Careers in the food and nutrition industries are wide-ranging and can entail many different job responsibilities and work environments. Farmers, scientists, restaurant workers, health-care nutritionists and weight-loss consultants all may have formal food and nutrition training and educations. Solid foundations in science, especially biology and chemistry, as well as in nutrition, are essential for food and nutrition careers. It's helpful to have an idea of what field you may want to enter -- such as public health, sports, health care, agriculture or restaurant management -- before pursuing an undergraduate degree, so that you can narrow your focus.
Health-care nutritionists work in hospitals, nursing homes and other health-care facilities. They oversee patient menus and nutritional requirements, working with doctors and other health-care providers to ensure that patients are receiving diets appropriate for their medical conditions. Most health-care nutritionist positions require a four-year degree in nutrition, with an emphasis in such areas as biology, biochemistry, inorganic and organic chemistry, dietetics, medical nutrition, food-service systems, advanced food science, and nutrition science. Master's degrees normally are required for administrative positions. The average salary in the U.S. for health-care dieticians ranges from $34,392 to $45,829.
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Nutritionists who serve as educators might work for government agencies, health organizations, nonprofit groups, schools, community centers or patient-care facilities. Many nutritionists work as consultants, providing educational seminars and lectures to the public. Other nutrition consultants are employed by wealthy people such as entertainers and professional athletes to develop diet programs and menus. Teaching positions, especially higher-education jobs, usually require additional education, including post-graduate degrees.
Weight Reduction Specialist
Weight-loss programs and clinics need trained nutritionists to work directly with clients to develop menus and diet plans that augment their weight loss, weight lifting and other fitness programs. Measuring the client's physical attributes, tracking physical and metabolic changes, and monitoring emotional and mental changes all are part of a professional weight loss nutritionist's duties. Consultations with medical doctors and other health professionals also may be necessary to ensure client safety.
Food Scientist or Technologist
Food product development careers are available to people with food and nutrition backgrounds. Food scientists and technicians test food products, determine and measure nutritional levels of food items, develop food alternatives as well as additives and safety standards, tackle issues such as consumer needs and wants and address food costs. Food scientists may work with public officials in developing healthful school diets, consult with health-care professionals on cutting-edge developments, and serve in production plants as quality-assurance supervisors. Laboratory settings and factory floors are two common environments. Undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in science, chemistry, biology or related fields generally are pre-requisites.
While not all jobs in the food-service industry require college degrees in food or nutrition studies, management positions generally do demand a formal education. Restaurant and food-service managers can find employment in restaurants, hotels, resorts and even with cruise lines. Additional culinary training may be required for some positions, but a food and nutrition background is crucial. Menu development and staff-management skills also are necessary for management slots. A food and nutrition background would give aspiring chefs a leg up on other candidates who lack such training.
Professional nutritionists with a gift for writing could become food critics or writers for health, nutrition or diet publications. On the other hand, professional writers can acquire formal food and nutrition training to better report on food and nutrition issues.