Dietitian or Nutritionist
A dietitian or nutritionist could...
|Submit food data for a nutrition tracking program, which people can use at grocery stores and restaurants.||Oversee the meals prepared in a hospital kitchen to ensure that patients' dietary needs are met.|
|Conduct research to determine how the nutrient levels in different foods are altered during cooking.||Educate people about how to eat a healthy and balanced diet.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Ever wondered who plans the school lunch, food for patients at a hospital, or the meals for athletes at the Olympics? The answer is dietitians and nutritionists! A dietitian or nutritionist's job is to supervise the planning and preparation of meals to ensure that people—like students, patients, and athletes—are getting the right foods to make them as healthy and as strong as possible. Some dietitians and nutritionists also work to educate people about good food choices so they can cook and eat their own healthy meals.|
|Key Requirements||An aptitude for organizing information, good analytical skills, and the ability to communicate well with others|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, health, algebra, geometry, calculus, English; if available, statistics|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||Faster than Average (14% to 20%) In Demand!|
Training, Other Qualifications
Becoming a dietitian or nutritionist usually requires at least a bachelor's degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management, or a related area. A master's degree can help some workers to advance their careers, particularly in career paths related to research, advanced clinical positions, or public health.
Requirements differ by location, but many states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed. Additionally, although not required by law, many employers prefer to hire dietitians and nutritionists who have been certified as Registered Dietitians by the American Dietetic Association. To maintain a Registered Dietitian status, workers must complete at least 75 credit hours in approved continuing education classes every 5 years.
Education and Training
High school students interested in becoming a dietitian or nutritionist should take courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, health, and communications. Following high school, students will need to enter into a bachelor's degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management, or a related area. College students in these majors take courses in foods, nutrition, institution management, chemistry, biochemistry, biology, microbiology, and physiology. Other suggested courses include business, mathematics, statistics, computer science, psychology, sociology, and economics.
Dietitians and nutritionists interested in advancing to positions related to research, some clinical specialties, or public health oversight will have better employment prospects if they obtain a master's degree. Nutritionists interested in research should also take a heavier concentration of courses that emphasize chemistry and biochemistry laboratory techniques.
Nature of the Work
Dietitians and nutritionists plan food and nutrition programs, and supervise the preparation and serving of meals. They help prevent and treat illnesses by promoting healthy eating habits and suggesting diet modifications, such as less salt for those with high blood pressure or reduced fat and sugar intake for those who are overweight.
Dietitians run food-service systems for institutions such as hospitals and schools, promote sound eating habits through education, and conduct research. Major areas of practice include: clinical, community, management, and consultant dietetics, and nutritional research.
- Clinical dietitians provide nutritional services for patients in institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes. They assess patients' nutritional needs, develop and implement nutrition programs, and evaluate and report the results. They also confer with doctors and other healthcare professionals in order to coordinate medical and nutritional needs. Some clinical dietitians specialize in the management of overweight patients, care of the critically ill, or of renal (kidney) and diabetic patients. In addition, clinical dietitians in nursing homes, small hospitals, or correctional facilities also may manage the food-service department.
- Community dietitians counsel individuals and groups on nutritional practices designed to prevent disease and promote good health. Working in places such as public health clinics, home health agencies, and health maintenance organizations, they evaluate individual needs, develop nutritional care plans, and instruct individuals and their families. Dietitians working in home health agencies provide instruction on grocery shopping and food preparation to the elderly, individuals with special needs, and children.
- Management dietitians oversee large-scale meal planning and preparation in healthcare facilities, company cafeterias, prisons, and schools. They hire, train, and direct other dietitians and food service workers; budget for and purchase food, equipment, and supplies; enforce sanitary and safety regulations; and prepare records and reports.
- Consultant dietitians work under contract with healthcare facilities or in their own private practice. They perform nutrition screenings for their clients, and offer advice on diet-related concerns such as weight loss or cholesterol reduction. Some work for wellness programs, sports teams, supermarkets, and other nutrition-related businesses. They may consult with food-service managers, providing expertise in sanitation, safety procedures, menu development, budgeting, and planning.
- Nutritional researchers work in research settings. They investigate how the nutritional makeup of food is altered by various cooking and storing methods. Nutritional researchers may also run experiments to learn more about how people react to different nutrients and how their nutritional requirements change under unusual circumstances, like prolonged time in zero gravity on board the international space station.
Increased interest in nutrition has led to additional opportunities in food manufacturing, advertising, and marketing, in which dietitians analyze foods, prepare literature for distribution, or report on issues such as the nutritional content of recipes, dietary fiber, or vitamin supplements.
Dietitians and nutritionists usually work in clean, well-lighted, and well-ventilated areas. However, those who directly oversee meal services may spend significant amounts of time in hot, congested kitchens. Many dietitians and nutritionists are on their feet for much of the workday.
Most full-time dietitians and nutritionists work a regular 40-hour week, although some work weekends. Part time work schedules are also common for dietitians and nutritionists; in 2006 approximately one in three worked part time.
Nutritionists involved in research may spend a large portion of their time in laboratories or analyzing data in front of a computer.
On the Job
- Assess nutritional needs, diet restrictions and current health plans to develop and implement dietary-care plans and provide nutritional counseling.
- Consult with physicians and health care personnel to determine nutritional needs and diet restrictions of patient or client.
- Advise patients and their families on nutritional principles, dietary plans and diet modifications, and food selection and preparation.
- Counsel individuals and groups on basic rules of good nutrition, healthy eating habits, and nutrition monitoring to improve their quality of life.
- Monitor food service operations to ensure conformance to nutritional, safety, sanitation and quality standards.
- Coordinate recipe development and standardization and develop new menus for independent food service operations.
- Develop policies for food service or nutritional programs to assist in health promotion and disease control.
- Inspect meals served for conformance to prescribed diets and standards of palatability and appearance.
- Develop curriculum and prepare manuals, visual aids, course outlines, and other materials used in teaching.
- Prepare and administer budgets for food, equipment and supplies.
- Purchase food in accordance with health and safety codes.
- Select, train and supervise workers who plan, prepare and serve meals.
- Manage quantity food service departments or clinical and community nutrition services.
- Coordinate diet counseling services.
- Advise food service managers and organizations on sanitation, safety procedures, menu development, budgeting, and planning to assist with the establishment, operation, and evaluation of food service facilities and nutrition programs.
- Organize, develop, analyze, test, and prepare special meals such as low-fat, low-cholesterol and chemical-free meals.
- Plan, conduct, and evaluate dietary, nutritional, and epidemiological research.
- Plan and conduct training programs in dietetics, nutrition, and institutional management and administration for medical students, health-care personnel and the general public.
- Make recommendations regarding public policy, such as nutrition labeling, food fortification, and nutrition standards for school programs.
- Write research reports and other publications to document and communicate research findings.
- Plan and prepare grant proposals to request program funding.
- Test new food products and equipment.
- Confer with design, building, and equipment personnel to plan for construction and remodeling of food service units.
Companies That Hire Dietitian or Nutritionists
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- Battle of the Senses: Taste Versus Smell
- Blood Sugar Balancing Act: How Exercise Tips the Scales
- Burning Calories: How Much Energy is Stored in Different Types of Food?
- Dealing with Diabetes: The Road to Developing an Artificial Pancreas
- Egg Substitutes
- Electrolyte Challenge: Orange Juice Vs. Sports Drink
- Hey, Do You C My Potatoes? Determining Vitamin C Amounts in Cooked Potatoes
- How Food Supplements Affect Weight Gain of Juvenile Mice
- How Greasy Are Your Potato Chips?
- How Much Fat is in Your Food?
- How Sweet It Is! Measuring Glucose in Your Food
- How Sweet It Is—How Much Sugar Is Really in That Soda?
- Investigate the Vitamin C Level in Bell Peppers During Various Stages of Ripeness
- Lactose, Sucrose, and Glucose: How Many Sugars are in Your Smoothie?
- Shimmy, Shimmy Soda Pop: Develop Your Own Soda Pop Recipe
- Smashing for Mash: The Science of Making Memorable Mashed Potatoes!
- Sucrose & Glucose & Fructose, Oh My! Uncovering Hidden Sugar in Your Food
- Sweet as Sugar: Comparing the Sweetness of Sugar & Sugar Substitutes
- Top Crops: Finding Hidden Grasses and Beans in Processed Foods
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Dietitian or Nutritionist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
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- NASA. (2003). Behind the Scenes. Meet the People: Scott M. Smith, NASA Nutritionist. Retrieved January 24, 2017, from https://spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/support/people/ssmith.html