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How to Become a Functional Nutritionist: One of The Fastest Growing Nutrition Career Fields

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How to Become a Functional Nutritionist: One of The Fastest Growing Nutrition Career Fields

Healthcare providers consistently see patients with diabetes, increased levels of inflammation, autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure, and many other conditions. These conditions are often related to diet and nutrition and are a leading cause of death and disability in the United States. They significantly contribute to the nation's $4.1 trillion annual healthcare costs.

Functional nutrition (a branch of functional medicine) emphasizes consuming healthy and natural foods to improve health. Functional nutritionists provide individualized care tailored to a patient's specific health conditions. Each patient may have a different functional nutrition requirement based on what is most effective in improving their physical, mental, and spiritual health.

Nutrition and lifestyle medicine are gaining popularity in the US, and functional nutritionists will be in high demand to help people understand the link between nutrition and chronic diseases and make lifestyle changes to improve their health.

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What is a Functional Nutritionist

The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) defines functional nutrition as the use of food and nutrient therapy to address the underlying causes of chronic disease.

Functional nutritionists take a holistic and personalized approach to health by considering genetic, environmental, and lifestyle influences. Functional diagnostic testing is used to identify underlying imbalances or deficiencies (e.g., food sensitivities) that may be contributing to an individual's health concerns. This knowledge facilitates developing specific dietary, lifestyle, and supplementation strategies to help patients achieve optimal health.  

What Is The Difference Between A Nutritionist And A Functional Nutritionist?

Functional and licensed nutrition fields are not mutually exclusive as both provide training in nutrition and health and both types of nutritionists develop individualized plans. However, there are substantial differences.

A licensed nutritionist works with clients to:

  • Evaluate nutritional needs
  • Provide nutritional counseling and advice
  • Create a clinical nutrition treatment plan

Licensed nutritionists also consult with healthcare providers on nutritional management for a client and are sometimes involved in education and research.

On the other hand, a functional nutritionist evaluates nutritional needs based on a whole-person approach. This approach considers lifestyle, genetic, and environmental factors supported by diagnostic testing and allows the functional nutritionist to identify and address the root causes of a health issue.

How to Become a Functional Nutritionist

A Bachelor's degree in nutrition or a related field like dietetics, food science, or biochemistry is sometimes required as a prerequisite for US functional nutrition programs. Some programs will allow a bachelor's degree in healthcare as entrance into the program.

The time it takes to become a functional nutritionist can vary depending on the specific program or certification. Some programs may take as little as a few months to complete, while others may take a year or more.

Since each education program has different requirements, confirm with programs that interest you.

Some specific programs in the US are:

  1. IFM is a professional organization offering training and certification programs in functional medicine and nutrition.
  1. The Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy (IFNA) offers an Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner credential. This credential is "a science-based, whole-systems approach in identifying and treating the root causes of chronic disease."  
  1. The Functional Medicine Coaching Academy is a professional organization that offers training and certification programs in functional medicine coaching, which includes functional nutrition. They define functional nutrition as "an evidence-based approach that addresses the root causes of chronic disease by understanding how food and lifestyle choices can influence the body's systems."
  1. The Portland Community College offers a college-level, professional preparatory Functional Nutrition program.

Depending on where you live, other programs may offer functional nutrition training. Inquiring with dietetics/nutrition academies or functional medicine institutions is an excellent idea to get more information.

Graduates of a functional nutrition training program may choose to become board certified through a professional organization like the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.

Where Do Functional Nutritionists Work?

Functional nutritionists typically work in private practice, but they can also work in clinics, hospitals, research centers, academic institutions, and wellness centers.

Can Health Functional Nutritionist Order Labs?

The regulations for ordering labs vary by state. Some functional nutritionists are licensed healthcare professionals and can order lab tests as part of their practice. In contrast, others may work under the supervision of a licensed healthcare professional who can order the tests on their behalf. Rupa Health offers physician services to help more practitioners have the ability to order specific specialty labs. If you don't have lab ordering rights in your state, you can apply for Physician Services; approval will be done on a case-by-case basis.

The rules and regulations regarding lab testing in functional nutrition practice may be different in countries other than the US.

What is The Average Salary for a Functional Nutritionist?

The average salary for a functional nutritionist is $45,258 annually in the United States, but this varies depending on location, level of experience, and the specific industry in which they work.

According to Parker University, this is an "exciting career field currently experiencing tremendous growth, and there are more than an estimated 68,000 jobs to be filled". Because functional nutrition is still a new specialty in healthcare, professionals may soon see drastic improvements in job growth and salary.

Parker University lists some nutrition-related jobs that might be within reach after graduating as a functional nutritionist:

  • Clinical dietetics/nutrition: These individuals provide medical nutrition therapy for patients in hospitals and nursing care facilities, assessing nutritional needs, developing nutrition programs, and evaluating results. Estimated annual salary – $60,370
  • Food and nutrition management: Professionals oversee operational procedures, purchasing, menu planning, and budgeting aspects of clinical food service while hiring and training qualified staff. Estimated annual salary – $55,109
  • Public health nutrition is the science of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health through nutrition to achieve greater well-being by making better food and nutrition-related choices. Estimated annual salary – $53,000
  • Nutrition education and research: involves teaching nutrition. Health professionals have a different role when educating an individual, community, or long-term healthcare facility. (Estimated annual salary – $45,078)
  • Private practice/consulting: These facilities and healthcare professionals focus on using healthy, natural foods to improve the health of others. Functional nutritionists provide flexible, individualized care to help bring about healing. Estimated annual salary – $68,600
  • Food technologists: These scientists research, develop, and oversee food production. They work on existing or newly discovered ingredients and technologies for recipes and to modify foods.(Estimated annual salary – $55,031)
  • Medical sales representative: These individuals sell medical supplies to doctors, clinics, facilities, and hospitals. They contact potential customers to explain the features and benefits of products and then negotiate a deal. Estimated annual salary – $74,748
  • Nutritional therapists: These experts help people improve and maintain their health through diet and therapy. Estimated annual salary – $60,344

Summary

Functional nutritionists take a holistic approach to health and focus on identifying and addressing the root causes of health issues rather than just treating symptoms. They use a combination of nutritional and lifestyle interventions to help individuals achieve optimal health and well-being. This approach can be particularly beneficial for individuals with chronic health conditions that standard medical practices have not effectively addressed.

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