Nutritionist Certification: What It Takes to Be Certified

Find out the steps to getting a nutritionist certification or license.

nutritionist showing nutrition student the different certifications she can earn

GMO, non-GMO, gluten-free, sustainable, plant-based burger, BrusselKale, Cronuts…pluots? All these new food terms and hybrids are enough to make your head spin. As a nutritionist, how will you help your clients navigate these food trends?

Consider furthering your education after graduating by getting a professional certification or license. You’ll be able to better educate your clients and also set yourself up for career advancement.

Most nutritionists do earn a certification or license—plus many states require these to legally practice as a nutritionist. These designations show that you’re professionally competent and dedicated to lifelong learning.

Despite whatever credentials a nutritionist earns, it’s important to remember that not all nutritionists are dietitians—whereas all dietitians are nutritionists. Nutritionists usually have completed some coursework, but all dietitians hold bachelor’s degrees and have earned the title of “dietitian” by meeting certain requirements. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist—even if entirely self-taught—but the dietitian title is legally protected.

Read on about how to earn your nutritionist credentials.

Earning a Certificate

Nutritionist Certificate

If you want to quickly enter the nutrition field, you can take as few as three online courses to earn a nutrition certificate in as little as a year. A high school diploma or equivalent qualifies you for enrollment. Note that this is not a certification.

Certificate of Completion in Clinical Nutrition

For those who don’t have enough coursework for a higher-level certification, a certificate of completion can be earned from the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB). This is granted after completion of a 56-hour online program. This, also, is not equal to being certified.

Getting Certified

Various certifications are available in the area of nutrition. Here are some examples along with their different requirements.

Certified Nutritional Consultant (CNC)
One becomes a Certified Nutritional Consultant after passing an open-book exam administered by the American Association of Nutritional Consultants (AANC).

Certified Nutritionist (CN)
Here’s what you’ll need to be classified as a Certified Nutritionist.

  • Completing either a two-year associate degree program or a distance-learning program consisting of six classes
  • Passing an exam taken under supervision

Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN)
One becomes a Certified Clinical Nutritionist through the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB) by completing these steps.

  • Earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited university
  • Completing a 900-hour internship
    Taking 56 postgraduate hours in clinical nutrition studies
  • Passing the test given by the CNCB
  • Finishing 40 continuing education hours every two years to maintain certification
  • Passing a recertification test every five years

Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)
Nutritionists who meet the following requirements can use the legally protected title of CNS.

  • Holding a master’s or doctoral degree in nutrition from an accredited university
  • Earning at least 1,000 hours in a supervised internship
  • Passing the exam administered by the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists (CBNS)
  • Finishing 75 continuing education credits every five years to maintain certification

Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition (BCHN)

This designation is offered by the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP) and is for those who have earned an education in holistic nutrition ranging from post-secondary to PhD level, and who meet the following criterion:

  • Successful completion of studies in holistic nutrition from a NANP approved holistic nutrition program OR providing documentation of an occupational certification, degree or diploma that meets the NANP’s educational standards
  • Professional membership in the NANP
  • Finish 500 hours (includes a minimum of 250 direct contact hours and up to 250 indirect contact hours) of professional experience in holistic nutrition

Licensed Nutritionist
Although licensure requirements vary by state, most include the following.

  • A bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition from an accredited university
  • A supervised internship
  • A passing grade administered by an agency or institution
  • A current registration or certification
  • A satisfactory completion of continuing education coursework

Subjects Covered in Credentialing Exams

Whatever level you’re going for, you’re required to take a test. This ensures that you’re qualified to advise clients about food and nutrition. Study up on these topics so you’ll do well on the test.

  • Food Science and Nutrient Composition of Foods
  • Nutrition and Supporting Sciences
  • Education and Communication
  • Research
  • Screening and Assessment
  • Diagnosis
  • Planning and Intervention
  • Monitoring and Evaluation
  • Quality Improvement
  • Menu Development
  • Sanitation and Safety
  • Sustainability

State Requirements for Practicing Nutrition

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 46 states currently have laws regarding the standards for nutritionists. Of these states, 30 require licenses, 15 require certification and one requires registration with the state. Arizona, Colorado, Michigan and New Jersey have no regulations.

Check the current requirements for your state or the state in which you wish to practice.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Dietitians and Nutritionists; Commission on Dietetic Registration; Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; American Nutrition Association.

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