Everyone’s body is unique, and health and dietary needs vary significantly from one individual to the next. We all have different genetics, living environments, and lifestyles, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a diet that will work for everyone.
For this reason, many people work with a nutritionist to determine the best dietary plan for them and their lifestyle. But did you also know there are different types of nutritionists, including functional and clinical nutritionists?
Let’s look at the differences between functional and clinical nutrition and the pathways to each career.
What is a Nutritionist?
Nutritionist is a broad title for a professional advising clients on nutrition and its effects on them. Nutritionists help clients alter their diet to promote a healthier lifestyle and eating habits.
Nutritionists teach people new, realistic, and sustainable ways to eat and understand food. They do not recommend crash diets, detoxes, or quick fixes.
Functional Medicine vs. Functional Nutrition
Functional medicine incorporates clinical and integrative nutrition to re-establish optimal biochemical pathways. Functional medicine physicians are well-versed in the science of nutrients and how they are digested, absorbed, transported, catabolized, analyzed, stored, and eliminated by the body.
Functional nutritionists typically take a more holistic approach, emphasizing dietary recommendations that allow people to restore wholeness and live more optimally.
What Does a Functional Nutritionist Do?
Functional nutritionists use science-based data to treat the whole person, not just the isolated set of symptoms, to help determine the origin of the client’s health condition and address the root causes of symptoms.
Some factors functional nutritionists take into consideration are:
- Exposure to toxins
- Emotional and physical stressors
- Relationships and social connections
- Life history and lifestyle
By looking at all of these factors, functional nutritionists help people understand their unique health code and use food as a natural medicine to heal the body, correct nutrient deficiencies, overcome unwanted chronic symptoms and conditions, and restore balance.
In doing so, functional nutritionists aim to restore balance in the following focused areas:
- The gut and microbiome
- The thyroid and endocrine system
- The reproductive system
- Mental health
- The nervous system
- The adrenal glands
- The blood vessels
What is Clinical Nutrition?
Clinical nutrition involves examining what nutrients are necessary for your body to function and how your food affects your health. It is the practice of analyzing if a person is consuming adequate nutrients for good health.
What Do Clinical Nutritionists Do?
Clinical nutritionists study the relationship between food, nutrients, and the effects on the body. They focus on how nutrients in food are processed, stored, and discarded by a person’s body and how what they eat affects their overall health and well-being.
Professionals in the clinical nutrition field assess nutritional needs to help people become more clinically stable by looking at family and medical history, lifestyle, and laboratory tests.
Based on the results, a clinical nutritionist can recommend and advise on a person’s diet and nutritional needs to prevent disease. However, long-term health and well-being are generally not considered by clinical nutritionists.
How Do I Become a Functional or Clinical Nutritionist?
To become a functional or clinical nutritionist, you’ll need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, dietetics, biochemistry, or a related field. However, most nutritionists go on to graduate programs in clinical nutrition.
Additionally, the education you need depends on the type of nutrition you want to practice and the regulations in your state. However, to become a certified nutritionist specialist (CNS), a Master’s in Clinical Nutrition (Nutrition MS) is typically required.
Candidates should check their state’s licensing requirements to work as a clinical nutritionist, as many states require some licensing to practice legally. CNS certification is a pathway to licensure in many of these states.
In addition, candidates should gain continuing education and experience in functional medicine to become functional nutritionists. Consider applying to work for a functional nutrition or functional medicine clinic or joining organizations like the Functional Nutrition Library.
The Nutrition MS at University of Bridgeport (UB)
A Nutrition MS provides general nutrition courses, courses in anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, biochemistry, and disease prevention, as well as courses in specific areas. At UB, our curriculum combines an integrative and holistic perspective with an evidence-based approach to assessing and counseling clients.
Students can access the College of Health Sciences, which features seven schools and sixteen programs across healthcare disciplines. Experts in their fields teach classes and hold PhDs in biochemistry, advanced degrees in nutrition, or are practicing physicians.
Plus, our online program offers students maximum flexibility and support to earn their MS in Nutrition in as few as twenty-three months.
Contact us today for more information about our Nutrition program. Together, we will get you through college and into an exciting career where you will help people live better, healthier, and more holistic lives.