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Become a Nutritionist -- Craft a Career in Healthy Eating

by Joe Cooper
CulinaryEd Columnist
May 19, 2011

Going (and eating) green is becoming more and more popular. The Organic Trade Association reported sales of organic foods of $14 billion for 2005. With this growing healthy eating trend, you have an excellent opportunity to build a career in nutrition.

A dietician or nutritionist can assist their clients in many ways. It may be as simple as advising people on what to look for at the grocery store, or it may be as in-depth as creating a structured daily meal plan for a specific individual. Nutritional guidance is not based on trends or fad diets, but on scientific study and professional advice. The goal is an overall balance achieved through focus on daily intake of foods and sustainable diets that can last a lifetime, rather than just a few weeks.

Education in Nutrition

Like most careers, education comes first. A bachelor's degree in health sciences or culinary arts is the bottom line for a career in nutrition, and many industry professionals pursue additional culinary education. Some common degree programs that dieticians and nutritionists pursue are:

  • Dietetics
  • Foods and Nutrition
  • Food Service Systems Management
  • Culinary Diploma or Degree


Getting an emphasis or specialty along with your degree can really boost your career prospects. For instance, specializing in diabetic diets will give you the chance (and the career opportunity) to help over 20 million people (that's seven percent of the population) in America alone. Many people with late-onset, or type II, diabetes can control their diabetes by following a healthy meal plan as designed by a nutrition professional.

Careers in Nutrition

There are several different paths to chose from in the field of nutrition. Some nutrition consultants build a broad client base of individuals and help them enjoy a healthier diet. The majority of dieticians and nutritionists work in hospitals, nursing facilities, and health practitioners' offices. Fitness centers, schools and universities, and senior centers are other places of work for nutrition professionals.

Most dieticians and nutritionists spend the workday on their feet. Hours are flexible for independent professionals. Some work can involve less than desirable conditions, such as older hospitals or health centers where funding is low, but you also can enjoy seeing your patients and residents enjoy better health through your dietary assistance.

Salary Information for Nutrition Professionals

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in 2009, the average salary of a dietician or nutritionist was $43,630. The highest 10 percent of professionals in nutrition earned over $60,000. As an independent nutritionist, you have the potential to make more money than you would working for a health center, but a degree and many years of experience are generally needed to build the client base for a successful business.

Promoting Health and Nutrition

Many nutritionists have reacted against the heavy marketing and advertising seen in major grocery stores. Flashy colors, bright signs, and packaging that boasts less fat or low carbs can be confusing to consumers of all ages.

"You have to know so much to navigate the store," says Marion Nestle, acclaimed nutritionist at New York University. Nestle's to-the-point advice is popular with listeners who are trying to eat healthy. "Pesticide-free produce may not look as pretty, but if you want fewer pesticides in your body and in the bodies of your children, buy organic."

Nestle has developed her career by teaching and doing research at a major university. Having a PhD is required to teach at most places of higher education. While you may not be aiming to become a professor, your culinary education is still an important start to a nutrition career.

Sources:

  1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics
  2. Health Posts
  3. Medicine Net, WebMD
  4. Tulsa World
  5. Asbury Park Press
  6. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse
  7. Organic Sales Continue to Grow at a Steady Pace, Organic Trade Association


About the Author

Joe Cooper is a freelance education and technology writer and edits medical literature. He holds a bachelor's in American Literature from UCLA.
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