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Vegan Nutrition with Dina Aronson, M.S. R.D.

Dina AronsonDina Aronson, MS, RD is a vegan dietitian whose specialties include chronic disease prevention, vegetarian/vegan nutrition, and lifestyle management. She is the founder and director of VeganRD.com, a nutrition consulting company. Active in many vegetarian nutrition organizations, Dina was the recipient of the American Dietetic Association's Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year Award in 2002.

I am very interested in becoming a nutritional advisor, (holistic nutrition in particular). I am vegan and raising my 11 month son the same. I've been searching high and low for a high quality educational facility for certification. I must be able to complete the program within a year, because that is how long the government will help me with the costs of daycare while in school. (I am a single mom) Do you have any recommendations? Do you think that a "normal" nutritional degree will work with a vegan lifestyle? I am nervous that I'll enter a government accepted "accredited" program, and the values of the facility will clash with mine. I just don't think I can advocate people feeding their kids tons of meat and dairy!! I am especially interested in working with indigo children (I am one myself) and kids with ADD/ADHD. Any suggestions? Thanks! - Linda

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Dear Linda,

First, whatever path you choose, it is important to recognize that once you are certified/licensed, you have the freedom to advocate the kind of diet and lifestyle that you know is the most health-supporting and appropriate for your clients. Through your education process, it is expected that you will counsel clients who have no interest in changing their diets or lifestyles; the best you can do is promote a plant-based diet, which, after all, is the recommendation of the American Cancer Society, World Health Organization, Institute of Medicine, and others. After you graduate, you can choose who you would like to work with and in what capacities.

Using myself as an example, I am a registered dietitian and member of the American Dietetic Association, and as a vegan advocate I am certainly in the minority. However, my recommendations are based solidly on peer-reviewed research and the scientific literature. Whether you choose a similar route or not, it is equally important that your recommendations are valid, based on scientific observations and reliable evidence.

Unfortunately, it is doubtful that a credible degree can be earned in less than one year. However, many programs offer financial aid and creative options for child care. That said, here are a few routes you can take to position yourself to practice holistic nutrition:

1. Become a Registered Dietitian (RD)
This is the most conservative route, which at first may appear to be a disadvantage but may actually be a good choice because the registered dietitian is generally the most respected and trusted nutrition expert. Once you become an RD, you can specialize in holistic nutrition, and, if you wish, eventually earn additional degrees specific to your interests. Another advantage is that if you find success in your holistic approach, you can help change the way that "traditional" nutrition therapy is used, making the biggest impact overall.

There are two basic routes to become an RD: one, by completing a four-year bachelor's degree program, followed by a 9-month-long internship, after which you take an exam to enable you to become a practicing dietitian. The second option is a combined program, in which you can earn you bachelor's in nutrition at the same time as your RD. Two programs that are vegan-friendly are Loma Linda University, and Bastyr University.

There are distance-learning RD programs you may wish to look into; these offer more flexibility for your busy life: http://www.eatright.org/Member/7782_13283.cfm#DISTED and http://www.eatright.org/Member/7782_13284.cfm#DISTED

2. Become a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)
This is probably not the best route for you at this time, since a CNS holds an advanced degree from an accredited institution in the field of nutrition. The CNS must complete either 1,000 hours of supervised professional experience in nutritional related activities or 4,000 hours of independent experience as a professional nutritionist as a dietitian, nutrition researcher, or public policy nutritionist, and an exam. I mention the option, however, because it is a well-respected degree that tends to be more holistic in nature than the RD.

3. Become a Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN)
Like the RD degree, the CCN degree requires a related bachelor's degree or medical degree. Typically, those already in the health field go this route, but it does not mean that you can't start from scratch and go for it.

4. Become a Certified Nutritionist (CN)
Designed for busy adults such as yourself, a certified nutritionist degree requires an 18-24 month course of study, and is more focused on the holistic approach than the RD. The degree requires six senior college-level distance education courses with proctored midterm and final examinations, a 150-hour internship to be completed in a student's geographic location, and a six-hour comprehensive certification exam.

Please keep in mind that the RD and CNS are the most respected because the requirements are the most difficult to obtain, and each requires hundreds of hours of supervised practice and standardized national examination. But the CCN and CN are valid alternatives.

I recommend steering completely clear of those mail-order or similar "certificates" you see ads for in magazines and on the Internet. Just about anyone can obtain these "degrees." Practicing nutrition is serious business and, with good reason, requires vigorous education and experience.

Finally, I recommend reading this page which gives a good overview of the different types of nutrition experts. It also gives one viewpoint on what is to be considered the most credible source of nutrition information. Even if others don't necessarily agree with this article, it is important to see what others are saying about the different approaches.

I hope this provides a good start for you. Even if the resources above aren't for you, perhaps you can use them as a launching pad to find the best route. There are other opportunities not listed here, so I strongly suggest finding a career counselor in your area, through a local university or nonprofit organization, to receive more focused and personalized career guidance. Best of luck to you, Linda!

Disclaimer: The advice given here is for eductional purposes only. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified health care provider.

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