7 Nutrition and Dietetics Career Paths

The best way to have a career in nutrition is to become a dietitian. That gives you access to careers within and connected to the Australian healthcare system. But alternative career paths are also available for nutritionists.

Just to be clear, in Australia (as in America), anyone is able to call themselves a "nutritionist". On the other hand, a "dietitian" must have completed at least 4 years of science-based university study. Advertised jobs in the nutrition field are usually only open to dietitians.

Clinical Dietitian

A clinical dietitian designs nutrition programs to improve or maintain patient health. For an individual patient, a nutrition program may be needed to deal with a short-term medical issue (e.g. before or after an operation), a chronic problem (e.g. diabetes) or for disease prevention (e.g. preventing disease of the heart, kidney or liver). Dietitian work settings include hospitals, public clinics and private medical practices. To achieve good outcomes, clinical dietitians combine medical treatment knowledge with patient-focused counselling and education.

Job titles: accredited practising dietitian, dietitian, dietitian (grade 2), dietitian team leader, nutrition and dietetic assistant, private practice dietitian, senior dietitian.

Food and Nutrition Sales

Food sellers handy healthy wraps to customers

Nutritionists are employed in sales-related positions in the food, beverages and supplements industries. They can be retail positions, such as working in an organic food store or marketing products online. Job opportunities also arise in product development and business-to-business sales in large companies. A general education in nutrition, rather than a clinical qualification, is satisfactory in many cases. You may be competing with graduates from other disciplines (such as business or allied health).

Job titles: food and nutrition sales consultant, health blogger, health store manager, ingredients account manager, nutrition consultant, nutritionist, practitioner sales consultant, product manager.

Food Preparation

Many food preparation roles call for applicants to have experience and understanding in the fields of dietetics, nutrition and allergen management. These include catering and cooking positions in industries such as aged care, childcare and healthy eating. To succeed, you need excellent skills in other areas, such as commercial cooking and services management.

Job titles: aged care catering staff, aged care cook, catering manager, chef / cook, childcare cook, development chef, food services assistant.

Food Technologist

Food technologists working in a lab

Food technologists are the scientists / engineers of the nutrition sector. Often they have a science degree with a major in food science, biochemistry, microbiology or chemistry. The job is to research, develop and oversee the production of food stuffs. Products must be produced safely and be of the claimed quality, meeting all regulatory requirements. Career opportunities are mainly in product development (such as testing new recipes and ingredients) or on the production side (working with manufacturing staff).

Job titles: consumer quality coordinator, development technologist, factory hygienist, food concept and innovation technologist, food manufacture risk analyst, food services technologist, food technologist, liquid development technologist, product development technologist, quality systems technologist.

Health and Diet Advisor

Healthy looking man eating a bowl of unprocessed vegetables

Nutritionists are able to offer health and nutrition advice to people outside of a clinical setting. They can do this, for example, in health food stores, health and wellness centres, fitness centres, to corporate clients, and in private nutrition practice. The nutritionist considers the client’s lifestyle, dietary habits and general health in order to provide personalised advice. Recommendations could cover nutrition as well as other factors such as exercise and lifestyle.

Job titles: dietitian, health coach, nutritionist, private practice dietitian, private practice nutritionist.

Health Promotion

Woman working at her desk in an open plan office

Nutrition knowledge and experience is valuable for health promotion roles where having a better diet is a central message. Positions are most often offered in government departments and other publicly funded institutions. The role may draw on nutrition knowledge and enthusiasm while, realistically, tasks can be concentrated in administration, organisation and communication.

Job titles: healthy diet program assistant, health promotion officer, population health promotion officer, public health manager.

Specialist Dietitian

Although an accredited dietitian is equipped to handle most types of clinical work, specialisations exist within the discipline. To become a specialist, you generally need to complete extensive complementary or advanced studies. Specialists may focus on certain groups (such as the young or elderly), the treatment of specific problems (e.g. diabetes) or holistic healthcare (e.g. sports).

Job titles: bariatric dietitian, diabetes educator, dietitian for paediatric feeding, graduate paediatric dietitian, sports dietitian.

Nutritionist vs Dietitian

Nutritionist or dietitian consulting with a client

In Australia, the title nutritionist is not protected by law, meaning that anyone can use it regardless of their qualifications or level of training. This can lead to confusion for consumers who may not be able to distinguish between someone who is truly qualified to provide nutritional advice and someone who is not.

In contrast, the title dietitian is protected by law, and can only be used by individuals who have met certain education and training requirements, and are registered with the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA). Dietitians are also regulated by state and territory governments, and must meet certain standards of practice.

This difference in regulation means that dietitians are generally considered to be more qualified and better equipped to provide nutritional advice, especially in cases where a person has a medical condition that requires special attention. Dietitians are able to provide medical nutrition therapy, which is not possible for nutritionist who is not a dietitian.

Medicare rebates for dietitians

Dietitians are recognised by Medicare Australia. They can work in hospitals and assist individuals with cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease to improve their health through nutrition. Patients can be referred to a dietitian by their doctor for a care plan and may be eligible for a rebate from Medicare for some or all of the fees.

On the other hand, while a nutritionist can also provide one-on-one services, they're not eligible for government rebates

Resources: How to become a dietitian (DAA), Strategies for job-seeking dietitians (Maree Ferguson)