Most people know that eating the right amount of the right food is a key element of overall health, weight management, disease prevention, and longevity. However, many people struggle to wade on their own through the vast amount of (often conflicting) nutrition information available, and others have all the knowledge they need but fail to make substantial changes to their food-related behavior.
People also find themselves in life circumstances, such as being diagnosed with a food allergy or chronic inflammatory disease, that requires them to change the way they are used to eating drastically. These are just some of the many reasons people look to professionals with a nutrition degree to help them optimize their food, health, and life.
Nutrition is a complex science, and studying nutrition in college entails extensive coursework in chemistry, biology, physiology, human metabolic processes, and so on. Nutrition professionals do much more than tell clients to eat more fruits and vegetables; they assess each individual’s unique needs and view nutrition as one component of the holistic picture that is human health.
We live in an era of great interest in and knowledge of health, wellness, nutrition, exercise, non-toxic lifestyles, and the interconnection between what we put into our bodies and how we feel. However, we are also bombarded with more food choices – some healthy, some junk, others somewhere in between – than ever before in human history. Therefore, this is a prime time to pursue a degree in nutrition, which opens doors to a remarkably diverse array of potential career paths.
In this article, we will explore some of the most common, as well as some of the most unique, career options for graduates with a degree in nutrition.
Average salary: $63,900
The most straightforward and customizable career path for those with a degree in nutrition is to become a nutritionist. Broadly speaking, nutritionists are health professionals who specialize in using food and nutrition to help people optimize their health and prevent or minimize the impacts of disease.
Nutritionists offer their patients guidance, sometimes in the form of detailed meal plans, about what foods to eat in what quantities and what foods to avoid. Using evidence-based research, nutritionists counsel their patients on selecting, preparing, and learning to love healthy, nutrient-dense foods.
Nutritionists work in a wide range of settings: schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and private practice, to name a few. They can often choose to specialize in a particular area of nutrition, for instance, sports nutrition, eating disorder nutrition, pediatric nutrition, and public health/community nutrition, among others.
Some nutritionists work with a large team of professionals in public settings such as schools and hospitals, while others work independently in solo practice. The career lends itself to many different settings and work arrangements, and can really be customized to suit the strengths and interests of the nutritionist and the patients’ needs.
Registered Dietician (RD)
Average salary: $53,495
A Registered Dietician (RD) is in many ways similar to a nutritionist, except that an RD must undergo a certification process, whereas anyone can use the “nutritionist” label. Specifically, in order to obtain RD certification and the legal right to call oneself an RD, a person must hold a bachelor’s degree with a set of courses that have been approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics, complete at least 1,200 hours of supervised apprenticeship at an accredited facility, and pass a national Registration Examination for Dietitians administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
Once a person has completed all the necessary steps to become an RD, they, like nutritionists, can work in a wide range of domains, including but not limited to schools, businesses, healthcare facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes, and the food and beverage industry. The exact job description of an RD will differ depending on where they work, but in general, RDs counsel patients on food and nutrition. That might mean creating meal plans, disseminating knowledge, getting to the root cause of health issues, performing community outreach, and/or conducting research to build new knowledge and understandings.
Food Safety Auditor
Average salary: $69,370
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, food safety auditors are a subcategory of the Occupational Health and Safety Specialists group. Food safety auditors tend to be well paid, especially those with years of experience under their belt; ZipRecruiter notes that the highest-paid food safety auditors earn upwards of $140,500 per year. Many food safety auditors spend much of the year traveling for work, so a great deal of their living expenses are paid for by the company.
Thanks to the 2016 Food Safety Modernization Act, food safety auditors will likely continue to be in high demand. In the wake of this Act, many more facilities were required to carry out food safety audits than had previously been the case, and demand for this specialized work continues to this day.
The goal of food safety auditing is to confirm that facilities comply with the most current guidelines set by the FDA for that particular industry. Food safety auditors might audit manufacturing plants, farms, restaurants, food packaging plants, and any other environment in which food is prepared for public consumption. After completing an audit, food safety auditors must fill out extensive documentation on their findings, demanding meticulous attention to detail. However, while food safety auditors often visit sites in person, much of their work also involves auditing daily reports from facilities.
Average salary: $45,538
Health coaches tend to take a broad, holistic view of health; they counsel clients not only on diet and nutrition, but also on lifestyle, exercise, mental health, relationships, and other domains that impact a person’s overall well-being. It is important to note that anyone can call themselves a health coach, because there is no national accreditation service for this profession. Thus, a degree in nutrition is not a prerequisite to becoming a health coach, but it nonetheless provides a strong foundation in food and nutrition science. A degree can enhance the credibility of a health coach.
Like sports coaches, health coaches seek to challenge and motivate their clients, track progress, celebrate successes, and hold clients accountable to their goals. Whereas a nutritionist or registered dietician tends to be more analogous to a clinician who sees patients once every week or two for a set appointment, health coaches typically play a more active role in clients’ lives, communicating regularly via text, email, or phone. Clients seeking specific guidance on how to eat for a specific medical condition or how to lose a set amount of weight might seek the help of a registered dietician, whereas people who want to look and feel better in all dimensions of their lives might be drawn to working with a health coach.
Average salary: $46,080
Nutrition educators are responsible for designing and delivering courses, seminars, presentations, and interactive events to disseminate knowledge about nutrition and healthy eating. Occasionally, if a nutrition educator is also a registered dietician, they might also counsel clients and perform diet- and nutrition-related assessments.
A large part of a nutrition educator’s job involves researching current trends and best practices in nutrition and dietetics, and then coming up with straightforward, approachable, engaging ways to convey that information and insights to different audiences. Nutrition educators are in essence teachers who specialize in nutrition. Thus, people considering this career should be comfortable leading workshops, seminars, courses, and one-on-one meetings online and in person.
For people who are skilled at research, garnering input from industry professionals such as doctors and nutritionists, and packaging that information into actionable insights for specific audiences, a career as a nutrition educator might be a good fit and a meaningful way to share potentially life-changing information with others.
Average salary: $32,000+
The internet and social media have given birth to (and continue to give rise to) unique careers that could not exist without modern technology tools and platforms. Blogging is one such internet-based career. Health and wellness are among the most popular and potentially lucrative blogging niches, but the space is crowded and the competition is fierce.
To stand out, a blogger (or a “micro-blogger” on Instagram, or a video content creator on a platform like TikTok) should choose a relatively narrow target audience, rather than trying to appeal to everyone. For instance, a recent nutrition graduate might create nutrition content for undergraduate men on a college meal plan. Another nutrition graduate might focus on creating nutrition content for teenage and young adult women who are preparing for long-distance running competitions. Being specific is an asset as a health food blogger.
Content creators tend to have flexible, self-directed work schedules and the ability to work remotely from anywhere with an internet connection. However, the trade-off to this freedom and flexibility is that it can take time to build a following, and income is not guaranteed. It can take years before a blog or Instagram account begins making money. For this reason, it is probably best to initially treat blogging or content-creating as a side-hustle rather than the primary source of income.
Average salary: $66,400
Food scientists study the microbiology and chemistry of foods to understand how they deteriorate in different environmental conditions (for instance, in the refrigerator vs. in a paper bag on the counter) and how they are processed. They also analyze the nutritional content of food to accurately determine its nutrient levels and supply the information needed for food nutrition labels.
Additionally, food scientists explore the natural world in search of new food sources and help to devise ways to ensure that processed foods have great flavor, nutritional profiles, are free of toxins, and are health-supporting rather than health-diminishing. They also find ways to enhance the production of processed foods.
Most food scientists work for the federal government, universities/research centers, or privately-owned companies. They wear multiple hats in the course of their work lives, remaining abreast of current regulations and ensuring food is safe, tasty, and nutritious. They might also work to improve the flavor, color, texture, nutritional value, and/or chemical composition of food. Nutrition degree graduates who are thinking of a career in food science should keep in mind that the working conditions often involve unconventional environments, such as very cold temperatures (for storing and preserving food) and proximity to animal products.
New Food Product Developer
Average salary: $62,000
New product food developers combine a range of different skills, from the science background of a nutrition major to the “finger on the pulse” ethos of a trend-spotter and trend-setter.
In order to develop a successful new food product, a developer needs to understand not only the chemistry and nutrition of food, but also the realities of the consumer market. Ideally, a new food product developer wants to be at the forefront of what will become a major food trend. Some examples of successful new food products developed over the past decade are iced coffee, Icelandic skyr yogurt, “superfoods” like chia seeds and acai, and coconut water.
Successful food developers know how to combine the science of food with the instincts of an entrepreneur on the lookout for market vacancies and unfulfilled consumer needs. New food product developers frequently test new products and document the results of product trials. They may also play a role in the marketing and branding of a product.
Corporate Wellness Consultant
Average salary: $72,900
Nowadays, many corporations offer wellness programs and health initiatives to employees; if employees are healthy and at peace, their productivity and quality of work increase, which is ultimately good for the company. Thus, corporate wellness initiatives serve the interests of both the employees and the employer. As part of their wellness programs, corporations often employ a corporate wellness consultant/corporate wellness coordinator to oversee the implementation of the initiative and to augment and improve it over time.
Corporate wellness programs often struggle to get employees to participate, so a designated wellness consultant can boost engagement and tailor the program to employees’ needs and interests. Corporate wellness consultants are also instrumental in evaluating the efficacy of existing programs and helping companies devise strategies to minimize employee healthcare expenditures, which are on the rise due to the number of Americans with chronic health conditions.
Careers in corporate wellness are likely to become even more in-demand in the coming years, especially since interest in health and wellness among the general population continues to increase and companies continue to recognize the value of investing in programs that keep employees healthy.
Public Health Nutritionist
Average salary: $53,000
Unlike clinical nutritionists, who work one-on-one with clients, public health nutritionists aim to improve health and nutritional habits at the community level. Public health nutritionists are typically registered dieticians who choose to focus their attention on implementing practices to enhance the health and nutritional status of a population.
In order to do so, public health nutritionists must be skilled at identifying gaps and problem areas in a community’s nutrition level and coming up with unique and practical strategies to address those issues and ultimately improve nutrition. Because public health nutritionists work at the community/population level, they may be called upon to offer educational resources to the community and develop programs to share with the public in hopes of improving the population’s nutritional status.
When devising a plan of action, public health nutritionists need to consider the resources, culture, and receptivity of a population to shifts in nutrition practices. These professionals may need to develop innovative ways of reaching people that would greatly benefit from improved nutrition practices but are hesitant to give them a try.
Public health nutritionists can find work in a variety of domains; they might work for a government program such as WIC/food stamps, or in schools or nursing homes to ensure that children and the elderly receive meals suited to their nutritional needs. They take the best knowledge and practices of nutrition and apply them not just to individual patients, but to entire communities.