Certification and Licensing: What It Takes to Earn Nutritionist Credentials

woman studying requirements for professional certification exam

As a nutritionist, you’ll take countless steps to help your clients navigate their way through the confusing and often conflicting information that’s out there about food. But your first step to starting a career should be getting the education you need to understand the science behind food and how it affects our health. You’ll also want to consider earning a professional certification through a nationally recognized board or association. Having these credentials can set you up for better job opportunities by meeting certain guidelines and requirements—and that means giving potential clients and employers greater confidence in your knowledge and dedication to the field.

There’s a wide range of certifications available, each requiring a different degree of work to earn them. Keep in mind, however, that even if you have a certification through a national board, it may not necessarily be enough to become licensed or certified in your state, if that’s indeed a requirement. While national certification is an optional credential that verifies your knowledge and experience, your state credentials are what govern the legal use of your title and what kinds of services you’re allowed to perform.


National Certifications for Nutritionists

When talking about certification, it’s important to first clarify that it’s not the same as a certificate. Certificates are proof that you’ve successfully taken a class or series of courses and can sometimes be completed in as little as a few weeks. Certificate programs are often designed for those who have already earned a degree and want to gain a deeper knowledge of a particular subtopic. In the field of nutrition, these could be specializations such as sports nutrition, weight management, or nutrition for children or the elderly. Depending on the coursework, earning a certificate might help you meet certain requirements for certification.

National certification, on the other hand, is a credential given by a regulated professional organization that verifies you’ve completed a certain level of education, gained a designated amount of professional experience, and in most cases, have passed a specific exam. What’s more, the certifications with the highest requirements often align with the prerequisites for becoming licensed or certified by your state. Many states require a licensing exam offered by one of these organizations, meaning that you can pursue your state credentials and optional certification at the same time.

National certifications are optional credentials (unlike state requirements) but can give you greater authority as you begin your career.

As if that doesn’t sound confusing enough, making things even more complicated is the fact that some companies that offer “certifications” may really just be offering certificate programs. To sort through the credentials, we’ve outlined the most common nutritionist certifications, starting with those that have the least requirements and leading up to those that offer the most prestigious titles and can open the door to top job prospects.

Best for: Unlicensed, entry-level nutritionists

Offered by the American Association of Nutritional Consultants (AANC), the CNC credential is designed to give entry-level nutritionists credibility in the field, though it won’t meet the requirements for a state license or certification. You can earn your CNC credential by passing an 11-part exam with a score of at least 85%. Applicants must be members of the AANC but only need a high school diploma or GED to qualify for the exam.

Best for: Personal trainers who want to advise their clients on aligning a diet plan with their exercise routines

The Certified Nutrition Coach credential is overseen by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), one of the leading names in fitness certification. With just a high school diploma, you can enter an online program which leads to a certifying exam that must be passed with a score of at least 70%. You’ll need to retake the exam every two years if you wish to maintain your credential. Note that this certification won’t meet the requirements for any higher-level credentials or a legal license.

Best for: Personal trainers with high school or undergraduate-level education who want to improve their career opportunities

The American Fitness Professionals Association offers a number of different nutritionist certifications. By completing a series of online courses and passing an exam—often in six months or less—you can earn a credential as an AFPA Certified Holistic Nutritionist, Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, Weight Management Specialist, Sports Nutritionist, or Youth or Senior Nutrition Specialist. Several of these programs also qualify you to become a Certified Nutritional Consultant through the American Naturopathic Medical Certification Board.

As with the previous certifications, an AFPA credential will not make you eligible for a license or certification in your state. So even with one of these credentials, you won’t legally be able to call yourself a nutritionist if your state protects the title. (However, you may be able to use titles such as health coach or nutrition specialist, depending on the laws.) Make sure the check the requirements of your state to ensure you following the regulations.

Best for: Nutrition professionals who want to teach a whole, organic, chemical-free approach to health and wellness

Offered by the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP), the BCHN credential is designed for nutritionists who want to work in community or clinical settings, but don’t intend to conduct medical nutrition therapy. The focus is on providing nutritional counseling through a holistic, individualized approach rather than following more standardized guidelines.

To earn the BCHN credential, you must:

  • Be a professional member of the NANP
  • Have successfully completed any postsecondary holistic nutrition program approved by the board
  • Have completed 500 hours of professional experience, with a minimum of 250 direct contact hours with clients and up to 250 indirect hours, such as in research or writing
  • Earn a score of at least 70% on the board exam
  • Complete 30 continuing education units every two years to maintain certification

It’s important to note that while meeting these requirements could make you eligible for licensing and independent practice, that won’t always be the case. Again, carefully check the legislation in your state to avoid misusing the title or conducting illegal practice.

Best for: Holistic nutritionists with bachelor’s degrees or higher who want certification beyond the BCHN

The NANP offers the additional Certified Nutritional Professional credential, which qualifies you to work in the same sorts of roles as those with the BCHN, though it might make you more competitive. Beyond meeting the criteria for BCHN certification, CNP applicants must have also completed at least 1,200 hours of supervised clinical experience within a minimum of three full-time years. In many states, meeting these requirements could qualify you to sit for the licensing exam.

Best for: Those who wish to apply their practice to more medical-based settings such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, or research facilities

Unlike the certifications listed above, which focus more on general health and wellness, the CCN emphasizes the science behind nutrition and physiological function. With a foundation in biochemical science, those with the CCN credential will not only assess a client’s history, physical status, and current lifestyle but will also be qualified to run tests and make referrals to physicians or other medical providers. In many cases, meeting the CCN requirements will make you eligible to sit for the licensing exam in your state.

To become certified through the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB), you must:

  • Have a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited college or university, with coursework that includes the core science and nutrition requirements
  • Have completed an internship of at least 900 hours
  • Complete the board’s online Postgraduate Studies in Clinical Nutrition Program (four sessions that must each be completed within 90 days) or be waived from the program by holding a master’s degree in human clinical nutrition
  • Earn a passing score on the 150-question, multiple-choice CCN certification exam
  • Complete 40 continuing education hours every two years and retake the exam every five years to maintain certification

Best for: Nutritionists who want to work in advanced medical nutrition therapy, research, and education within clinics, hospitals, schools, private practice, community agencies, and more

The Certified Nutrition Specialist is by far the highest of all the national nutrition certifications, with the most requirements for education, experience, testing, and continuing education. It’s also the most widely recognized non-dietetics credential for state licensing.

To be granted the CNS credential by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS), applicants must:

  • Have at least a master’s degree in nutrition or a related field from a regionally accredited university, with coursework that covers nine semester credits of nutrition, 12 credits in clinical or life sciences, six credits of biochemistry, and three credits of physiology or anatomy
  • Have completed at least 1,000 hours of a supervised experience
  • Earn a passing score on the 200-question, multiple-choice exam. Passing is determined on a pass-fail cut score, with historical cut scores ranging between 60% and 69%.
  • Finish 75 continuing education credits every five years to maintain certification

Best for: Those who want to specialize in ketogenic nutrition

The high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet has gained mainstream popularity in recent years, but has also been studied for its possible therapeutic uses in treatment plans for conditions such as epilepsy, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and more. Those who wish to work in medical settings specifically with these types of conditions might benefit from earning the Certified Ketogenic Nutrition Specialist credential offered by the BCNS.

To become certified as a CKNS, you must:

  • Have at least a master’s degree in nutrition or dietetics from a regionally accredited university, or
  • Be a Certified Nutrition Specialist or Registered Dietitian, or
  • Be a licensed healthcare provider with legal scope to practice nutrition, AND
  • Complete all six modules of the Certified Ketogenic Nutrition Specialist training course offered by the American Nutrition Association
  • Earn a score of least 75% on the 60-question, multiple-choice test
  • Complete 30 approved continuing education units every five years to maintain the credential

Best for: Nutritionists who also want to also work in the field of dietetics and receive board-certification in a nutrition specialty

Beyond certification as a nutritionist, you might opt to pursue a separate credential as a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN) with the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). As an RDN, you might increase your career opportunities by also practicing in the field of dietetics, which emphasizes medical, treatment-based nutrition over more general health and wellness.

To become an RDN, applicants must:

  • Have at least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, dietetics, or a related field from a regionally accredited university in a program approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)
  • Have completed at least 1,200 hours of an ACEND-accredited supervised practice experience
  • Earn a scaled score of at least 25 out of 50 on the multiple-choice CDR Examination
  • Complete 75 continuing education credits every five years to maintain the credential

Meeting these requirements will align with the criteria in most states that license or certify dietitians or dietitian/nutritionists. However, additional requirements might be necessary for states that license these roles separately.

The CDR also offers board certification in specialty areas of nutrition. RDNs can gain recognition for advanced practice and knowledge in the areas of gerontology, oncology, pediatrics, pediatric critical care, renal, and sports dietetics, as well as obesity and weight management. You must be a registered dietitian, meet the practice experience requirements, and pass the specialty exam.


State Requirements for Nutritionist Licensing or Certification

Beyond the optional national certifications, you may be required to become either licensed or certified by your state to practice with the title of nutritionist. In general, a license allows you to legally promote yourself to the public as a nutritionist, and provide services that are within the scope of practice as defined by your state board. Holding a license also ensures that a nutritionist is being held to the established standards of the profession.

Similar to having a license, being certified allows you to legally use the title of nutritionist and demonstrates that you’re qualified to practice and are held to certain standards. That said, in states that offer this credential instead of a license, uncertified individuals can still provide the services of the profession, so long as they don’t promote themselves with any protected title. Because they’re not being regulated by the board and therefore aren’t held to the established standards, clients should be careful to receive services from uncertified individuals.

While the majority of U.S. states impose regulations specifically for dietitians, more than half of the states have no requirements for nutritionists, meaning that anyone can promote themselves as such regardless of their education or experience. As of 2019, only nine states and Washington, D.C. require licensing or certification for nutritionists specifically. An additional 14 states require a dual dietitian/nutritionist credential, which allows you to use either or both titles as you wish. The good news is that earning a dual title shouldn’t require additional work. In fact, in most states, the educational requirements are less than for those that have separate credentials for nutritionists.


Click on the states below to learn about the various nutrition licensing laws, including prerequisites, internships, and/or professional experience.

AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY DC

Alabama

Title: Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
At least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or a related field from a regionally accredited college or university

Supervised Experience:
A minimum of 900 hours of a preprofessional experience

Exam:
The Commission on Dietetic Registration Examination


Alaska

Title: Licensed Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
At least a master’s degree in an area of nutrition from an accredited college or university

Supervised Experience:
A minimum of 900 hours of documented work experience in direct human nutrition or research

Examination:
None required


Arizona

No regulations


Arkansas

Licensing of dietitians only


California

No regulations for licensing, but title protection for registered dietitians only


Colorado

No regulations for licensing, but title protection for certified dietitians only


Connecticut

Title: Certified Dietitian/Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
A master’s degree or higher from an accredited institution with a course of study in nutrition or dietetics including at least 30 semester credits. If you have a bachelor’s degree but are currently certified by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, you’ll also be eligible.

Supervised Experience:
1,000 or 1,200 hours, depending on the licensing exam you plan to take

Exam:
The Commission on Dietetic Registration or Certified Nutrition Specialist Examination


Delaware

Title: Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
At least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or a related discipline from a regionally accredited college or university

Supervised Experience:
A minimum of 900 hours of a preprofessional experience

Exam:
The Commission on Dietetic Registration or Certified Nutrition Specialist Examination, or another test determined acceptable by the Delaware Board of Dietetics/Nutrition


District of Columbia

Title: Licensed Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
At least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or a related area from a regionally accredited college or university

Supervised Experience:
A preprofessional experience of at least 900 hours between a period of 22 and 45 weeks. If you have at least a master’s degree in nutrition or have been actively engaged in nutritional practice for at least two of the last five years, you don’t need to meet this requirement.

Exam:
The Commission of Dietetic Registration Examination


Florida

Title: Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
At least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or a related area from a regionally accredited college or university

Supervised Experience:
A minimum of 900 hours of a preprofessional experience. This requirement might be waived if you have education or experience deemed equivalent by the state board.

Exam:
The Commission of Dietetic Registration Examination. Applicants who are already Certified Nutrition Specialists or Diplomates of the American Clinical Board of Nutrition will not need to take the exam.


Georgia

Licensing of dietitians only


Hawaii

Licensing of dietitians only


Idaho

Licensing of dietitians only


Illinois

Title: Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
At least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or a related area from a regionally accredited college or university

Supervised Experience:
A minimum of 900 hours within a 5-year period

Exam:
The Commission of Dietetic Registration Examination. Those who are Certified Nutrition Specialists, Certified Clinical Nutritionists, or Diplomates of the American Clinical Board of Nutrition won’t need to take the exam.


Indiana

No statewide regulations for licensing, but title protection for dietitians only


Iowa

Licensing of dietitians only

Kansas

Licensing of dietitians only


Kentucky

Title: Certified Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
A bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university, as well as a master’s degree in nutrition, food science, or a closely related area with a minimum of 12 semester hours of human nutrition classes

Supervised Experience:
No requirement

Exam:
The Commission of Dietetic Registration Examination


Louisiana

Title: Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
At least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or a closely related field from a regionally accredited institution

Supervised Experience:
A minimum of 900 hours

Exam:
The Commission of Dietetic Registration Examination


Maine

Licensing of dietitians only


Maryland

Title: Licensed Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
At least a master’s degree in nutrition or a closely related field from a regionally accredited institution

Supervised Experience:
A minimum of 1,000 hours

Exam:
The Certified Nutrition Specialist Examination


Massachusetts

Title: Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
A bachelor’s degree or higher in a field of nutrition from an institution recognized by the U.S. Department of Education

Supervised Experience:
A board-approved internship of at least 900 hours or a paid experience of three years post-bachelor’s, two years post-master’s, or one year post-doctoral degree

Exam:
The Certified Nutrition Specialist Examination


Michigan

No regulations


Minnesota

Title: Licensed Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
A master’s degree or higher in nutrition from an accredited institution

Supervised Experience:
At least 900 hours of a preprofessional experience

Exam:
None required


Mississippi

Title: Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
A bachelor’s degree or higher in nutrition for a regionally accredited institution

Supervised Experience:
At least 900 hours

Exam:
The Commission of Dietetic Registration Examination


Missouri

Licensing of dietitians only


Montana

Title: Licensed Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
Both a bachelor’s and graduate degree from programs approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics

Supervised Experience:
A minimum of 900 hours of a preprofessional experience

Exam:
The Commission of Dietetic Registration Examination


Nebraska

Licensing of medical nutrition therapists only


Nevada

Licensing of dietitians only


New Hampshire

Licensing of dietitians only


New Jersey

No regulations


New Mexico

Title: Licensed Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
A master’s degree or higher in nutrition from an accredited institution or proof of membership with the American Clinical Board of Nutrition or the American Society for Nutrition

Supervised Experience:
No state requirement

Exam:
A board-approved test, such as the Commission of Dietetic Registration Examination


New York

Title: Certified Dietitian/Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
A bachelor’s degree or higher in dietetics or nutrition, or an associate’s degree (if you meet the experience requirements) and endorsements from three board-approved dietitians or nutritionists

Supervised Experience:
A minimum of 800 hours for applicants with bachelor’s degrees. Those with associate’s degrees must have a combination of 10 full-time years of education and experience, with at least 1,600 hours per year.

Exam:
The Commission of Dietetic Registration or Certified Nutrition Specialist Examination


North Carolina

Title: Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
A bachelor’s degree or higher in nutrition from a regionally accredited institution

Supervised Experience:
A minimum of 1,000 hours

Exam:
The Commission of Dietetic Registration, the Certified Nutrition Specialist, or the Diplomate of the American Clinical Board of Nutrition Examination


North Dakota

Title: Licensed Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
At least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or dietetics from an accredited institution or proof of membership in the American Institute of Nutrition, the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, or the American Board of Nutrition

Supervised Experience:
No requirement

Exam:
None required


Ohio

Licensing of dietitians only. The state allows dietitians to use other professional titles such as nutritionist or nutrition counselor, however, these are not legally protected titles.


Oklahoma

Licensing of dietitians only


Oregon

Licensing of dietitians only


Pennsylvania

Title: Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
At least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or dietetics from a regionally accredited institution

Supervised Experience:
A minimum of 900 hours

Exam:
The Commission of Dietetic Registration or Certified Nutrition Specialist Examination

Rhode Island

Title: Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
A bachelor’s degree or higher from a program approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics

Supervised Experience:
A minimum of 900 hours of an internship or other supervised experience

Exam:
The Commission of Dietetic Registration Examination


South Carolina

Licensing of dietitians only


South Dakota

Title: Licensed Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
At least a master’s degree in nutrition from an accredited institution, or a bachelor’s degree if you meet the experience requirements

Supervised Experience:
No state requirement for applicants with master’s degrees. Those who have bachelor’s degrees and are registered with the Commission of Dietetic Registration must complete at least 900 hours of supervised dietetic practice.

Exam:
The Commission of Dietetic Registration Examination


Tennessee

Title: Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
At least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or dietetics from a regionally accredited institution

Supervised Experience:
A minimum of 900 hours of a preprofessional experience

Exam:
The Commission of Dietetic Registration Examination


Texas

Licensing of dietitians only


Utah

Certification of dietitians only


Vermont

Certification of dietitians only


Virginia

Title protection for nutritionists and dietitians. While there are no regulations for licensing or established standards of practice, you may only call yourself a nutritionist if you have one of the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree in nutrition or a closely related field from a regionally accredited university with a supervised clinical experience approved by the Commission on Dietetic Registration
  • An active credential as a Certified Nutrition Specialist
  • An active certification as a Diplomate of the American Clinical Board of Nutrition
  • A current nutritionist license or certification issued by another state

Washington

Title: Certified Nutritionist

Education Requirements:
A master’s degree or higher in nutrition or dietetics, or a bachelor’s degree if you meet the experience requirements

Supervised Experience:
No state requirement for applicants with a master’s degree. Those who have bachelor’s degrees must have at least 900 hours of supervised experience.

Exam:
The Commission of Dietetic Registration Examination


West Virginia

Licensing of dietitians only


Wisconsin

Certification of dietitians only


Wyoming

Licensing of dietitians only

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