Zach is a nutrition professor at Daytona State College, host for the Latter-day Saint Nutritionist podcast, author of The Creation Code, and public speaker.
Zach fuses food, faith and science to help nutrition education be relatable, but also personal. We all develop a culture, and faith can be a large part of the culture that defines who we are. When helping people assess their personal behaviors we often skip the role faith can have on our diets, but nothing is more personal than our food and our faith. Too often we would rather talk about a patients bowel movements than their religious beliefs. In order to help clients create lasting changes, we need to see individuals as a whole, and understanding their faith can be a way to open doors for sustainable health.
Mathea Ford: [00:00:27] Hi there! It’s Mathea. Welcome back to the Nutrition Experts Podcast. The podcast featuring nutrition experts who are leading the way using food starts today right now with our next guest. It’s great to have Zach Cordell on the show today. Zach, welcome to Nutrition Experts.
Zach Cordell: [00:00:43] Thank you very much for having me.
Mathea Ford: [00:00:45] I’m excited to have you on the show and share your expertise with my tribe. We’re going to talk about something that’s a little bit different most dietitians talk about so I want you to start by telling my listeners a little more about you and what you do.
Zach Cordell: [00:00:59] All right. So, I am a Nutrition professor. I am also a podcast host in public speaking but my full time position is to teach. So, I teach at Daytona State College in Daytona Beach, Florida. It’s a horrible location I know but it’s it’s a good place to be and I love it. But my podcast is the Latter Day Saints Nutritionist and so what I do is I mix food and faith. So, when you talked about it maybe a little bit different I think this will be a different conversation that some people have had in the past.
Mathea Ford: [00:01:32] Yes. So, what have you done besides teaching nutrition? What did you do before you became a professor?
Zach Cordell: [00:01:37] I just went straight into teaching.
Mathea Ford: [00:01:37] Oh!
Zach Cordell: [00:01:38] Yes. I got my Masters from the University Massachusetts. I did my internship at Yale New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut and then I moved down to Florida to get a little bit of sun and to teach.
Mathea Ford [00:01:52] All right. So, you mentioned you host a podcast called The Latter day Saints Nutritionist Podcast. Can you talk about why you created that podcast and what it’s about?
Zach Cordell [00:02:03] Yeah sure. So, I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I use the culture that people experience to discuss what is influencing their diet habits. So, most people when they think of culture they think of race or ethnicity or location but culture is just a combination of who you are because of your life experiences. Whether it’s your history your family your friends your environment all of those things influence what your culture is. And so my podcast is fusing food, faith and science and using scripture principles to just talk about how we can better understand nutrition and how we approach it.
Mathea Ford: [00:02:46] Talk a little bit about faith in nutrition. You mentioned it as far as like culture but how does faith influence a person’s diet?
Zach Cordell [00:02:55] So, you can look at it in the broad terms of if somebody is Kosher or Halal or vegetarian that can be based on very specific religious beliefs. But if you take it to the next step you can go to like soul food or linger longer is where somebody hangs out a church or like the post church Sunday brunch or your Sunday family meals. Some people don’t drink because of religious beliefs. Some people drink because of religious beliefs just depends on where you’re coming from. But all of those things are building up who you are. And my podcast isn’t just like for people that are members of my faith but people of faith. Whether that is like you go to church or you don’t. We all have beliefs that are going to influence us. So, along with Halal and Kosher, you can look at it in terms of if you believe that you have been fated an illness. Talking to someone about that is going to be a little bit different than counseling somebody that feels like they have a little bit of control over what is happening in their life right? So, if you feel that you got diabetes because of a burden or it’s a temptation or a punishment on you for some reason that’s a different conversation than just saying “Okay. So, diabetes happens and what can we do to manage it?” So, yeah food and nutrition go hand-in-hand together. But at the same time… Sorry nutrition and faith that faith is one of those things where it’s it’s becoming is taboo to talk about. And so getting into that can be a little hairy for some individuals.
Mathea Ford [00:04:33] Well, that’s very interesting because I think we try to think about what is their culture, what types of face do they typically eat. But I don’t know that you go to the next step and ask why if somebody says “I don’t drink diet soda “you say “good. Okay. Great. I don’t drink sodas.” Okay, but maybe the reason behind why they don’t do that or they don’t eat meat is more than obviously just a desire.
Zach Cordell [00:05:00] Yeah. I mean take a vegetarian for example. You can have a vegetarian that is a vegetarian because they don’t like the sustainability of our modern food system or you can have a vegetarian that is a vegetarian because they saw somebody on Instagram that they thought was really cool and they wanted to be a vegetarian like them or you can have some that’s a vegetarian because of religious beliefs. And so understanding why they are vegetarian can help you in approaching what needs to happen in order to help them to obtain optimal health.
Mathea Ford [00:05:32] So, Zach when you talked about dietitians not knowing enough for not wanting to look silly, not wanting to look like they’re not the experts. Really can you dig into that a little bit deeper and talk about what if you really don’t know or understand the faith that your client’s talking about? Or what if you don’t necessarily feel like that’s appropriate?
Zach Cordell [00:05:55] To the second question, if you feel that it’s appropriate or not I think it’s funny that we will ask people about their poop all day long.
Mathea Ford [00:06:00] Dietitians love to talk about that.
Zach Cordell [00:06:01] And we will ask them about if you’re a cystic fibrosis dietitian. You’ll ask them about whether or not they have a lot of phlegm that they’re making up and so you ask about other body fluids but you won’t ask about the religious beliefs that somebody has because you’re like “Oh no! No… no… no. That’s not okay.”
Mathea Ford [00:06:15] It’s too far.
Zach Cordell [00:06:16] Right. Yeah that’s personal. We don’t get personal but I find that nothing is more personal than somebody’s religion and because I don’t know if you’ve had arguments with people about their food. None of their arguments. But you like “Okay, it’s really not that big of a deal.” But to them you don’t touch the chocolate milk or you don’t touch a very specific food item and you didn’t realize it was a big deal.
Mathea Ford [00:06:44] Yeah that’s true. Especially with like schools or like I bought my son. He loves to drink milk. He’s 14 so he’s growing so I bought him some of the… So I bought a Fairlife milk and he is like “I’m not going to drink that!” I was like “Okay, don’t drink it.” It’s like “oh my gosh! this is so good!” And I was like “it has less sugar and more protein” but the chocolate milk thing is one of those things where I’m like it’s really not that big a deal if your kid drinks milk or chocolate milk or strawberry milk, they’re getting benefit anyway.
Zach Cordell [00:07:14] Yeah. So, to go back to the question of why should it really be that off limits. And I’m not saying that you need to go in and discuss all of their religious beliefs with them and see if you’re agreeing with them or not. It is solely to see if there is something that is part of their faith that influences how their diet influences their health. Right? So, if you go in and somebody says “I’m vegetarian because of religious beliefs” then you can say “Okay, that’s fine. Now, does that include dairy? Does that include eggs? Is it not? And if it does or not that’s fine.” You just understand where that person is coming from. Now to go back to the first question of whether or not they want to look like a fool or they they don’t know.
Mathea Ford [00:07:59] I don’t understand.
Zach Cordell [00:08:00] Yeah. I think we can all agree that there’s been a situation where somebody has said something in a counseling session and then you just kind of sit there and you know you’ve got to stone face on, you’re not trying to let anything arbitrary like “what in the world you eat like three packages of rum with two cups of manatees for breakfast? Okay. Like I didn’t see that coming.” But you can ask somebody for clarification like that’s what motivational interviewing is. Right? So, you’re asking them for information from them to help them to be able to explain to you what it is they need. And I don’t think that religion is any much any more different than any other question. I think we just have a wall that’s up saying that we shouldn’t be asking you about it. And like I said before if somebody wants to talk about it they’ll bring up that it does influence things whether it’s like the Sunday brunch, whether it’s going to be “we go to my grandmother’s house afterwards and everybody brings their specific dish. And if I don’t bring my dish then they’re going to harass me. And that doesn’t happen in my family.”
Mathea Ford [00:09:05] So, I think it’s a lot of like you said earlier in the podcast it is culture. So, even though it’s kind of in that category of religion, it is culture because we do a certain things for lots of reasons. Like when I was growing up my grandma told me potatoes and make you fat. And I know there’s plenty of people that would agree with that. But the fact of the matter is it’s it’s obviously part of a whole diet. But I had that kind of voice playing in my head for a long time and I recognized that it influenced my food. So, asking that question can help your patients even more because they may realize how it plays out in their life or how they’re using it is not necessarily congruent with where they want to go. If they want to change it may need to be from a place of being compliance with their religion or whatever. So, you can be a vegetarian but you can be all kinds of vegetarian. You can be an Oreos vegetarian or you can be one of those plant based lots of beans, lots of good vegetables and…
Zach Cordell [00:10:12] Right. And you can look at faith. It’s not just going to a church. You can have people that have a faith where they believe in and Mother Nature and all of the earth supplies for you as part of their greater good. So, it’s not just like they read a certain book and have a certain day and eat. It’s more so they have a culture and a belief system that influences how they behave.
Mathea Ford [00:10:32] Yeah. It’s their belief system. That’s a good good thing to think about as a dietitian like you’re really just trying to help them to get to where they need to go within their beliefs that they have that make it okay for them to do that.
Zach Cordell [00:10:47] Yeah. Exactly. I mean how is asking about if they have a religious belief different than asking you about if they like what or documentaries and avoid GMOs because of the different things you know. So, like food is kind of becoming a religion in some aspects.
Mathea Ford [00:11:05] How is that the best way or when is the best time to kind of approach the religious option in the therapy session? How does the flow kind of go where you and do you do it? You mentioned in a hospital you know it may tell you what their faith is based on the medical record but obviously if you’re seeing them at outpatient basis you may not have that information. So, how is it typically approached?
Zach Cordell [00:11:29] Well, so there’s a couple of things that you could do. So, if you’re doing outpatient you’re either associate with the hospital you’re doing your own private practice or you do private practice outside of the hospital. But either way you’re going to have records and you’re going to have an intake form, you’re going to ask what they’re coming in to talk to you about in. On that form when you’re asking height, weight and all the other biometrics that you’re you’re wanting to get it from that person, you can simply ask what’s their religion. And does that play any role in their diet. If they say “no religion. No, it doesn’t play a role” then you don’t necessarily need to bring it up. If they do say “yes, this is my religion and yes it does play a role” then as simple as saying “how does this influence you? Is it more so family? Is it upbringing? Is it restrictions?” And from there it doesn’t have to be this looming on “I want you to ask them about their religion.” You know it’s just more so “does this influence your health?”
Mathea Ford [00:12:31] So how? What do you say if they say “it that’s just not important.” That’s like if they put down a religion and they say you know either it influences or it doesn’t. And you ask the question then the go “why? Why does that matter?”
Zach Cordell [00:12:43] You can just tell them that culture is built up of all the experiences that we’ve had in our lives. And sometimes faith can play a role in the culture that we develop. That’s why I ask all of my patients that I’m not singling you out. It’s not to convert anybody in anything. It’s just it’s just to see if this is going to influence how we need to go about our counseling because I’m going to make this as applicable to you and relatable to you as I can.
Mathea Ford [00:13:09] That’s a good way to approach it. I think it’s faith. One of those things that you possibly advertise our market like you yourself are a Latter Day Saints. There’s people that are Catholics. Is there any anything people do that advertise or market so people feel more comfortable talking to you or do you avoid mentioning your religion altogether so people don’t feel like they can’t talk about their religion?
Zach Cordell [00:13:33] Sure. My niche market that I’m going for is the faith based community or just the cultural side of that. And so yes I’m going to put it out there. It is just something you’re going to put on your intake form. I don’t think that you need to advertise it. If it’s something that you are going to have a lot of clientele from that area say you are in the Deep South in the Bible belt and you know that that is going to play a large role in your clientele then sure you can put it in some of your marketing material but it doesn’t have to be. If you follow Islam, if you follow Judaism, if you follow Christianity these are the clients that I will see. We can have faith based conversations if that is part of the diet that they would like to discuss. So, it can be as much or as little as you want. From my experience it’s either that is who you’re targeting or it’s just part of the information that you’re getting.
Mathea Ford [00:14:27] How do a dietitian spend time learning more about religions related to because if you’re if you’re going to advise someone even though you ask them “okay. You’re vegan or vegetarian for your religion, can you tell me a little bit more about that?” You’re going to already know a little bit about a vegetarian diet but maybe some of the other religious beliefs if they don’t explain them fully, how do you learn more about them or how you might recommend better things for those types of patients who have this this concern or this belief?
Zach Cordell [00:15:00] Yes. So, I’ll actually send over some links to you that you could put in the show notes if that would be helpful for clientele in a different place or listeners so that they can know where they can listen or learn more about different faiths. If you note a blanket statement or blanket beliefs or a lot of these then it’s easy for you to just take a step back and say “okay. I understand this. I understand that. Is there any more that influences what you would do?” Because even within those that are Catholic, you have people that go to church every Sunday and those that go maybe once a month and maybe those who go Easter and Christmas. Right? So, even if they put on that paper that they do have a faith it can change on how much that is going to influence that person. But yeah like I said I can send over some links that will be good resources to the listeners.
Mathea Ford [00:15:47] Can you have success.? Obviously lots of dietitians do have success with nutrition counseling using facts based guidelines without getting into religion and beliefs.
Zach Cordell [00:15:57] Yes, you can. You do not have to incorporate faith into your conversation to have lasting behaviors. But at the same time it can open doors that other conversations may not be able to. Because like I mentioned before like food and faith are two of the most personal things to an individual. If you are going to open the door of food and talk about the things that their mother made that maybe that weren’t the healthiest for them or you’re going to talk about how this can affect the diabetes or the renal failure that they have then approaching it from the religious standpoint to say like “I understand you as a whole person. I’m not just treating you as a piece of paper or a patient but I’m treating you as a person” and understanding that person as a whole can help you to have a more lasting impact on that person. You don’t have to discuss religion if you’re if you’re really taken aback by those conversations or are really worried about it. You don’t need to but it is another tool in your toolbox that you can use to best help your clientele.
Mathea Ford [00:17:02] Yeah. I think the simple question of “does your faith influence what you eat?” Getting that answer because you can make recommendations to people and they can agree to them there in your face but they may never plan to implement them if they don’t have that belief at that. How do you think about our listeners are people that are dietitians, doctors, nurses and just regular everyday people. How does how is this information that we talked about today great to be used by listeners in their day to day life? What are some recommendations you might have?
Zach Cordell [00:17:35] Yes. So, I think to take it a step back so I’m not just this radical coming at you talking about how you should talk about food and faith. In the research community, there is a lot of research that comes up using congregations to provide nutrition education and that’s because you’re finding a gatekeeper to a community. So, if you’re a community dietitian most of you’ve been aware of community programs that use houses of faith to reach people in a way where they already have built in networks of some of a support group and you can present the information in a way that is very applicable to them. It’s not a new thing to discuss or to use the the method of religion to discuss food. So, I just want to make sure that that I brought that up. But if you are a doctor, just talking about religion with somebody again doesn’t have to be a big ticket item. It can be mentioned in passing and if they want to bring it up and talk about a little bit further they can. But you don’t have to sit down and say “okay. So, when were you baptized? Okay. How long has it been since you’ve been converted? Are there any others like you?” You don’t have to get into all of those deeper questions of theology saying “Okay. Were you a trinity person or are you a God?” Like it doesn’t like those things aren’t what’s important. And as a practitioner, you don’t need to put your personal beliefs on that other person like this is not a time to judge. Just like whenever somebody comes in and is looking for weight loss. You don’t sit there and say “wow! I can’t believe that you’re eating this, this and this! Don’t you know?” Like you’re there to be a support group for that person, an educator, someone there that is on their team that is cheering them on to succeed. This is just gathering information for them. But to use it in their day to day life it’s just as simple as dietitians that are now starting to do the physical examinations. They sit down with a patient. It might seem weird at first whenever you’re grabbing their hands, you’re touching their legs, you like seeing what’s going on with their faces if there’s any scooping but it’s just one of the tools that you use to assist in providing the best care you can for that patient.
Mathea Ford [00:19:55] That was always in my mind a couple minutes ago I was trying to think of but the fight about using the congregations, I was thinking if you really get to where you do understand a religion or you do connect to that religion or even just a person or a couple people that come to you. That’s an excellent opportunity to do a class with maybe that church you know couple of people, you get connected with their pastor or whatever their religious head of church is and connect with them and say “hey! I’d like to possibly do a weight loss class or whatever the particular thing that seems to be popular with.” And a great way to do some outreach you know you could even possibly charge a little bit for that class but you understanding that and knowing kind of some of their beliefs but just like you mentioned too there’s a lot of people that are at different ends of the spectrum. I remember when I worked in hospitals. I worked in hospitals for a long time and every year for Lent we would always do fish on Fridays and that was for everybody regardless whether you were Catholic or not. But at that time there was a large proportion of the hospitals that I worked in that were Catholic. So, it was important to have that fish option on Friday so that they would be able to find something that they wanted to eat. And that’s a way that I did it. Even I didn’t even really think about it. I did take into account that religious preference.
[00:21:30] That’s the other part of it. You may not have realized it in other employees that weren’t Catholic, might not have even thought of you think of it but for the people that were Catholic that meant a lot to them because it meant that they were understood and they were appreciated and their beliefs were validated in other people. Where they say I understand that this is important to you so it’s important to me that I might not hold the same beliefs but I understand that this plays a vital role in who you are as a person.
Mathea Ford [00:21:57] So, I want to ask you a question I always ask my peeps on the end of my podcast. I want you to tell me what’s your favorite food?
Zach Cordell [00:22:08] Lately for me, I think it’s been like chia seeds Greek yogurt. I really like tapioca pudding because of the texture of it and the chia seeds that have more protein, more fiber to it. I mean like there’s less saturated fat in those things less sugar. But it’s still got the same texture. So, maybe like a chia seeds Greek yogurt.
Mathea Ford [00:22:25] So, how do you soak the chia seeds and add them to the Greek yogurt. How did you do that?
Zach Cordell [00:22:29] Yeah. So, I literally just put the chia seeds into my yogurt and then I mix it up. Let it sit for a minute because it’ll soak up the fluid that’s in there and that’s it. I’m pretty simplistic in my approach.
Mathea Ford [00:22:43] I might have to try that. That doesn’t sound too bad.
Zach Cordell [00:22:45] Yeah. If you like tapioca pudding rice pudding like those types of textures then yeah give it a try.
Mathea Ford [00:22:51] So, Zach thank you so much for being on the podcast today. It was a pleasure to have you on the show. I know my listeners have learned a lot about how to approach faith and nutrition counselling and how it can be just a simple easy thing to do. So, if listeners want to connect with you what’s the best way to do that?
Zach Cordell [00:23:09] So, they can check me out on my website. It’s called CordellNutrition.com. I’m on social media both Facebook and Instagram @ZachCordellRDN.
Mathea Ford [00:23:19] And you have a podcast?
Zach Cordell [00:23:22] I do have a podcast. That’s a Latter Day Saint Nutritionist Podcast. That’s going to be in Stitcher, in Google Play store, in a Cast Box and iTunes. Basically anywhere that you’ll get a podcast. Wherever you’re listening to the great Nutrition Experts Podcast, you can probably find the Latter Day Saint Nutritionist Podcast.
Mathea Ford [00:23:36] All right! Well guys this has been another great episode of the Nutrition Experts Podcast. The podcast that is all about learning more so you can do more with nutrition in your life.