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What is a forensic nutritionist?

Forensic nutritionists take a different approach by looking at what causes certain diseases—and how food can help.

forensic nutritionist studies disease and fruit

Forensic nutritionist at a glance

What you’ll do: As a forensic nutritionist, you will specialize in the link between food and disease. You will make nutritional recommendations to help patients improve their health through diet, and managing conditions like skin issues to cancer.

Where you’ll work: Healthcare organizations, community healthcare clinics, outpatient care centers, residential care facilities or independent practice

Degree you’ll need: Master’s degree in dietetics or nutrition

Median annual salary: $66,450

In This Article

What is a forensic nutritionist?

While traditional nutritionists focus on the link between food and health, forensic nutritionists take a slightly different approach, explains Jesse Feder, RDN, CPT, a personal trainer, Registered Dietitian and contributor to My Crohn’s and Colitis Team. “Unlike a general nutritionist who encourages eating certain foods for our health, forensic nutritionists look at what causes certain diseases and how nutrition can play a role in getting better,” says Feder.

By focusing on the link between food and diseases, forensic nutritionists can help patients to make changes in their diets to promote better health. They may help patients manage everything from skin and digestive issues, to PCOS, to more serious diseases with strategic nutrition decisions. Patients may pair forensic nutrition with other, more traditional treatment options, like medication, or they may seek out a forensic nutritionist in an attempt to avoid medications, surgeries and other treatments.

Where does a forensic nutritionist work?

Forensic nutritionists may work in several different settings. They can also start a private practice and be self-employed but the goal of their work will remain the same no matter where they are employed: to better understand the link between nutrition and illness.

Some common workplaces include:

  • Healthcare organizations and hospitals
  • Community and public healthcare clinics
  • Research centers and labs
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Residential care facilities

What does a forensic nutritionist do?

Forensic nutritionists evaluate patient health to make dietary improvements and help address health issues, ideally in their early stages. To accomplish this, forensic nutritionists have many responsibilities:

  • Evaluate patients’ current diets and identify nutritional deficiencies
  • Discuss health issues with patients and identify symptoms
  • Counsel patients about nutrition issues and their connection to health issues
  • Recommend dietary changes
  • Monitor the effects of dietary changes on symptom reduction and overall health

woman nutritionist takes notes on crop on ipad

Feder notes that people interested in more than general health and wellness may find a career as a forensic nutritionist fulfilling. Forensic nutritionists focus heavily on disease management and prevention, so this career can be empowering.

Certain characteristics will be helpful in this career. Attention to detail is important, as is a thorough understanding of health and diseases. Nutritionists need to be able to think analytically and comfortably work with scientific data. They will need to solve problems and should be well-organized when working with multiple patients, managing follow-ups, recording appointment notes, and more.

While [hard] skills are all essential, it’s also important for forensic nutritionists to have strong people skills.

While these skills are all essential, it’s also important for forensic nutritionists to have strong people skills. Compassion, the ability to listen, and the knowledge of how to ask follow-up questions to get the information they need will all help a nutritionist successfully engage with patients.

What education is needed?

Feder states that while there is no set specific degree to become a forensic nutritionist, he recommends earning a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in dietetics and nutrition.

According to the National Association of Nutrition Professionals, license requirements for nutritionists vary depending on your state. Some states allow nutritionists to provide nutrition care services without a license, while others have strict licensing requirements. The Commission on Dietetic Registration explains that licensure requirements for dietitians are stricter, with most states requiring dietitians to be licensed.  

Feder recommends that anyone interested in becoming a forensic nutritionist start by completing an internship, which is required to sit for a dietetics licensing exam. “Then, become a dietitian and start off by working in a clinical or hospital setting,” he says. “The clinical dietitian is involved in treating diseases with proper nutrition and can help introduce you more into forensic nutrition. You may also go on to get a PhD and conduct research at a university or in the private sector.”

How to get experience as a forensic nutritionist

Many master’s and doctoral degree nutrition programs incorporate an internship requirement and may help students to find internship placements to gain experience as a nutritionist. “I recommend volunteering at a university with a nutrition professor as well as in a hospital setting with a clinical dietitian,” recommends Feder.  

Salary and job growth

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics, the median annual wage for dietitians and nutritionists was $66,450. While the BLS doesn’t provide a wage breakdown for specific types of nutritionists, it does note that those who worked in outpatient care centers earned a median annual wage of $74,640. Those in government and hospital settings earned $61,820, and those in nursing and residential care facilities earned $60,840. 

More importantly for forensic nutritionists, the median salary for those working in scientific research and development services was $82, 470—higher than the pay in the majority of other settings.

Dietitians and Nutritionists

National data

Median Salary: $66,450

Projected job growth: 6.6%

10th Percentile: $44,140

25th Percentile: $56,490

75th Percentile: $80,430

90th Percentile: $95,130

Projected job growth: 6.6%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alabama $60,320 $37,210 $80,500
Alaska $74,340 $49,530 $95,100
Arizona $65,440 $49,890 $87,860
Arkansas $53,990 $37,120 $75,730
California $80,270 $30,600 $111,460
Colorado $74,700 $49,620 $92,920
Connecticut $75,680 $51,010 $93,430
Delaware $63,420 $54,490 $101,290
District of Columbia $85,380 $63,980 $103,010
Florida $63,240 $46,240 $81,910
Georgia $61,660 $36,970 $83,290
Hawaii $77,490 $56,490 $94,690
Idaho $62,530 $38,200 $85,290
Illinois $63,970 $42,890 $88,340
Indiana $61,700 $48,070 $81,660
Iowa $61,360 $46,150 $76,430
Kansas $62,590 $49,600 $88,490
Kentucky $61,910 $42,500 $78,520
Louisiana $62,290 $46,070 $81,720
Maine $67,630 $52,000 $129,450
Maryland $71,770 $55,200 $102,480
Massachusetts $66,050 $36,530 $94,180
Michigan $63,680 $48,830 $79,810
Minnesota $66,530 $52,320 $85,910
Mississippi $52,000 $23,550 $77,500
Missouri $59,590 $35,860 $78,670
Montana $60,840 $33,510 $77,440
Nebraska $63,180 $45,610 $80,160
Nevada $64,300 $35,750 $96,710
New Hampshire $67,840 $53,260 $87,840
New Jersey $80,140 $52,440 $107,290
New Mexico $63,960 $46,940 $79,010
New York $76,640 $50,820 $102,540
North Carolina $60,110 $44,350 $83,030
North Dakota $64,820 $50,570 $86,070
Ohio $62,650 $48,000 $79,440
Oklahoma $61,850 $36,670 $81,250
Oregon $75,160 $59,470 $98,410
Pennsylvania $63,320 $45,680 $84,940
Rhode Island $67,590 $51,120 $99,470
South Carolina $61,610 $33,860 $81,620
South Dakota $60,030 $47,720 $86,070
Tennessee $61,490 $31,160 $76,130
Texas $63,690 $43,210 $86,940
Utah $59,170 $33,580 $87,290
Vermont $72,900 $54,980 $96,700
Virginia $68,940 $44,420 $90,110
Washington $75,570 $54,280 $96,250
West Virginia $68,310 $48,870 $88,940
Wisconsin $62,650 $46,570 $81,720
Wyoming $63,510 $38,500 $93,030

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

The job outlook for dietitians and nutritionists is promising. The BLS projects employment to grow by 6.6% through 2032. That growth is just faster than average for all occupations.

Since the importance of nutrition in preventing and controlling illnesses is already well-known, it is likely that the country will need more nutritionists to work with people who are at risk of or who have developed conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Getting started

Education is the first step to getting started as a forensic nutritionist. Plan to earn at least a master’s degree, if not a doctoral degree in nutrition. As you begin your education, review the licensing requirements for nutritionists in your state so you can make sure that you’re prepared with the required education and internship hours.

Feder recommends that anyone interested in becoming a forensic nutritionist start by earning a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and complete a dietetic internship to prepare to apply for a dietitian license. He notes that students who are interested in the research aspect of forensic nutrition may also decide to pursue a PhD in nutrition.

paige cerulli

Written and reported by:

Paige Cerulli
Contributing Writer

jesse feder

With professional insights by:

Jesse Feder
Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer