Nutritionist: job description

Nutritionists help to advance an understanding of how diet affects the health and wellbeing of people and animals.

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Nutritionists need to be able to relate to people from a variety of different backgrounds.

What does a nutritionist do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Nutritionists provide information on food and healthy eating and can work in a range of areas, including in public health, in the private sector and in education and research. Unlike dietitians who primarily work with people who are ill or whose health is affected by conditions such as food allergies, malnutrition or diabetes, nutritionists mostly work with people who are healthy. They may be involved in educating individuals or groups or in forming policy to shape nutritional advice. The amount of direct contact they have with members of the public depends on the precise nature of the role.

Key responsibilities of the job include:

  • researching how the body's functions are affected by nutrient supply
  • investigating the relationship between genes and nutrients
  • studying how diet affects metabolism
  • examining the process of nourishment and the association between diet, disease and health
  • providing health advice and promoting healthy eating
  • advising about special diets
  • educating health professionals and the public about nutrition
  • working as part of a multidisciplinary team/supporting the work of other health care professionals

Typical employers of nutritionists

  • National and local government (health and food departments)
  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Colleges
  • Universities
  • Food and animal feed manufacturers and retailers
  • Sports and exercise industry

Nutritionists work in many different non-clinical settings. Some are employed within the NHS, where they work alongside dietitians. A nutritionist cannot work with acutely ill patients in hospital unless supervised by a dietitian.

A small number of vacancies arise for appropriately qualified and experienced nutritionists to work for emergency relief and development projects overseas.

Jobs are advertised online, by careers services and recruitment agencies, in newspapers and in specialist publications. The Nutrition Society also advertises vacancies on its website.

Qualifications and training required

There is no set entry route to becoming a nutritionist. However, in order to register with the professional association for nutritionists, the Association for Nutrition (AfN), you’ll usually need an undergraduate or postgraduate degree that’s approved by them. The AfN lists accredited degrees on its website, and also certifies short courses that provide an introduction to nutrition science for those who are not ready to undertake a degree.

The undergraduate degree courses accredited by the AfN cover areas such as human nutrition, public health, nutrition and food science, nutrition and exercise and animal nutrition. You will usually need two or three A levels or equivalent, often including biology.

You will need a relevant first degree in order to apply for an accredited postgraduate qualification. These include masters qualifications in areas such as international nutrition, public health nutrition and sport and exercise nutrition. Requirements vary, but a medical or science degree, particularly in a biological science, is likely to be an advantage.

Key skills for nutritionists

  • Teamworking skills
  • Keen interest in the impact of diet on health
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Communication skills, including the ability to explain complex things simply
  • An understanding of science
  • Able to motivate others
  • Business skills for freelance work

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