs.

3. Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) with a Master’s or Doctoral Degree

Nutritionists who want to achieve an advanced level of knowledge and earn a recognized credential can become Certified Nutrition Specialists (CNS)

Becoming a CNS requires earning either a master’s or doctoral degree, completing over 1,000 hours of supervised experience, and passing a credentialing exam administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists.

4. Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Because of their similarity, the career pathways of a clinical dietician and nutritionist can be confusing. However, dieticians must obtain significantly more formal education and training and become licensed before practicing as an RDN. 

Becoming an RDN is another pathway that nutritionists might consider, as it can offer more career and advancement opportunities. To become an RDN, candidates must earn a bachelor of science (BS) in dietetics or another food science field OR earn a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), or Master of Public Health (MPH) in dietetics or other food science field.

For licensure eligibility as an RDN, make sure the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) has accredited your program.

What Is the Career Outlook for Nutritionists? 

The career outlook is bright for nutritionists due to increasing interest in preventive healthcare, the medical needs of an aging population, and a rise in adult and pediatric obesity.

Some of the most significant health concerns nutritionists can help with are diabetes and heart disease education and management. Since both conditions respond well to nutrition and eating behavior modifications, nutritionists will play an essential role in treatment planning. 

The BLS anticipates a 7% increase in growth in the profession between 2022-2032 and the need for an additional 5,200 during that period.

Continuing Education Requirements for Nutritionists 

Because nutritionists are not subject to national regulation in the same way that dietitians are, there are no specific educational, licensing, or continuing education requirements for an individual to practice. 

However, for nutritionists who earn a CNS credential, recertification requires 75 continuing education credits every five years. 

Where Can I Learn More About Becoming a Nutritionist?

There are many online resources available for those interested in a career as a nutritionist, such as:


Nutritionist FAQs 

  • How long do you have to go to school to be a nutritionist?

    • There are no regulations for nutritionist education in the U.S., so the path to enter the field is largely dependent upon the individual candidate’s goals. Earning a nutrition certificate can take as little as 12 months, and obtaining a master’s degree and certification as a CNS can take as long as six years.
  • Can I be a nutritionist without a degree?

    • Although many nutritionists have four-year bachelor’s degrees or other advanced degrees that center on food management, biology, or the physical sciences, it is not mandatory to earn a degree to become a nutritionist. 
  •  Can I become a nutritionist online?

    • Many online colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in nutrition and online certification programs to become a nutritionist.
  •  What is the highest-paying job in nutrition?

    • The BLS states that nutritionists who work in outpatient care centers earn the highest median salary in the U.S. However, there are several high-paying careers in nutrition, including consulting, coaching, and nutrition directors for corporate environments or athletic organizations.
  •  Is it better to be a dietitian or nutritionist?

    • Dietitians must earn a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and become licensed as registered dieticians (RDs). They are also qualified to diagnose and treat illnesses. Therefore a career as a registered dietician (RD) may offer a broader range of career opportunities and work settings.
Sarah Jividen
Sarah Jividen Contributor

Sarah Jividen, RN, BSN, is a trained neuro/trauma and emergency room nurse turned freelance healthcare writer/editor. As a journalism major, she combined her love for writing with her passion for high-level patient care. Sarah is the creator of Health Writing Solutions, LLC, specializing in writing about healthcare topics, including health journalism, education, and evidence-based health and wellness trends. She lives in Northern California with her husband and two children. 

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