How to Become a Certified Nutritional Consultant

The Basics

For most of us, eating has become as much habit as it is necessity. In that regard, many people simply eat out of boredom, and many more people eat foods that have little nutritional value. As a result, unhealthy eating has led to a drastic rise in the rate of obesity in the United States. In fact, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, more than two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese.

That’s an alarming statistic no matter which way you look at it, and the only way to start reducing the number of overweight people in this country is to set about helping people learn about nutrition, what a healthy diet looks like, and motivating people to change for the betterment of their health. Unsurprisingly, the job of helping the general public better understand healthy eating falls primarily on people that work in the field of nutrition. This includes nutritional consultants.

What is a Nutritional Consultant?

Nutritional consultants are professionals that use their knowledge of nutrition and human physiology to improve the physical well being of their clients by improving their diets. Workers in this field do not take a one-size-fits-all approach, either. Instead, they consider individual characteristics of clients to devise food-based strategies that can enhance their life.

In that regard, a nutritional consultant is almost like a “food counselor” that analyzes eating habits and behaviors, examines a person’s physical health, and makes recommendations for improvement based on their findings.

Nutritional consultants are just one of many workers in the large and varied field of public health. They join the likes of dietitians, massage therapists, physical therapists, rehabilitation counselors, nurses, and other health-related professionals to aid people in their pursuit of healthier living.

What is a Certified Nutritional Consultant?

A Certified Nutritional Consultant (CNC) is a worker that has demonstrated competency in their field of work by passing a rigorous set of certification exams. The purpose of this certification is to help ensure that nutritional consultants work to protect the health and safety of their clients and the public at large by adhering to high standards of professional competence and ethics.

The American Association of Nutritional Consultants (AANC) is the administrator for this certification. To become certified, a person must complete a series of tests that measure proficiency in the areas of general nutrition, applied nutrition, and practice management. Once certification is achieved, workers are allowed to use the CNC designation after their name.

What Does a Nutritional Consultant Do?

As noted above, a nutritional consultant seeks to utilize their understanding of different food groups and the human body to help clients determine the best diet for them to improve their well being.

Primary among the job duties of a nutritional consultant is promoting better eating habits. To do so, they must first delve into each client’s history to learn about how that person’s body might react to certain foods and gain an understanding of the person’s eating habits.

For example, if a client comes in to get direction on improving their diet, a nutritional consultant would need to explore if the person has any food allergies. That way, if the client is allergic to shellfish, for example, the nutritional consultant will know that those kinds of foods cannot be part of the improved diet they recommend to their client.

Additionally, nutritional consultants utilize their understanding of human physiology to devise eating plans that promote, among other things, a strong metabolism, a healthy body weight, and an improved immune system.

For example, a nutritional consultant might work with a client that’s overweight to help boost their metabolism by eating the right kinds of foods. This might involve a recommendation for the client to eat more egg whites, lean meats, lentils, whole grains, and other metabolism-boosting foods.

But nutritional consultants do more than simply make recommendations regarding the types of foods a person should eat. Beyond that, workers in this field strive to educate their clients about different types of foods, what foods are good for them, and what foods to avoid. Likewise, nutritional consultants devise meal plans for their clients that provide a balanced diet that improves their overall health.

There is an educational component to this job as well. Meaning, nutritional consultants don’t just work one-on-one with individual clients. In fact, a large part of jobs in this field is educating the public at large about healthy eating habits.

For example, a nutritional consultant might spend time in public schools teaching children about various food groups, how to eat healthier, and the benefits of doing so on the body and the mind. These sorts of programs are popular in other settings as well, such as community centers, retirement centers, and nursing homes.

What Specializations are Available for a Nutritional Consultant?

A nutritionist may decide to specialize in one area such as being a sports nutritionist, public health nutritionist, a food nutritionist or a clinical nutritionist. Each one of these specializations has different job duties.

Sports Nutritionists; sports nutritionists will mostly focus on the effects of diet on the sports performance of their client; thus they will come up with an analysis of the calories that an athlete will burn when competing, training or exercising. They will then use this analysis to come up with a dietary plan that may sometimes include nutritional supplements.  Nutritionists in this category may work with individual athletes, school sports teams or even professional sports teams and some may decide to devote their careers to research.

Clinical Nutritionists; they mostly deal with providing dietary advice for the purpose of keeping an individual or their client healthy. They may help an individual come up with a dietary plan so that they can either lose or gain weight or even help some people with allergic reactions to certain foods be able to avoid such foods and still have a balanced diet.

Public Health Nutritionists; they most commonly work for government agencies and universities and typically don’t work with individuals but with demographic groups. They find out the nutritional habits of the different demographics and then recommend a nutritional plan for that demographic. They are also instrumental in educating the public on good nutrition habits.

Food Nutritionists; they usually work for food manufacturers and are tasked with analyzing the nutritional content that is in the food produced to ensure that it complies with the state regulations.

Where Does a Nutritional Consultant Work?

Prospective nutritional consultants will be pleased to know that they can work in a wide variety of settings with a wide variety of clientele.

Some workers in this field opt to work for government agencies like the Department of Family Services or Health and Human Services, where they spend the bulk of their time researching nutritional issues facing today’s individuals and families. Workers in this setting likely also spend a great deal of time writing articles and providing educational services to the general public on matters related to nutrition and diet.

Other nutritional consultants might go the opposite direction and be self-employed. Though fairly rare, working in private practice allows nutritional consultants to work more with individuals and small groups and help them effect change in their lives by improving their diet, developing an understanding of nutrition, and learning skills that lead to healthier decision making when it comes to food.

Yet other nutritional consultants might work in a hospital or other care setting like an assisted living center. In this setting, they would focus their attention on creating meal plans for patients and developing food schedules that ensure the patient is getting the vitamins, nutrients, and energy they need from the food they eat. These tasks are similar for nutritional consultants that work in public or private school settings.

What are the Requirements to Become a Certified Nutritional Consultant?

Educational Requirements

To become a certified nutritional consultant, one must first start by completing a bachelor’s degree program in a related field. Bachelor’s degree programs usually involve around 120 course hours of work, which takes a full-time student four years (on average) to complete.

The purpose of a four-year program of study like this is to ensure that students have a broad range of competencies. Initially, students work on general education requirements like humanities, sciences, mathematics, language arts, and so forth. However, once a student is in their third and fourth years of undergraduate studies, more and more of their coursework is dedicated to their specific major.

In this case, students that seek to become a certified nutritional consultant would focus their studies on topics like nutritional health, dietary science, health and wellness, anatomy and physiology, and so forth.

Undergraduate programs have widely varied admissions requirements, ranging from simply having a high school diploma or a GED to having minimum acceptable scores on exams like the SATs or ACTs as well as a satisfactory high school GPA.

Once undergraduate studies are completed, some students might elect to further their studies by pursuing a master’s degree. Though master’s degrees aren’t required in some states in order to work as a certified nutritional consultant, it can nevertheless open more opportunities for employment down the road. It’s also advantageous to pursue a master’s degree if there’s a chance that one might move to a state like Illinois that does require a master’s degree to pursue this line of work.

Where a bachelor’s degree program is intended as an introductory course of studies, a master’s degree program is much more advanced and focused on developing the requisite knowledge and skills to be a competent nutritional consultant.

Coursework follows a similar pathway as the final two years of undergraduate studies, with a focus on nutritional health, dietary science, and related coursework. Additionally, students at this level are generally required to apply their knowledge and skills as well.

For example, students might be required to participate in practicum or internship experiences in which they apply their classroom learning to real-life situations in settings like hospitals, non-profit organizations, public health clinics, or public schools. These “on-the-job” experiences are meant to help students codify what they’ve learned and gain much-needed experience in working with actual patients.

Most master’s degree programs are in the 30 credit hour range, which usually takes two years to complete. Some programs might require more credits for graduation, however.

Admission to master’s degree programs is more rigorous than bachelor’s degree programs. Typically, students must have a satisfactory score on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) in addition to a satisfactory GPA in their undergraduate studies. What’s more, the undergraduate degree must be from an accredited institution of higher learning. Some programs might also have further requirements, like multiple letters of recommendation or completion of an admission essay.

Licensing and Certification Requirements

Licensing and certification for positions in this field vary widely by location. In some states, one can find employment as a nutritional consultant with nothing more than a bachelor’s degree. In other locations, a master’s degree is required. In still other locations, workers might be required to hold a state-issued license in order to work, while others might need certification from a state or national board before they can begin work.

Licensing and certification requirements are different for different jobs within this field as well. For example, a Certified Nutritional Specialist must have at least a master’s degree, 1,000 hours of supervised internship experiences, and pass a rigorous exam before they will be certified. Conversely, a Certified Nutritionist only needs a two-year associate’s degree and a passing score on a standardized exam to procure certification.

It’s most prudent to check with local or state agencies in your area to learn about the specific requirements for acquiring licensure or certification.

What is an Online Nutritional Consultant Degree Program?

Online programs in nutritional consulting are similar to traditional on-campus programs, although with the obvious benefit of taking courses online. These programs are designed specifically to allow students with less flexible schedules due to work or family obligations to still get the education they need to secure employment in this field.

Online programs have similar course requirements both in terms of the types and number of courses that are needed to obtain a degree. Online programs usually have similar admissions requirements as those outlined earlier as well.

Though some online programs offer students the ability to take part in practicum or internship experiences, many – especially those at the undergraduate level – do not. So while online learning is more convenient for some, it might also mean that there are fewer opportunities to get real-life experience as part of the educational program.

Nevertheless, with learning that takes place when one’s schedule allows, online programs in nutritional consulting are very attractive to students that cannot attend school on campus. Today’s online programs have robust and interactive online communities, so students are able to connect with one another and with professors such that they feel more involved in the program.

What Does it Take to Become a Nutritional Consultant?

  • Analytical Skills – Nutritional consultants must keep abreast of new and emerging information related to food, nutrition, and diet, and analyze that information to develop improved services for their clients or the public at large.
  • Problem-Solving Skills – Workers in this field need to be able to recognize problems and issues in their clients’ lives and devise pathways for addressing those issues in a healthy manner.
  • Communication Skills – Nutritional consultants must be able to speak and write in a manner that’s clear and easy for people to understand. Likewise, they must be able to actively listen to others to ensure they understand the problems their clients are facing.
  • Perseverance – Among the many personal traits nutritional consultants need to have is perseverance. Poor eating habits and lack of accurate information about nutrition are rampant today, so workers in this field must be willing and able to work hard to provide services to people who may or may not even want to improve their diet.
  • Compassion – People of all ages, genders, nationalities, and religions need help from time to time. If a nutritional consultant is to be maximally successful in their job, they must possess compassion for others and demonstrate an ability to empathize with others as well.

How Much Does a Nutritional Consultant Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in this field can expect to make an average annual wage of $58,920. However, salaries vary depending on the level of education, the place of employment, years of experience, and the state in which one works.

For example, a nutritionist with at least a master’s degree that’s employed in an outpatient care center can expect to make nearly $70,000. A similar level of education might get one a salary of around $57,000 per year working for a government agency. On the low end, someone with an associate’s degree and/or little work experience might only make around $36,000 per year.

What is the Job Outlook for Nutritional Consultants?

The job outlook for nutritional consultants and related occupations is robust due to an increasing interest in promoting health and wellness and minimizing the negative impact that poor diet and nutrition have on the health of the general population. As a result, the Bureau of labor statistics predicts jobs in this sector to grow by 14% through 2026. However, workers with more educational experience will see more potential for work than those that meet only minimal education requirements.

What Careers are Similar to a Nutritional Consultant?

As noted earlier, nutritional consultants fall under the umbrella of public health careers. As such, there are many closely related occupations that offer similar work experiences. These include:

Community Health Worker

Like nutritional consultants, community health workers seek to help people improve their well being by teaching them about healthier ways to live. Workers in this field collect and analyze data about the health of certain groups, and then concentrate on the development and implementation of methods to improve the health of specific populations in the community.

Rehabilitation Counselor

People employed as a rehabilitation counselor focus not only on the nutritional health of their clients, but on their physical, developmental, emotional, and mental health as well. Typically, rehabilitation counselors work with individuals that have a disability, with the goal of helping their clients live more independently. Typically, this involves helping clients to manage tasks of daily living, their personal and social lives, and issues related to employment as well.

Agricultural and Food Scientist

Rather than working directly with clients to improve their diet like a nutritionist does, an agricultural and food scientist concentrates on conducting research on food. In particular, workers in this field concentrate on finding ways to improve the safety of food and food chains as well as improving the efficiency of food production.

Fitness Trainers and Instructors

Fitness trainers work to help clients achieve a higher degree of health by instructing them in exercise activities. This includes strength training, stretching, cardiovascular exercises, weight lifting, and so forth. Fitness trainers might even work alongside a nutritionist to give a client a more well-rounded approach to healthier living.

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