21 Nutrition Jobs That Will Make You Love What Food Can Do
Nutrition jobs offer a host of rewarding ways to improve people's lives through food. That means you can enjoy the feelings of pride and satisfaction that come from helping people thrive. And the diverse nature of the field means you'll probably never be bored. Nutrition-related jobs exist in a huge range of employment sectors, from health care and education to food service and manufacturing. You could potentially work in hospitals, schools, wellness centers, corporate cafeterias, research labs, and many other settings. With food and nutrition careers, there's plenty to explore—and plenty of ways to make a difference.
After all, from a public health perspective alone, there's still a ton of work to be done in this area. For example, according to government figures, more than 75 percent of Americans do not get the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables in their diets. About 70 percent consume too much saturated fat and added sugar. And more than two-thirds of adults in this country are either overweight or obese.1 Clearly, nutrition and dietetics jobs are necessary, relevant to our times, and unlikely to go away anytime soon.
Nutritionists and dietitians play similar roles, but there are some important differences between them, which you can read about below. To keep things simple, the nutrition careers list in this article is divided into dietitian jobs and other jobs related to nutrition.
The following sections will help you understand the range of opportunities that are available, the training you'll need for different types of nutrition-related work, and the range of salaries you can expect in this field. So read on and get inspired!
- What is a nutritionist?
- What's the difference between nutritionists and dietitians?
- What are the educational requirements?
- What are typical salaries in this field?
- 7 jobs in dietetics
- 14 more nutrition jobs
What Is a Nutritionist?
Broadly speaking, nutritionist careers focus on the relationship between food and health. Being a nutritionist means understanding the physiological ways the human body responds to food and the role that nutrients play in the treatment and prevention of disease.
Professionals in this field teach people about the nutritional value of different foods and offer advice about the kinds of foods people can eat to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Some nutritionist jobs involve creating dietary plans to manage medical conditions or achieve specific health goals.
So, where do nutritionists work? The possibilities are plentiful, depending on their specific qualifications. Jobs for nutritionists can be found in:
- Hospitals, clinics, and other health care facilities
- Training gyms and fitness centers
- Food manufacturing companies
- Academic institutions
- Public health organizations
- Government agencies
- Community centers
- Health food markets
- Wellness centers
Many nutritionists also go into private practice and offer their services as consultants.
What's the Difference Between Nutritionists and Dietitians?
Many people don't realize the distinction between these two careers in nutrition. "Nutritionist" and "dietitian" are often used interchangeably, but there are some important legal differences.
Dietitians are nutritionists with specialized certification. The term "registered dietitian" is legally protected and can only be used by those who have earned the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) designation administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. The registered dietitian career path involves getting an approved four-year degree, completing a supervised internship, and passing a national exam.
Where can dietitians work? Most often, they work in hospitals, nursing homes, and other clinical settings, but they can also be found in schools, government agencies, sports facilities, research labs, and food service companies. There are even online dietitian jobs that allow people to work from home. Since all dietitians are nutritionists (though not the other way around), they can generally work anywhere that nutritionists can.
By contrast, the "nutritionist" career field is less regulated. The "nutritionist" title is not protected, and it can mean many different things. Many states do require nutritionists to be licensed or certified, but some states don't have any rules governing the occupation. Be sure to learn about the nutrition counseling laws in your state.
What Are the Educational Requirements?
The type of training you need depends on the kind of work you want to do. There are many options available to a nutrition major. Jobs like dietetic technician or nutrition assistant can be had with a two-year associate degree, whereas with a bachelor's in nutrition, jobs include positions like dietitian and food services manager. Keep in mind that many nutritionists and dietitians have advanced degrees. (With a master's in nutrition, jobs in many sectors become more available to you.)
Think about your career goals. Dietitians have a prescribed educational route, but if you're aiming to become a nutritionist who works outside of dietetics, your training options may be more varied.
Becoming a Dietitian
The first step is to complete a dietetics or nutrition degree program that is approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), which is part of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Currently, you can pursue a dietitian degree at the bachelor's level, but beginning in 2024, a graduate degree will be required.
Dietitian training programs cover topics such as nutrition, food science, chemistry, microbiology, physiology, and food service systems management. You can opt for a coordinated program, which combines classroom study with the required internship, or a didactic program, which includes academic study only. If you choose a didactic program, you will need to complete an internship of at least 1,200 hours after finishing your degree.
Once you have completed your degree and your internship, you must pass the registration exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration in order to receive your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credentials. (You can also choose to be known simply as a Registered Dietitian or RD.) Maintaining those credentials requires completing 75 continuing education credits every five years.
After earning your RDN, you can apply for licensing or certification in your state, if required. (State licenses and certifications do not typically require any qualifications beyond the RDN.)
Becoming a Nutritionist
The process for learning how to become a nutritionist depends on what region you live in. Many, but not all, states require nutritionists to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary, but they often call for nutritionists to follow the same educational route as registered dietitians and earn their bachelor's degrees in nutrition or a related field from an ACEND-accredited program. However, some states will only license nutritionists who have a graduate degree.
Other states require nutritionists to be certified by agencies such as:
- The Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB), which offers the Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) credential. A bachelor's degree in nutrition qualifies you to take the CNCB's 56-hour online post-graduate program; you must then pass the certification exam. Continuing education credits are required to maintain your CCN status.
- The Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS), which offers the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential. Certified Nutrition Specialist is a legally protected title. To receive this designation, you must have a master's or doctoral degree, complete at least 1,000 hours of supervised work experience, and pass the certification exam. You will also need to complete 75 continuing education credits every five years.
In states where nutritionists do not have to be licensed, there is technically no specific education required to be a nutritionist. However, many employers do look for RDN credentials or other types of formal certification from organizations like the CNCB or BCNS.
Voluntary certifications are also available from groups such as the American Association of Nutrition Consultants and the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.
What Are Typical Salaries in This Field?
When it comes to nutrition careers, salary amounts depend on how much education and experience you have, as well as on where you live. Government figures from 2016 indicate that the national median nutrition salary (for dietitians and nutritionists) was $58,920. But average wages were considerably higher in states like New Jersey ($66,540), Hawaii ($66,870), Oregon ($67,040), Maryland ($67,440), and California ($71,430).2
Salaries also vary by industry. For instance, dietitians and nutritionists who worked in outpatient care centers made an average annual salary of $65,860, while those who worked in special foods services earned an average of $57,140.2
Jobs in Dietetics
Dietetics is a specialized area of nutrition that requires specific training. Dietitians and dietetic technicians are health care professionals who have met prescribed educational and licensing standards. Here are a few options for careers in dietetics:
1. Registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN)
Generally speaking, dietitian jobs involve counseling people about diet, food, and nutrition and developing eating plans that are tailored to manage disease and promote long-term health and well-being. RDNs monitor patients' progress and adjust meal plans accordingly. They might also conduct nutritional research. Many specializations are available in this field.
- Median salary: $58,9202
2. Renal dietitian
Also known as dialysis dietitians, these professionals specialize in the nutritional needs of patients with chronic kidney disease. They review lab test results and develop individualized meal plans to help those on dialysis (or those with conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure) stay as healthy as possible. Certification in renal nutrition is available through the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
- Median salary: $58,3023
3. Pediatric dietitian
Focusing on the nutritional care of people under 18, these specialized RDNs are responsible for crafting eating plans that deliver the nutrition children need to grow and thrive. Working with kids also means dealing with parents, so it's important to be able to communicate with people of all ages. Pediatric dietitians can find opportunities in schools, children's hospitals, community clinics, or private practices.
- Median salary: $55,9433
4. Sports dietitian
Sports dietitians use their nutritional expertise to create dietary plans that enhance the health and performance of athletes. They might teach a team about achieving optimum health through diet or develop special menus for injured or recovering athletes. RDNs can become certified in sports dietetics through the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
- Median salary: $55,0003
5. Clinical dietitian
Developing nutritional plans to improve the health of people undergoing treatment in hospitals, clinics, and other health care centers is the basis of a clinical nutrition career. This role involves assessing the dietary requirements and challenges of each patient and designing customized meal plans that are nutritionally sound as well as digestible and palatable.
- Median salary: $51,7043
6. Oncology dietitian
Helping cancer patients get the nutrition they need is the task of oncology dietitians. These specialized professionals might help with feeding tubes, choose nutritional supplements, or give patients suggestions about the best way to meet their dietary needs when they feel nauseated or have little appetite.
- Median salary: $49,9483
7. Nutrition and dietetic technician, registered (NDTR)
These technicians share nutrition-related knowledge in a host of settings, from schools and restaurants to wellness centers and food companies. In clinical settings, they work under the supervision of RDNs and carry out tasks such as planning menus and preparing meals. Becoming an NDTR requires getting an associate degree, completing a 450-hour internship, and passing an exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
- Median salary: $26,3502
Jobs in the nutrition field can be quite diverse. Dietetics is one option, of course, but having an in-depth understanding of the science behind what we eat can also serve you well in many other sectors. With a nutrition degree, jobs in food safety, health care, corporate wellness, and education all become possibilities for you. Here are 14 good examples of jobs in nutrition:
1. Food product development scientist
Finding new ways to improve the safety, flavor, or nutritional value of different food products is the job of food product development scientists. They come up with processes and formulations to improve food quality while controlling costs. Many positions call for advanced degrees, but some are open to those with a bachelor's degree.
- Median salary: $63,9502
Typical tasks of nutritionists include assessing a client's dietary needs, consulting with a variety of health professionals, and creating a customized nutrition plan. In some cases, they also offer nutritional counseling. The process for learning how to be a nutritionist varies widely from state to state, so be sure to research the requirements in your area.
- Median salary: $58,9202
3. Regulatory affairs specialist
Ensuring that the development and production of food items comply with all applicable laws is the task of regulatory affairs specialists. Their job is to make sure that the company they work for operates within the rules. It's important to stay on top of food and dietary legislation and conduct regular reviews of processes. Most employers look for a degree in nutrition, food science, or a related field.
- Median salary: $57,4344
4. Nutritional therapist
Drawing on an understanding of both nutrition and human behavior, a nutritional therapist takes a holistic approach to wellness and assesses all aspects of a person's lifestyle in order to develop a nutritional plan. For a nutritional therapist, salary and job duties can both vary widely, depending on how much experience the person has and what licenses or certifications he or she holds.
- Median salary: $56,7265
5. Food labeling specialist
Food labeling specialists are responsible for coming up with the nutritional labels on food products. They make sure that product ingredients, nutritional facts, and allergen warnings are accurate and in line with industry regulations. They might also be in charge of getting the legal approval to use labels such as gluten-free or kosher. A bachelor's degree in nutrition or food science is typically required.
- Median salary: $55,7285
6. Corporate wellness consultant
A growing number of private businesses and corporations are hiring wellness consultants to provide guidance on healthy eating and exercise habits. These consultants might offer general tips on nutrition and health or lead seminars on how office workers can manage stress or avoid muscle fatigue. You'll need strong customer service skills for this kind of work.
- Median salary: $55,0873
7. Food safety auditor
Reviewing and analyzing the safety and sanitation procedures at companies that process, manufacture, or serve food is the primary focus of food safety auditors. They conduct inspections, write reports, and sometimes educate workers on policies and procedures. You'll need at least a bachelor's degree; it also helps to have experience in food service or packaging.
- Median salary: $54,1613
8. Public health nutritionist
Public health nutritionists are big-picture people who strive to improve the nutritional habits and overall health of a specific community or population group; they don't generally work with individual clients. They identify nutritional problems and develop institutional programs and strategies to address those issues. You may need to become an RDN to get into this career.
- Median salary: $50,1706
9. Clinical nutritionist
Like clinical dietitians, clinical nutritionists evaluate the dietary needs of patients in health care institutions and create eating plans tailored to each patient's unique condition. The difference is that while dietitians have prescribed training and licensing requirements, the rules for nutritionists vary widely between states. Certification is available from professional organizations such as the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board.
- Median salary: $50,0003
10. Nutrition services manager
Schools, hospitals, care facilities, and other institutions rely on nutrition services managers to plan and coordinate the large-scale delivery of nutritionally appropriate meals. This role involves planning menus, procuring supplies, managing budgets, and overseeing food preparation. You'll need at least a bachelor's degree in nutrition, dietetics, or food services management.
- Median salary: $49,9683
11. Humanitarian nutritionist
Focusing on malnutrition and hunger in disaster zones or developing countries can be a rewarding way to put your nutritional knowledge to work. Humanitarian nutritionists evaluate the food supply systems in different areas and develop programs to fill any nutritional gaps. They might set up a mobile center to treat malnourished children or advise villagers on the best items to plant in a communal vegetable garden.
- Median salary: $43,056 for humanitarian program officers7
12. Nutrition educator
Nutrition educators develop programs to promote healthy food choices and habits. They often work for government agencies that serve new mothers or low-income groups. They might offer information about basic nutrition along with tips on budgeting and food safety. They might also be responsible for screening candidates for food assistance services and helping applicants with paperwork.
- Median salary: $41,3353
13. Nutrition writer
As a nutrition writer, you could channel your food and diet expertise into e-books, newspaper columns, magazine articles, or web content. Possible topics include anything from trends in healthy eating to the latest research on specific vitamins or nutrients. Most of this work is freelance. Formal training in nutrition will give you more credibility; courses in journalism or communication will also help.
- Median salary: $37,020 for freelance writers3
14. Nutrition assistant
In a hospital, nursing home, or other clinical care setting, nutrition assistants typically help prepare food, distribute meals, and ensure that patients get the proper nourishment. They talk to patients about food preferences, record how much each patient ate, and report any dietary issues to the supervising nutritionist or dietitian.
- Median salary: $25,0003
Take Aim at Your Ambitions
Nutrition jobs exist in a variety of great sectors. Do you have the skills you need to create the future you want? Vocational colleges and trade schools offer job-driven training that can prepare you to take advantage of many nutrition-related opportunities. Just enter your zip code into the search tool below to discover convenient training options in your area!
1 Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020, website last visited on January 8, 2018.
2 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on January 8, 2018.
3 PayScale, website last visited on January 31, 2018.
4 Salary.com, website last visited on January 31, 2018.
5 SimplyHired, website last visited on January 8, 2018.
6 Glassdoor, website last visited on January 8, 2018.
7 Indeed, website last visited on February 2, 2018.