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While you need a degree to be a nutritionist, an online nutrition certificate can enhance your knowledge in certain fields. Here are the best ones, according to three registered dietitians.
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- Nutrition certificates cost less and are shorter time commitments than formal degrees.
- While you still need a degree to become a nutritionist, a certificate can enhance certain careers.
- We spoke to three registered dieticians on finding the best online nutrition certificate programs.
If you’re curious about a career in nutrition — but aren’t sure about taking the leap to dedicate your time and money for a university degree quite yet — obtaining a nutrition certificate can be a great option.
With an array of online nutrition certification programs available, I spoke with three registered dieticians to find the best ones:
- Ryan D. Andrews, MS, MA, RD, RYT, and CSCS who has also worked with Precision Nutrition
- Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CEO of NY Nutrition Group and author of “The Core 3 Healthy Eating Plan”
- Jared Meacham, Ph.D., RD, PMP, CSCS, university educator, medical advisor, and President of the DC Metro Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for 2022
They also shared how nutrition certificates can be helpful for continuing education or to complement another discipline or field.
“A career in nutrition is incredibly rewarding, but can also be equally challenging,” says Moskovitz. “Nutrition science is a relentless revolving door of new and old information, so it’s important to be prepared.”
The field of nutrition requires continual learning and also intersects many other areas of life. “Working in the nutrition industry is appealing to me because it blends so many different areas including behavior change, food service, cooking, nutrition science, human physiology, agricultural science, and so forth,” says Andrews, who sees food and nutrition “as a primary concern for humanity.”
What to know before you look up or enroll in a nutrition certification program:
A nutrition certification offers opportunities to expand your knowledge or continue your education. However, depending on the type of job you want to have in the field of nutrition, a nutrition certification alone may not suffice.
According to Andrews, if nutrition is going to be the sole focus of your career (be it medical nutrition therapy or a related job in a hospital or school), then it’s ideal to have a degree in nutrition and become a registered dietitian. “A nutrition certification isn’t a substitute for becoming a registered dietitian — rather, it’s a different option based on what you are hoping to do,” Andrews adds.
For example, a nutrition certification can be beneficial for professionals in other fields. “I would say it’s most valuable for personal trainers, coaches, physicians, chiropractors, therapists, social workers, and nurses,” says Andrews.
4 tips for choosing an online nutrition certification program:
There are plenty of online nutrition certifications to consider. At times, it can be challenging to figure out which one is best for you and your professional goals.
Look at job listings to see what your ideal employer is looking for.
If you want to work in nutrition but prefer to work for someone else, it’s worth spending some time looking at job postings to see what’s required. “If you plan to work for another establishment, do research as to which certifications these companies will consider,” says Moskovitz.
Research your state’s certification requirements.
It’s important to have a clear idea of what you hope to achieve after attaining your nutrition certification before you invest the time and money. “If you plan to open your own nutrition counseling business, some states have licensure laws that require a state license,” Moskovitz says.
Make sure the nutrition program has been properly vetted by other organizations.
There are plenty of organizations and associations offering online nutrition certifications, but it’s important to know if they are legitimate. Andrews says it’s wise to check if a program has been “approved by other organizations as a source of continuing education credits” — examples of certifying organizations include ACSM, NSCA, CDR, and ISSA.
“To ensure that the continuing education material is high quality for their students, they do an audit and approval process [and] can be quite rigorous in some cases,” explains Andrews. “So, if a nutrition certification has cleared the bar of the auditing and approval process, there’s a better chance it’s a high-quality certification.”
Be prepared to get more than a certificate if you want to become a nutritionist or registered dietician.
“Those who earn an online nutrition certification should remain aware of that credential’s scope of practice, and should work to honor that in their daily work,” says Meacham. “For example, only a registered dietitian who is part of an allied health professional team should recommend therapeutic diets to help manage, treat, or prevent medical conditions.”
The 5 best online nutrition certification programs:
Type of Certification: Level 1 nutrition coach certificate
Price: $119/month for 1 year
Length: Minimum 4-5 months
Precision Nutrition is a peer-reviewed program that was created in 2005 by co-founder Dr. John Berardi and highlights science-backed behavior change coaching and nutrition.
Meacham, who believes PN is the “best online nutrition certification available,” says that it “leads the industry in helping students learn the essential aspects of nutrition science,” including behavioral modification coaching and systemized progression.
“We don’t overwhelm a student with nutrition science and then end the course,” says Andrews, who’s worked with the program. “Rather, we go over how the science applies to a variety of people and how to effectively communicate with clients to support the process of behavior change.
eCornell Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate
Type of Certification: Plant-based nutrition certificate
Length: 6 weeks
According to Meacham, Cornell University’s online certificate program offers “a broad curriculum ranging from the fundamentals of nutrition and human metabolic systems to more advanced modules on things such as nutrition’s impact on certain disease states like cancer, osteoporosis, and hypertension.”
He recommends this program because of the “depth of research and institutional capacity for developing best in class educational programs.”
Institute for Integrative Nutrition
Type of Certification: Health coach trainer certification
Length: 6 months to 1 year, depending on which program you choose
Founded by Joshua Rosenthal in 1992, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition is focused on nutrition and health coaching to train future health coaches. “I appreciate the wide variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise among the visiting facilitators,” says Andrews. “In some cases, the certification can be applied towards college credit at partner schools.”
Canadian School of Natural Nutrition
Type of Certification: Natural nutrition diploma program
Price: $4,739 ($5,995 CAD)
Length: 4 months
The Canadian School of Natural Nutrition is focused on holistic nutrition with science-backed research and is one of the largest schools in Canada. It offers a variety of certificate programs and has over 11,000 graduates. According to Andrews, it offers “a variety of certificate programs based on previous level of study, learning goals, and learning style.”
One thing to note: Since it’s a Canadian school, you’ll want to check with your state to make sure your certification would count. You can learn more about the program here.
National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
Type of Certification: Certified sports nutrition coach certificate
Length: Minimum 4 weeks-1 year
A well-regarded organization, NASM has been around since 1987. NASM offers a nutrition certification that focuses on nutrition science, nutrition coaching, and behavior change coaching and serves as a continuing education course. According to Meacham, “This certification is ideal for a personal trainer or athletic coach who wants to be able to have basic discussions about nutrition with their clients and athletes.”