Agriculture has to deal with a lot of myths, misinformation, and misleading marketing. But imagine being a registered dietitian – hands down it would be so much worse! I chatted with Leah McGrath, a Registered Dietitian and founder of Buildup Dietitians, about her work, food, and social media.
You’re considered a Registered Dietitian, but I’ve also heard of Nutritionists. What’s the difference?
You will often see “A dietitian can call themselves a nutritionist, but not every nutritionist is a dietitian” Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) – though we can also just say Registered Dietitian (RD) is a credentialed title. We have to have a degree (all of us have undergraduate and many Master’s degrees), complete an internship of about 1200 hours with different rotations (food service, clinical, community, public health etc), pass a nationally administered board exam and keep up continuing education hours annually. It is not uncommon to find people who call themselves a “nutritionist” who have completed a brief on-line course, don’t have a degree in nutrition and have never done an internship or passed any sort of national board exam.
As a professional dietitian, what is one of the most pervasive myths about food that you hear that just won’t seem to die?
That one food or one ingredient is the problem…and that food or ingredient changes just about every year. This year we are demonizing sugar.
You’re super active on social media, particularly on Twitter. Do you think that social media has been an overall good thing for communicating accurate information on food, nutrition, and fitness, or just a conduit for misinformation and myths?
Definitely both. I think it depends who(what source) people are getting their information from. Is it from a food “babe” that does a great job at fearmongering or a food expert who has the education and training and promotes evidenced-based information.
I write a lot about the fact that misleading advertising and marketing for food and agriculture, particularly when it promotes certain products or labels, hurts farmers and agriculture. For example, the organic label has been used to sell products based on the notion that they were not sprayed with pesticides, which is not necessarily true. Do you think these types of marketing schemes hurt consumers, too?
Yes, definitely. I think it is a very confusing time for most. I often tell customers that organic is a certification for agricultural standards and doesn’t mean something is better tasting, healthier, more nutritious or even safer. I actually had a customer that was so mad that he felt he’d been lied to that he wanted a refund on all of the food he’d bought! At least USDA organic does have standards, some other labels that I see being used mean absolutely nothing or just serve to confuse consumers even more like non-GMO cat litter or non-GMO sea salt or pork or chicken labeled “hormone-free” when it is illegal in the U.S to administer hormones to chickens or pigs.
For people that are looking for accurate and reliable information about food, nutrition, and fitness, what advice would you give to sort through the garbage?
I would start with groups that aren’t trying to sell you anything and that have an obligation and the mission to provide science-based information like the USDA, FDA, Cooperative Extension Service, and CDC, these are all good places for people to start looking for information.
By the same token I would be very skeptical of websites/pages and individuals who sell cleanses, detoxes, vitamin and mineral supplements, herbs and weight loss products and try and convince you that foods/ingredients in foods you are eating are bad/toxic/dangerous to your health.
What question do people never ask that you wished they did ask, and what is your answer to that question?
I think they assume I’ve always been a dietitian so if they asked about my background I’d tell them I used to be in restaurant management and catering for about 4 years which has probably really shaped some of the things I like about my job as a dietitian, especially when I get to work with chefs and farmers and plan menus and develop recipes.
About Leah: Leah McGrath has been the Corporate Dietitian for Ingles Markets for the past 16 years. Ingles is a regional supermarket chain based near Asheville , NC that has 204 stores in 6 states. Her days are busy with a variety of different tasks and responsibilities from running the social media platforms for Ingles to supervising dietetic interns, setting up events with local farmers and suppliers, hosting a weekly radio program (WWNC 570am via iheart radio every Saturday at 8amET), appearing on television, writing for local publications and answering consumer questions. She also proudly refers to herself as an “agvocate” and started the group “Buildup Dietitians” to promote science-based information (with a side of humor).