How to become a nutritionist

Fascinated by the flavours, science and health potential of food? Do you also like helping others? Become a nutritionist and you can combine these interests into a rewarding, meaningful career. Whether you’re passionate about promoting healthy living, want to delve into the science of nutrition, or are eager to make a positive impact on people’s lives, this is your guide on how to become a nutritionist.

Here’s what we’re going to cover:

  • What does a nutritionist do?
  • Where do nutritionists work?
  • How to become a nutritionist?
  • What do you study to become a nutritionist?
  • What skills does a good nutritionist have?
  • What can I earn?
  • Next steps

What does a nutritionist do?

Nutritionists help people. They play a pivotal role in promoting overall health and wellbeing through their expertise in food and nutrition.

What does that mean for the day-to-day of a nutritionist’s job? Well, here are just a few of the things you could be doing.

  • Planning diets and menus for individuals and groups.
  • Educating people on the importance of diet and on how to plan and prepare food.
  • Collecting, organising and assessing data relating to the health and nutritional status of individuals, groups and communities.
  • Determining the nutritional values of food and meals.
  • Designing, executing, and assessing the effectiveness of nutrition intervention programs.
  • Conducting nutrition assessments and formulating tailored nutrition management plans.
  • Collaborating with fellow health professionals and related personnel to address the dietary and nutritional requirements of patients.

So it all adds up to empowering people to make healthier choices around what they eat. Which is a pretty rewarding way to spend your working day, right?

Where do nutritionists work?

As a nutritionist, you could work in any number of settings.

One common workplace for nutritionists is in clinical environments such as hospitals and healthcare facilities. Here, you’ll work as part of a multi-faceted team of healthcare professionals to design specialised dietary plans for patients dealing with various medical conditions.

Beyond clinical settings, nutritionists are also integral members of the public health sector. They work in community health organisations, government agencies, and also not-for-profits, contributing to initiatives that aim to educate and promote healthy eating habits on a larger scale. For example, in schools and universities, nutritionists may be involved in designing and implementing nutrition education programs, fostering healthy habits in students and promoting a wellness-oriented culture.

Some nutritionists opt for private practice, offering individualised consultations to clients for weight management, sports nutrition or general wellbeing.

How to become a nutritionist

In Australia, the path to becoming a nutritionist typically means studying a bachelor’s degree, like Charles Sturt University’s Bachelor of Food and Nutrition.

In this degree, you gain the skills and knowledge to start your career – in the lecture room, in campus learning facilities, and on professional placements.

The good news is that this degree is recognised by the key industry bodies. When you graduate you can apply to the Nutrition Society of Australia (NSA) for the qualification of Associate Nutritionist. You are also eligible for membership of the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology (AIFST).

Did you know: you can also start with a shorter course – the Undergraduate Certificate in Food and Nutrition – then progress into the bachelor’s degree, with credit. This pathway might suit you if you have a TAFE qualification, or didn’t quite hit the ATAR you needed.

What do you study to become a nutritionist?

You start by gaining a nuanced understanding of the human body and how it functions. Like its physiology, biochemistry and the role of genetics.

Alongside that, you also study how food is produced. So, that means looking at things like food safety protocols, the chemistry of food, how food products are processed and preserved, and consumer behaviour.

Then you combine the two and learn all about how food can impact on people – and how you can help them improve their health and wellbeing. Public health initiatives. Menu planning for communities and individuals. The nutritional challenges facing First Nations communities. You learn them all.

What skills does a good nutritionist have?

A good nutritionist combines technical knowledge with a range of soft skills to create a supportive and effective environment for clients to achieve their health objectives.

Firstly on the soft skills side of things, you need effective communication skills. Nutritionists must be adept at conveying complex nutritional information to individuals who might have varying levels of health literacy. Cultural competency is also pivotal, as you will work with people from across society.

Active listening and empathy are other soft skills to have in your arsenal, so you can grasp the unique needs and concerns of clients and understand the emotional aspects intertwined with their lifestyle choices.

Having gained this knowledge, your problem-solving and critical-thinking skills come into play.

Dr Marissa Olsen, lecturer in nutrition and dietetics at Charles Sturt knows that “…one of the best ways to better understand other people, their circumstances and why they do what they do in relation to food is to develop a keen critical-thinking facility. We exist in broader economic, environmental and food production contexts. This can impact on our ability to pursue the seemingly simple idea of eating healthier. We don’t just eat what we eat because of what we know.”

Moreover, analytical skills will help you make accurate assessments of individuals’ dietary habits – so you can formulate tailored plans to address specific health goals.

Add in a keenness to keep learning and research the latest advancements in nutritional science and you’ve got an impactful skill set ready to help people.

What can I earn?

The government puts the average salary of a nutrition professional in Australia at $1,094 per week. That works out to around $55,000 a year. As you gain more experience, you’re likely to receive a higher salary. And with further training you could move into management and leadership roles, which will also boost your earning potential.

Next steps

Wondering what ATAR you need to be a nutritionist? Well, you’re going to be aiming for at least 65 for entry into our bachelor’s degree (although this can change from year to year). Remember, though, this figure includes any adjustments to your selection rank. For example, if you’re completing high school in a rural area, your rank will get an uplift of five points automatically.

And if you want some more info about how to become a nutritionist, reach out to our university advisers. They’re more than happy to answer any questions and chat through your options.