Best nutritionist certifications for 2024

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We all could probably eat a little better—whether that be cutting back on sugar and sodium or simply eating less processed foods. For the millions of Americans living with conditions such as hypertension or diabetes, having a healthy diet is paramount. However, one of the biggest barriers to this is a lack of knowledge. That’s where nutritionists come in.

Nutritionists are experts in food and healthy eating habits, but learning these skills can be complicated. For those looking to learn the basics of nutrition—either as an exploratory phase or as a compliment to personal training or health coach education—taking a nutritionist certification is a popular step. Fortune Education’s inaugural ranking of the best nutritionist certifications for 2024 hopes to guide you in exploring this career pathway.

Best overall: National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA)

The NESTA Certified Fitness Nutrition Coach program is a comprehensive certification designed to equip trainers with the knowledge to optimize their clients’ lifestyles. The program’s curriculum covers the anatomy of the digestive system, macronutrients, vitamin and mineral intake requirements, and math formulas used to help clients make the right nutrition choices.

Why we picked it: The certification offers the best balance of costs, curriculum, brand prestige, and student experience. With tools like training videos and a digital manual, live support, and instant access to a 100-question, non-proctored online exam, this program tops our list.

Most affordable: American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA)

AFPA’s Holistic Nutritionist Certification is for practicing nutrition professionals, RDNs, health coaches, and personal trainers who want to help clients implement nutritional strategies to enrich their lives. This program provides students with access to simulated coaching sessions, numerous nutrition handouts, more than 26 hours of video instruction, and 35 hours of interactive content. The curriculum ranges from ethics and professional conduct to introductions to weight management, sports performance, and bone health.

Why we picked it:The company has a history of offering scholarships, the most recent of which reduced this certification to $0.

Most brand recognition: National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

With a legacy of 37 years, NASM is a well-known figure in the health and nutrition certification space. According to the company, its Certified Nutrition Coach program is consistently reviewed and updated with new material on topics like the role of supplements in nutrition, managing weight-loss plateaus, and nutrition hot topics and controversies. The program provides coaches with access to hundreds of infographics, dozens of videos, and even offers knowledge checks throughout the lessons.

Why we picked it: NASM’s social media following boasts over 250,000 followers on Instagram and more than 685,000 likes on Facebook.

Best for military discounts: National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF)

The Sport Nutrition Specialist certification from NCSF is designed for coaches who want an introduction to the intersection of health, fitness, and performance with nutrition. The four-chapter curriculum covers everything from understanding nutrition labels and the role of protein to in-depth studies of ergogenic acids, weight loss drugs, and behavior modification. The program has several study materials, including the SNS e-learning platform, more than 200 practice exam questions, digital flashcards, and instructional videos. 

Why we picked it: All NCSF certifications are eligible for military pricing for service members, veterans, spouses, and their families. The company also provides credentialing assistance and Post-9/11 GI Bill reimbursement.

Best for business development: Fitness Mentors

This Fitness Mentors Virtual Nutrition Coach Certification is a bundle deal that combines an NCCA-accredited personal trainer certification, a fitness nutrition specialist certification, and five chapters of virtual coaching and business knowledge. Throughout this program, students will not only learn about nutrition but also how to convert sales expertly, develop a branding strategy, create sales copy, and develop a pricing structure. The program provides practical study tools like audiobook lectures, a digital textbook, real-world coaching templates, and access to an online trainer business support group.

Why we picked it: In the era of social media marketing, post-COVID-19, learning to interface with people online can be a vital tool in building a steady career and a solid community base.

Fitness Mentors

Virtual Nutrition Coach Certification

Price $799
Program length 1–4 months

Best for clinical skill learning: The Health Sciences Academy

The Health Sciences Academy’s certified clinical nutritionist program teaches students the ins and outs of the world of nutrition from a client-centered perspective. With 11 advanced competencies and more than 700 done-for-you client templates, the program leaves students with eight hours of clinical skill training. In addition to the core training, students can take one elective, such as fertility or skincare nutrition. One-on-one success coaching and expert feedback are also available.

Why we picked it: While more expensive than other nutritionist certifications, the program offers extensive competencies, multiple student support features, and an emphasis on real-world skills training.

Best for Spanish speakers: International Sports Science Association (ISSA)

ISSA’s nutritionist certification helps individuals “turn food into your hidden superpower.” The program walks students through food science and its interaction with mental behavior. Topics include macronutrients and micronutrients, supplements, and myths. The primary reading material is a textbook written and developed by ISSA. Practice exams, client forms, and an online student forum are also available.

Why we picked it: ISSA recently launched Coach de Nutrición, a program tailored specifically for the Spanish-speaking community. It seeks to help a more diverse group of individuals learn how food shapes people’s physical and mental lifestyles.

Best for on-the-go learning: American Council on Exercise (ACE)

ACE Fitness’s nutrition specialist teaches students the foundations at the intersection of nutrition education and behavior change. The program notably has a lecture focused on the scope of an ACE nutrition specialist versus registered dieticians and other medical professionals. It also provides guidance on how individuals can grow a business. Overall, the program equips students with scientifically backed nutrition knowledge to share with future clients.

Why we picked it:ACE Fitness uses a variety of mediums to educate its students, including an eBook, podcast, recorded videos, and online quizzes. Paired with its mobile app for its textbooks, ACE provides many options for those with busy schedules to learn on the go.

Best for synchronous learning: eCornell

eCornell’s nutrition and healthy living certificate program teaches students a holistic view of the science behind nutrition and disease prevention. Some of the course topics include energy and the role of carbohydrates, the role of fats in atherosclerosis, and managing weight, exercise, and nutrition. The program is authored by David Levitsky, now professor emeritus in the Cornell Human Ecology department.

Why we picked it: The program applies real-world projects throughout its courses, which are developed by Cornell faculty. It also facilitates discussions and live sessions with industry peers, providing a unique small-class experience for a nutrition program.


Nutrition and Healthy Living Certificate

Price $2,999
Program length 6 months (3–5 hours/week)

Best alumni network: Penn Foster

Penn Foster’s fitness and nutrition certificate is for those looking to learn more or refresh their knowledge about fitness and nutrition for their career. The program covers topics such as fitness anatomy and physiology, developing healthy eating habits, and health screening, testing, and evaluation. Overall, the curriculum consists of seven courses and 13 exams.

Why we picked it: Penn Foster has one of the largest alumni networks of any online learning platform. The school graduates thousands of individuals from high school as well as other learning courses each year. Students who take advantage of this connection may be able to network with other nutrition-minded individuals more easily or even find clients.

Penn Foster

Fitness and Nutrition Certificate

Price $599–$724
Program length Self-paced (est. 3–7 months)

Methodology for Fortune’s ranking of the best nutritionist certifications

There’s great news for those interested in the world of nutrition: the field is in high demand. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for dietitians and nutritionists is growing at a rate of 7% over the next decade, and the median annual salary is just shy of $70,000. It is also important to keep in mind that to achieve this career status, individuals oftentimes need at least a bachelor’s degree as well as advanced training; each state also has different requirements for official licensure.

Even though the nutritionist industry is continuing to grow, there is no perfect pathway toward success. However, learning more about the nutritionist world through certification is a great place to start, especially if you aren’t certain if it’s the right career for you or if you just need a refresher on the basics.

We reviewed 25 nutritionist certification programs and have included 10 of our top choices.

While a variety of factors were used in considering each category, these data points were used to overall judge the programs:

  • Price: 40%
  • Financing options: 10%
  • Lending partnerships: 10%
  • Scholarship opportunities: 10%
  • Military discounts and funding: 5%
  • Continuing education credit acceptance:5%
  • Career coaching/mentorship/instructor support:10%
  • Average annual search volume: 10%
    • We looked at the average number of times during a month that people search for each business school on Google, then converted it into a yearly metric to measure public perception and interest in a school and how it affected what school they were interested in attending.

Our expert panel

We sought out those with thorough expertise in the nutritionist world for the creation of our ranking:

By asking questions about the importance of nutritionist education, different types of educational pathways, and the skills needed to succeed, we hoped to better understand how to effectively guide those pursuing a career in the field. It’s noteworthy that neither expert was directly involved in ranking any programs.

Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist

Similar to the world of health coaching and other certificate programs, anyone can truly call themselves a nutritionist. However, as Painter notes, the nutritionist title is often correlated with both registered dietitians and certified nutritionist specialists.

“The nutrition professional is going to have advanced education, benchmark education, through bachelor’s degrees, through master’s degrees with standardized and structured information that provides safety but also efficacy in their recommendations to working one-on-one with clients,” Painter says.

She adds that once one obtains the official licensure, which depends on the state, only then should they be suited to give personalized nutrition recommendations to clients in a clinical setting.

“Nutrition is a very nuanced space,” Painter says. “One right condition does not fit every patient. Having the ability to have critical thinking skills, the tactical knowledge of nutrition science, and also the understanding of mainstream and gold standard approaches to care, it’s very important for the safety and the health of the patient.”

In terms of skills, Painter says anyone looking to get into nutrition should have:

  • Excellent communication and listening skills
  • An ability to relate to people from different backgrounds
  • Interpersonal skills, such as empathy, compassion, and patience
  • Problem-solving capabilities
  • A deep interest in scientific knowledge, like nutrition science, biochemistry, and pathophysiology

Fighting nutrition misinformation

Routhenstein emphasizes that broad nutrition certifications focus more on holistic health like body, mind, and spirit. People with the training can be great at helping others take accountability when it comes to losing weight or learning how to eat healthy—when they do not have a past medical history.

On the other hand, clients on medication or with medical history should instead be seen by licensed dietitian nutritionists or others with a relevant academic background and clinical expertise.

“It’s important that when you have a medical diagnosis—you’re not just being seen by anyone, because they might not understand nutrition, they may just give you a bunch of supplements that counteract with your medications and can drive your kidney function down,” she says.

Both Routhensin and Painter say one of the most important things to the world of nutrition is curiosity and asking questions—not only about yourself but also about biology. Some questions to consider include:

  • What do you want to do with your career?
  • Why do you want to help others?
  • Why do certain foods affect human bodily functions differently from a biological standpoint?
  • Why should someone eat more of something versus another thing?

Nutrition misinformation is running rampant in an era of social media dominance. In fact, a recent analysis of TikTok videos relating to diet and nutrition trends found that only 2% of the content was accurate. Because of this, Routhensin says it is more important than ever that experts are credentialed by a top governing body, such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Commission on Dietetic Registration.

Frequently asked questions

What exactly does a nutritionist do?

Nutritionists help individuals understand how eating affects everything they do—physically, mentally, and emotionally. They may provide advice on healthy eating habits by creating catered meal plans as well as setting short- and long-term goals. Nutritionists with simple certifications may provide generalized recommendations.

What is the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian?

While anyone can call themselves a nutritionist (hence being able to get a nutritionist certification), not just anyone can claim to be a dietitian. The fields of study are similar—focused on food science and healthy eating—there are much more state regulations when it comes to dietitians.

Do nutritionists make money?

Dietitians and nutritionists earn median annual salaries of about $70,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Exact pay can vary dramatically depending on your role and educational experience.

What is the best qualification for a nutritionist?

While there is truly no best qualification for a nutritionist, registered dietitians and nutritionists typically have at least a bachelor’s degree—paired oftentimes with a master’s or PhD. Checking out your state’s educational and clinical hour requirements is a great place to start.

Check out all ofFortune’srankings of degree programs and learn more about specificcareer paths.

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