Nutritionists are health services professionals who provide expertise and consultation to individual clients, as well as businesses and organizations. Nutritionists help their clients make healthy, positive nutritional choices. To become a nutritionist, a person should have at least a two-year and preferably a four-year degree in life sciences or a related field such as nutrition, human physiology or food management services. An undergraduate biology major provides a broad educational foundation for a career in health and human nutrition.
Types of Biology Majors
Biology is a broad field encompassing all the different kinds of studies of living things. Biology has dozens of specialized sub-fields, such as botany, human nutrition, veterinary medicine, marine biology, zoology, human anatomy and physiology, biochemistry and molecular biology. A student can major in biology without specializing in a more narrow field. Since biology is a relevant field of study for nutritional professionals, the American Dietetic Association's Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education has approved and accredited many undergraduate biology programs at universities in all 50 states for candidates seeking professional dietitian and nutritionist certification. While the process varies widely from state to state, students enrolled in these programs are candidates for seeking certification from the American Dietetic Association as professional nutritionists.
Educational Requirements for a Nutritionist
A person wishing to become a nutritionist doesn't have to follow any specific course of study to prepare for her future career. Requirements for nutritionist certification and licensing differ among the 46 states that legislate the credentials requirements for professional nutritionists. Some states strictly regulate the requirements for anyone practicing as a professional nutritionist. Many states require that a prospective candidate complete an accredited undergraduate program. Biology is one of the many types of undergraduate degrees eligible to fulfill this requirement.
Other states, however, impose little or no legislation on professional nutritionists and have no educational requisites for professionals operating under the title.
Additional Certification Requirements
Aside from acquiring an undergraduate degree, a biology major wishing to practice as a nutritionist should fulfill other requirements for professional licensing and certification as a nutritionist. Each state has its own process and requirements for licensing a certified nutritionist. Some don't have any professional licenses specifically for nutritionists; in those cases, a nutritionist can complete the same type of training required of a registered dietitian if he wishes to acquire professional credentials in his state.
In general, a person seeking professional licensing in the field of nutrition must pass a state-approved exam, which is usually designed and administered by the state board of health. To become an ADA-certified dietitian or dietetic technician, the candidate must also pass a separate certification exam. These two tests differ from state to state, both in their content and their delivery methods. Some states allow students to mail in the tests or complete them online; others require students to sit for them in school or government facilities.
Continuing Education Requirements
To maintain professional ADA certification, nutritionists and dietitians must participate in approved continuing education programs to advance their knowledge and expertise in their chosen fields. Students can choose from a wide variety of programs, from individual specialty courses to full postgraduate programs.
A nutritionist who majored in biology as an undergraduate has anl advantage in continuing education. Because biology is a general study of life sciences, a biology major has already acquired many of the skills and foundational knowledge necessary for advanced study in the fields of nutrition, diet and human physiology.