How to Become a Registered Nutritionist

by Fred Decker

Compared to other branches of medical knowledge, the study of human nutrition is still in its relative infancy. Even legitimate scientific research is often confusing or contradictory, and the self-interested claims of the ill-informed and entrepreneurs make it even more difficult to differentiate good information from bad. Dietitians and nutritionists are health care professionals who provide sound nutritional information to patients and private clients, for therapeutic or health-maintenance purposes. The United States doesn't have a registered nutritionist credential, but nutrition professionals can become either registered dietitians or certified nutritionists.

Certified Nutrition Specialist

Earn a graduate degree in nutrition from an accredited U.S. or non-American university. Alternatively, earn a professional doctorate in a health care profession, such as medicine, nursing, chiropractic or pharmacy.

Complete the prerequisite course work in nutrition, biochemistry, clinical or life sciences, and anatomy or physiology, if your degree did not include all the necessary credits.

Spend at least 1,000 hours in documented clinical practice, under the supervision of a qualified nutritionist. This clinical experience must include a minimum of 200 hours each in assessment, intervention and management, and monitoring patients' ongoing nutritional progress.

Take and pass the Certified Nutrition Specialist exam, administered by the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists.

Maintain your certification by completing 75 continuing education credits in each five-year recertification cycle.

Certified Clinical Nutritionist

Earn at least a bachelor of science degree from an accredited university. Your course work must include at least 15 course hours in basic sciences, and 15 more in nutrition-oriented courses specified by the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board. Alternatively, acquire an advanced professional degree in a field such as medicine, nursing, pharmacy or dentistry.

Complete the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board's Post Graduate Studies in Clinical Nutrition program. The program is divided into four modules, one of them dedicated to alternative therapies including homeopathy and herbology. Candidates who hold a graduate degree in nutrition from an accredited university can be exempted from taking Post Graduate Studies in Clinical Nutrition, if the certification board determines their training to be equivalent.

Take and pass the Certified Clinical Nutritionist certification examination, administered by the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board.

Maintain your certification through 40 hours of approved continuing education every two years, and by passing a recertification exam every five years.

Registered Dietitian

Enroll in an accredited university and complete at least a bachelor's degree.

Complete a program of nutritional coursework approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics, or ACEND. Some schools will incorporate this coursework into your degree program, or if you already hold a degree, you can take the ACEND-approved course work separately.

Spend up to 12 months in a supervised clinical program approved by ACEND, consulting with and treating patients under the direction of registered dietitians.

Pass the dietitian's certification exam, administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. If successful, you'll be credentialed as a registered dietitian.

Apply for licensing in your state. Certification as a registered dietitian is a prerequisite, but each state may impose other requirements.


  • The term "dietitian" is controlled in all states, and you can't call yourself a dietitian unless you're a registered dietitian in good standing. States vary in their handling of the "nutritionist" job title. Some require nutritionists to be trained and licensed, but other states don't regulate the use of the term.

About the Author

Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

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