Acquiring the proper certifications to practice as a nutritionist can be quite challenging, thanks to the wide range of options available. Additionally, even after certification by a national board, nutritionists may still require additional licensing from the state to get started.
Below we look at everything you need to know about licensing and certification to clear out the confusion for aspiring nutritionists.
Nutritionist Certificates vs. National Certification
Before we go into detail about the different national certification options for nutritionists, national certifications aren’t the same as certificates.
Certificates are simply proof of the successful completion of courses in an institution. Most notably, they take little time and can be completed in a few weeks.
Certificate programs are designed for people who have already attained a degree and would love a deeper understanding of a specialized subtopic.
For example, a nutritionist who already has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition may seek to obtain more certifications by specializing in a field such as sports nutrition, pediatric nutrition, geriatric nutrition, or weight management.
Under the right circumstances, certificates can help a nutritionist get closer to certification.
While institutions run certificate programs, national certifications are regulated by professional organizations. By obtaining a national certification, you are getting verification from a professional organization that you have completed a certain level of education and have gained enough professional experience to be considered proficient enough at that level.
High-level certifications contain all the requirements to become licensed in any state. Most states require candidates to write exams administered by one of these organizations to become certified.
This means aspiring nutritionists can save time by pursuing their state licensing and national certification simultaneously.
Differentiating Between Certificate Programs and National Certification
Many companies and institutions claiming to offer certifications may just offer certificate programs.
This is why it is highly imperative that whenever you enroll in any program, you should confirm that you are applying for national certification instead of a certificate program.
To clarify things, we have highlighted below some of the most popular alternatives for nutritionists looking to get nationally certified.
Popular Nutritionist Certification Options
Below are a few popular certification options for a nutritionist, from those with minimal requirements to the most prestigious.
Certified Nutritional Consultant (CNC)
The CNC certification is best for unlicensed, entry-level nutritionists. The American Association of Nutritional Consultants (AANC) offers it and consists of an 11-part exam requiring a score of at least 85%.
Applicants only need a high school diploma or GED to qualify. Obtaining the certification does not equate to state licensing/certification.
NASM Certified Nutritional Coach (NASM-CNC)
The NASM-CNC certification is best for personal trainers and is overseen by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). To qualify, candidates need only a high school diploma and must complete an online program before taking the exam.
A score of at least 70% is needed to pass. Exams must also be retaken every two years to maintain the credential. Obtaining the certification does not equate to state licensing/certification.
American Fitness Professionals Association (AFPA) Certifications
The AFPA certification is best for personal trainers with high school or undergraduate education. It requires completing a series of online courses, after which one must pass an exam.
While the AFPA certification does not equate to state licensing or certification, some programs help one become a Certified Nutritional Consultant through the American Naturopathic Medical Certification Board.
Board Certification in Holistic Nutrition (BCHN)
The BHCN certification is best for nutritional professionals looking to teach an organic and holistic approach to wellness. It is offered by the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP). It requires membership in the NANP, the successful completion of a post-secondary holistic nutrition program, and 500 hours of professional experience to qualify.
To maintain certification, candidates must score at least 70% in the board exam and complete 30 continuing education units every two years.
Certified Nutritional Professionals (CNP)
The CNP certification is best for nutritionists with a bachelor’s degree who want to go higher than the BCHN. To qualify, candidates must meet all the requirements for a BCHN and complete at least 1,200 hours of supervised clinical experience within three years.
Meeting the requirements for a CNP usually equates to meeting the needs for licensing exams in many states.
Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN)
The CCN certification is best for those who want to practice in a more medical-based setting, such as in hospitals, research facilities, and outpatient facilities.
To become CCN certified, candidates must possess a bachelor’s degree or higher from accredited colleges; complete an internship of at least 900 hours; complete an online postgraduate studies program in Clinical Nutrition administered by the board (or hold a master’s degree in human clinical nutrition to waive this requirement).
They must also get a passing score on the CCN certification exam and complete 40 continuing education hours every two years while retaking the exam every five years to retain certification.
Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)
The CN certification is best for those who wish to practice advanced nutrition therapy, research, and education. This is considered the highest certification in nutrition therapy by a wide margin. Consequently, it also has the highest requirements.
To become CNS certified, candidates must have a master’s degree in an appropriate field from an accredited university; complete 1000 hours of supervised experience; pass the 200-question multiple-choice exam, and finish 75 continuing education credits every five years to maintain certification.
Certified Ketogenic Nutrition Specialist (CKNS)
The CNS certification is for those who wish to specialize in ketogenic nutrition. It requires at least a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics, a Certified Nutrition Specialist or Registered Dietician certification; completion of six modules of the Certified Ketogenic Nutrition Specialist training course; a passing score of 75% minimum in the multiple-choice exam, and 30 hours of continuing education units every five years.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Board-Certified
Lastly, the RDN and board-certified is for nutritionists who wish to work in dietetics and receive board certification for a nutrition specialty. To become RDN and board-certified, applicants must have at least a bachelor’s degree, obtain 1200 hours of experience in an ACEND-accredited practice, pass the multiple-choice exam, and complete 75 hours of continuing education credits every five years.
Meeting these requirements often equates to meeting the needs for licensing exams in many states.