As in many health science specialties in America, Black people are grossly underrepresented in the dietetics industry. Less than 3 percent of registered dietitians and nutritionists in the U.S. are Black, while more than 80 percent are white, according to statistics from the Commission on Dietetic Registration. That means Black Americans are often fed information from (mostly white) practitioners who may not be culturally competent — or, in other words, aware and inclusive of the cultural differences and lived experiences of diverse patients, says Josiemer Mattei, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at Harvard University.
"Diversity matters for everything," explains Mattei, whose research focuses on genetic, dietary, and psychological risk factors in racial and ethnic groups and underserved populations. "Having a diverse pool of nutrition and health professionals makes culturally-appropriate counseling more accessible to diverse communities. Patients tend to trust and relate more to providers with the same cultural background as themselves, increasing the likelihood of adhering to their advice."
To be a culturally competent nutrition expert means to be well-versed in the eating and cooking habits and behaviors of diverse populations, as well as the barriers that some communities can face when it comes to healthy eating, says Mattei. For example, communities of color tend to have more difficulty accessing grocery stores than white communities. Only 8 percent of Black Americans live in a census tract (a region defined for the purpose of a census, with an average population of 4,000) with a supermarket, compared to 31 percent of white people, according to statistics from the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance program.
It's also crucial for RDs and nutritionists to be aware of the many challenges Black Americans face in accessing equitable health care overall, whether in nutrition or other areas of wellness, adds Mattei. "There are social determinants that impact Black health, including racism, discrimination, and economic inequities," she explains. (See: How Racism Affects Your Mental Health)
Other social determinants can affect Black health more indirectly, "such as high cost of advanced education and gaps in educational opportunities for underrepresented minorities," which in turn can "hinder career growth," explains Mattei. Think of it this way: A lack of educational and career opportunities means a lack of Black practitioners, and a lack of Black practitioners not only means lower-quality (read: culturally incompetent) care for Black communities but also a lack of mentoring and exposure to health science fields for young Black people who may aspire to work in these industries one day.
Long story short: The dietetics industry (and, really, the health-care industry as a whole) can do better. The first step in making nutrition more equitable and inclusive is to prioritize cultural competency among practitioners, says Mattei. That means using measures such as workplace training courses and seminars to educate RDs and nutritionists about health disparities, as well as implementing policies to help reduce barriers for marginalized communities, explains Mattei. In the bigger picture, prioritizing cultural competency also means "increasing educational and career opportunities to providers of diverse backgrounds, reaching out to communities [with] higher needs to raise awareness of the role of nutritional guidance, helping to break institutional barriers — such as covering nutritional counseling through universal health insurance — and making proper linguistic and cultural adaptations to reach a broader audience," says Mattei.
Granted, it's going to take time to move all of those needles forward. So, until then, it might be hard to find inclusive, trusted sources and pages about nutrition, especially on social media, where there can often be misleading posts from uncredentialed "experts" and influencers. If you're looking for credentialed and culturally competent experts in this space, below are some of the best Black nutritionists to follow for recipes, body inclusivity messages, intuitive eating tips, and more. They also share their thoughts on the diversity gap in the industry they love.
"I came into nutrition when I was training for the 2005 Boston Marathon," Feller tells Shape. "After many miles, I found myself thinking about the meals I was eating and the impact on my training." (Related: What Runners Should Eat While Training for a Race)
"Black people across the diaspora have varied and nuanced cultural" eating habits and culinary practices," says Feller. "Black providers will be less likely to demonize these cultural foods. Patients have the right to see representations of themselves in their providers. Additionally, it's important for non-Black persons to have Black providers. This helps to break down stereotypes about the types of positions Black people can hold."
As the co-founder of Diversify Dietetics, a nonprofit dedicated to creating space for BIPOC to pursue nutrition, Melton is well aware of the gaps in the field. "I was a college professor [of nutrition at Georgia State University] for over 10 years, and I made an effort to recruit and nurture students of color," she tells Shape. "These students have amazing abilities, and they want to be a part of the nutrition profession. More dietetics educators and educational programs need to do the work to attract, retain, and support students of color."
As for her social media presence, Melton's Instagram feed features a blend of posts amplifying Black voices in nutrition, as well as delicious-looking photos of baked goods, easy fruit bowls, and creative snack plate ideas. "I'm a busy wife and mom of two young girls," shares Melton. "I have had my own struggles with my health as a woman, mainly related to infertility and having to advocate for myself in a health care system that doesn't always support Black women. I also believe that women are health matriarchs — if mama's healthy, so is everyone else. I [like to] post messages that I hope will support and uplift women of color as they work to improve or maintain their health and the health of their families."
One of Melton's favorite meals? Roti (a type of round flatbread) filled with curried potatoes and chicken. "My father is from Trinidad — home of roti — and my mom used to make roti for us on special occasions," shares Melton. "So roti reminds me of home and my family."
After completing her master's degree in nutrition, Aja Gyimah is now in the process of officially getting certified as a dietitian. The former volleyball player tells Shape that she first decided to go into nutrition because she wanted something to help with her athletic performance. Now, she says she's big on spreading the message that healthy eating doesn't have to be complicated. "As long as you're making an effort to add in some legumes, whole grains, and vegetables — it could be canned or frozen — I would consider that progress," she says.
Gyimah's IG is full of mouth-watering, healthy meal ideas — including these vegan pancakes made with oat flour and topped with peanut butter, jam, strawberries, hemp hearts, and "TONS" of maple syrup. (Related: This Oatmeal Pancake Recipe Calls for Just a Few Pantry Staples)
Food is often "very personal and hard to talk about," especially for people of color who may not feel that experts in the space understand their culture or background, says Gyimah. "It really helps to speak to somebody who understands you and can relate to some of the challenges you face when it comes to healthy eating."
"There is such an influx of fad diets and misinformation," Spence tells Shape. "People are very confused [about] what they should and shouldn't eat. People should know that they can eat anything they choose because their body is different and requires different nourishment."
Spence says she also makes a point to share these anti-diet messages because of diet culture's roots in racism. "Many diets and wellness ideas are geared toward non-BIPOC," she says. "When you look at the latest fad diets, foods that are cultural to many ethnicities are excluded — such as rice or starchy vegetables and fruits. This leaves BIPOC feeling as though their cultural foods are not healthy. [This gives] into the 'white and thin ideal.'"
Spence says there's significant value in receiving nutrition education from someone who looks like you because they can understand your experience. "I cannot count the number of times someone tells me that they were told to stop eating rice and beans or plantains, or any other cultural food, because of diabetes," she shares. "I also cannot stress how important it is for people to understand that many people are turned off by receiving counseling because they are talked down to — unintentionally sometimes — or dismissed. This can also be problematic, and this is why there is so much distrust about the health field as a whole from the Black community."
Jessica Jones and Wendy Lopez run an online platform called Food Heaven, which focuses on helping women of color eat a balanced, healthy, plant-based diet. Scroll through their joint Instagram feed and you'll find tons of posts with evidence-based nutrition information, in-depth food tutorials, and body-positive tips for navigating difficult conversations about weight and dieting.
As a board member with the nonprofit Diversify Dietetics, Jones tells Shape that she recognizes how detrimental the lack of Black experts in her field can be to the overall health of Black communities. "When you are someone who is, let's say, not Black, working with these communities, I think there has to be a lot of cultural humility and cultural competence that's involved," she explains. "For example, I just purchased some nutrition handouts online from a dietitian website. And I was shocked because the handouts were very white-centric. Not only were there no foods that might be traditional foods that Black folks may eat, but there was also no diversity in the foods that were presented. So, I had to remake the whole handout and include different foods from different cultures for the patients that I'm working with. I can only imagine if I'd given them the handout as is, how alienating that would be, how unhelpful it would be, [and] how maybe it could create shame for folks because they may not see their foods there. Or, they might think that their foods are 'bad' foods."
In case you couldn't already tell from her Instagram handle, @encouragingdietitian, Christyna Johnson's page is full of motivational and nutritional health tips. It's almost like a daily devotional for a healthy lifestyle. One post that denounces diet culture includes uplifting messages such as, "You deserve a full life outside of food," and "you are a whole person worthy of a full life that is not dictated by your body image or food."
"I love talking about food and helping people feel better physically and mentally," Johnson tells Shape. "[For each Instagram post,] I usually pull from themes in my work with clients, things I observe on the internet, or from what I'm currently reading. I hope that [people] feel encouraged and seen."
Vanessa Rissetto is the co-founder of the nutrition coaching platform Culina Health and director of the dietetic internship program at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. She tells Shape she was inspired to become a dietitian because of the guidance she received from an RD after graduating college. "I was really encouraged at how digestible and relatable she made the information," shares Rissetto. Since then, she says she's been dedicated to making healthy lifestyles more inclusive and closing the nutrition gap. Her Instagram page is full of everything from body-positive affirmations to easy, nutritious recipes and comfort food suggestions because, sometimes, you just need some soul-filling food.
"I want everyone to feel that health is for them," Rissetto tells Shape. "I make sure to provide evidence-based research in an easy way to understand, as well as recipes that aren't cumbersome, don't cost a lot in ingredients, and are also a bit of fun."
As for the topic of inclusivity in nutrition, Rissetto says it's all about representing people of color as practitioners and thought leaders in the space. "I think helping people understand what an RD does and having people understand that we are culturally competent and want to work with you can help people feel comfortable seeking care in this space," she adds.
Marisa Moore's Instagram is an endless scroll of colorful and wholesome meal ideas, from roasted broccoli and California grape salad to sprouted grain avocado toast to adorable mini apple crumbles. This culinary and integrative RD makes living a balanced, nutrient-dense lifestyle feel accessible with her approachable tips and anecdotes. "Sometimes [my Instagram page] reflects my cultural foods," she tells Shape. "And sometimes it reflects foods I've grown to love from travel and dining out, food trends, or the result of my inquisitive nature and wanting to try new foods and create and experience new recipes."
Moore says Black representation is "essential" in the general health and wellness space, but especially in food and nutrition. "Food is an inseparable part of our culture," she explains. "And telling someone to strip away what they know and love is not only hurtful, it's unnecessary. Giving up our cultural foods is not a prerequisite for health. The foods I grew up on — greens, okra, sweet potatoes, peas, beans, and rice — are all delicious and good for you, too. Though we are not a monolith, there's some comfort in knowing that the person in front of you gets it, without feeling like you have to explain everything or fear letting go of everything you enjoy."
Crystal Hadnott has been a certified nutritionist and functional wellness coach for almost 20 years. Her page promotes body-positive affirmations, dispels fad diets, and encourages eating balanced meals full of whole foods. She tells Shape that she was first introduced to dietetics because of her own experiences with gut health and inflammation issues. "I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease," says Hadnott. "Frustrated with not getting my questions answered by doctors, I became a student of nutrition by researching the healing properties of food. This sparked an interest in nutrition, which later ignited a passion in studying the science behind food and its impact on the body's function. This led to my private practice because I did not want others to have the same unanswered questions and confusion." (Related: What It's Like Being a Black, Body-Positive Female Trainer In an Industry That's Predominantly Thin and White)
These days, when she isn't working one-on-one with clients, Hadnott shares posts that remind her Instagram followers that the brain needs carbs to function, videos that dive into the connections between food and mood, and much more. No matter the content of her posts, Hadnott says she strives to show people that "nutrition is not linear," meaning it must account for people's various life experiences, beliefs, and cultural backgrounds.
Tamar Samuels is a self-proclaimed "holistic dietitian with swag" who's all about "real food, real science, and real love." She's also the other half of Culina Health and has been a registered dietitian for five years. She tells Shape that her fascination with science and nutrition began when she was a teenager. "I experienced IBS symptoms that led me to really hone in on my diet and make changes to relieve these symptoms," she shares. "After undergrad, my first job was working for a non-profit in Harlem, New York with youth, and I ended up teaching a healthy cooking and nutrition class. I saw firsthand how the lack of education and access to healthy food affected my students' concentration, energy levels, and mood. I then decided to change careers and pursue nutrition full-time."
These days, Samuels' Instagram feed is full of body-inclusive messages, intuitive eating tips, and posts that highlight the intersection of racial justice and health equity. "Nutrition is the foundation for preventative medicine, and the lack of access to healthy food and nutrition education from culturally sensitive dietitians leads to the health disparities that we see within the Black community: increased rates of chronic disease, obesity, and even maternal and fetal mortality," she says.
"I think nutrition can be intimidating and confusing for people," she continues. "It's multifaceted and isn't just about food for people. It's about culture, shared experiences, coping, celebrating, creativity, and health. Ultimately, I keep all of these things in mind when talking to my audience about food. My message always goes back to science-based education, providing easy and sustainable tools for making positive changes, and making nutrition and wellness relatable to everyone."
Warning: You may get hungry scrolling through Krystal George's Instagram page. From fried plantains with sautéed kale, multigrain toasts with a side of sweet potato hash, to simple, quick bites like avocado toasts or snack options such as watermelon and popcorn, she's all about feeding your mind and body.
George tells Shape that she initially wanted to be a chef but ultimately pivoted to nutrition because she saw so many people in her community "struggling with their health and wellness, and much of it was linked to their diet and lifestyle."
"I want my platform to be a safe space for people to express their wins and struggles in trying to live a meaningful life," continues George. "A lot of my posts come from my passion for cooking, mental health and wellness, and self-compassion. The health field has a lot of professionals who [may] force an unhealthy view of wellness and often push people to [conform to] Eurocentric beauty standards. Instead, I hope to inspire [people to] love themselves, no matter where they are on their journey. It's about healthy lifestyle habits that fit their goals, not someone else's."