There are a number of types of nutritionists and they tend to bring their own point of view to the table. There are nutritionists licensed with the state, nutritionists with a Masters degree in nutrition, nutritionists with a certification from a professional board/association, nutritionists with a certification from a school, agency, or website, and even self-taught nutritionists. The question then becomes: Which one is right for you?
Just like many other health professionals, certain states offer or require a license for nutritionists. While in some states this license is optional others it is required When it’s required only those with the right training and certification are allowed to apply for a license.
As of writing this, there are thirteen states that require a license and only allow Registered Dietitian/Nutritionists to apply for licensure. To earn the title Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist one must complete specific training in University that is designed by the private organization called the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) and also be a member of the AND.
Licensure is meant to protect the paying public from getting harmful advice from undereducated professionals. The secondary effect of licensure requirements is that some great practitioners are pushed to more free states to practice because they don’t hold the correct certificate although they may have tons of knowledge in nutrition. Know that licensure may not mean that the results or interaction will be better than a non-licensed professional but that it may indicate a practitioner that is less likely to suggest any harmful changes.
States that Require A License (April 2017): Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Maine.
Master of Science Degree in Nutrition
Generally, you may be more likely to find a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist with an M.S. degree however other nutritionists may have an M.S. in nutrition and some Registered Dietitian/Nutritionists may not have an M.S. degree. Some professional board certifications, like the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists, requires an M.S. or higher in nutrition or related field.
A Masters degree may focus more on the science of eating and prepare a person for research and diet analytics but may not focus on nutrition consulting or counseling. Not each M.S. Nutrition program is equal though as some may teach useful skills for nutrition in hospital/assisted living facilities while others may focus more on the body’s synergistic interactions with foods and holistic nutrition. That being said, we all know more than what our respected programs taught us so take into account the nutritionist’s personal experience and approach.
My Favorite Accredited Schools: Bastyr University and the American College of Healthcare Sciences.
Professional Board/Association Certification
There are a number of organizations made up of professions in the field who create their own certification. This was the case for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). Another organization like the AND is the National Association for Nutrition Professionals (NANP) which focuses on holistic nutrition. This certification, among every other similar nutrition professional certification, does not allow one to be licensed by the state like the AND certification. It does, however, show that a person completed approved education, passed a professional exam, completed professional hours (experience), and fulfilled any other recommendation required by that specific organization.
Additional organizations like the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialist, the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board, and many more offer certifications as well, some only requiring that you pass expensive open book exams using their personally authored and expense books.
Needless to say, some professional certifications are better than others but then again, some nutritionists are better than their certifications due better training or more self education.
Excellent Professional Certifications: Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition (BCHN) and Certified Nutrition Professional (CNP) from the NANP and Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) from BCNS
School, agency, or website Certification
Similarly to professional certifications, these are provided by private businesses that are not made up from a board of professionals in the field but an individual looking to make money hopefully by honestly educating but sometimes by handing out certifications for cash. An example of an honest school certification is the Nutrition Consultant certification from Bauman College for Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts. After completing their program one is certified by the school as a Certified Nutrition Consultant. Some schools require more hours than others and of course the curriculum and point of view can be vastly different. It all depends on the specific school.
Then there are websites selling their own nutrition certification and many of these are linked to fitness and exercise certifying businesses and may only require that one read a book and take a test on it; a total time and money commitment of fewer than 15 hours and less than $500. Not nearly enough time to understand the complexity of food and human biology.
It’s impossible to know about every certification but if you look up the nutritionist’s certification before scheduling with them you’re likely to learn a lot about their commitment and foundation of knowledge on the topic.
Examples: Certified Nutrition Consultant from Bauman College for Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts and Certified Nutrition Therapy Practitioner or Certified Master Nutrition Therapist from Nutrition Therapy Institute.
Since some states require no certification to practice nutrition there will always be those nutritionists who choose to avoid expensive programs and just learn it on their own. Sometimes these people explored nutrition for themselves but once they had enough knowledge they decided to provide nutrition services to the public. In fact, this is often the case as many people learn about nutrition to improve their health then go out to share their results and methods to the world. These practitioners could be great or possibly biased.
It may be best to use reviews and word of mouth to choose a self-taught nutritionist or any nutritionist. The key to working with a nutritionist is finding one that works well with you and there’s no reason why a self-taught nutritionist could never fit that role.
Teach Yourself: Books, Seminars, Webinars, Experience
Check out A nutritionist’s About page or their LinkedIn profile to get more information about their education in nutrition.