Education, Environment, Economics Icons

Meet the Dietician Who is Making a Difference


Dr Kendra Outler recently spoke with Morgan State University registered dietician Chinasa Ekweariri, RD, LDN.

Over the course of the discussion, Dr Outler and Ekweariri covered the dietician’s career path, what her dietician role entails, and how she’s helping college students make better meal decisions and more.

Chinasa Ekweariri ResizedChinasa Ekweariri, RD, LDNChinasa Ekweariri is Morgan State University’s campus dietician, who partners with with SodexoMagic. Her path towards becoming a dietician started at an early age. Ekweariri had a lot of food allergies as a child, so she and her parents spent a lot of time reading labels to see what was in the things she was eating. That curiosity led her to Southern University and A&M College, where she obtained her education in dietetics.

Ekweariri said it was the best decision of her life to attend Southern University, an HBCU in Baton Rouge. “Once I entered the program, I said, ‘I’m going to become a dietician. I’m going to learn about nutrition and how I’m going to be able to help others make the right choices or just explain how food affects our bodies to the general public or to whatever clientele. I wasn’t sure when I first entered, but I knew I was going to make nutrition my career.”

Ekweariri then attended Concordia University Chicago, where she earned her master’s degree in applied exercise sciences with a focus in sports nutrition.

Understanding renal and cardiac diets

In the podcast, Ekweariri also mentions her time working at a trauma hospital in Wichita, KS. In those two years, she focused on the cardiac, stroke and renal floors. A hospital with a dietician like Ekweariri can be life-saving, as she can help patients create a diet to ensure good heart and renal health.  Her expertise is especially important when it comes to renal diets, which is one of the most restrictive. Ekweariri noted that patients have to consider a number of different materials, along with the protein in their diet. These materials include phosphorus, calcium, magnesium – as well as sodium – because they can affect a patient’s blood.

“And, whenever you have a kidney failure, kidneys are unable to filter out all the different things that you are ingesting,” Ekweariri said. “So, you have to make sure that you don’t overdo it for the next time that you go for dialysis, along with your fluid intake.”

DrK also pointed out how difficult maintaining a proper renal diet can be, because the everyday person isn’t thinking about these micronutrients in their food. There’s also the possibility that these foods or micronutrients aren’t readily available to some renal patients. That’s why it’s critical for hospitals to not only have a dietician on staff, but also for that dietician to understand their patients’ circumstances so they can get the appropriate treatment.

“I get to learn every day,” Ekweariri said. “There are different kinds of foods here in this nation, and in urban cities, food security may not be as strong as in other places. So, it is important for dieticians to know their patient’s location, to know their environment and their clientele, and basically see where they may or may not be successful with their diet, based on the different places where they go to eat food.”

Helping college students make good food choices

It’s not uncommon for college students to gain weight when the school year begins. The “Freshman 15” often occurs because students are away from home for the first time and have full access to a dining hall and all of its offerings – which aren’t always the healthiest options.

It’s Ekweariri’s job to help students be “mindful” about what they’re eating. She explained how Sodexo’s Mindful Program highlights different foods that can be part of a healthy diet. These include lean proteins, whole grains and foods that are lower in sodium. Foods that aren’t overly saturated in fat, and which offer vitamins, minerals and fiber – such as vegetables – are all part of a mindful diet, according to Ekweariri.

“I’ll say, ‘Hey, maybe you check out the salad bar or check out this thing over in our main line,’” she said. “And even if they do want to get a pizza, there are some pizzas that we have that will still taste like a ‘cheat’ meal, if you even want to call it that, but it’s still giving them a good amount of vegetables and protein.”

Dietary resources for college students

Maintaining a healthy diet and weight can be challenging for students when they’re juggling a full course load, perhaps working a job, and taking part in social activities. There are resources students can lean on to help them, however. Ekweariri often points students to the MyPlate plan on the USDA site, which shows them the different food items and food groups that they should be eating regularly. Additionally, the MyFitnessPal app is designed to help people track their health and fitness throughout the day.

However, the best resource for Morgan State students might be Ekweariri herself. She has an open-door policy and is happy to help answer any questions students might have when it comes to their diet or fitness. For example, when a student came to her and said she felt like she gained weight the last few months, Ekweariri helped develop a realistic strategy.

“I tell them, ‘Okay, let’s take a tour around the dining hall and look at the foods that you have been eating or something that you are more drawn to than others,’” she said. “I encourage them to try something new because sometimes that tends to be our issue. We are so restrictive because we want to eat something that we’re used to eating all the time. And sometimes our past diet history may not be the best. So, it is my job as a dietician to encourage students to elaborate your palate.”

Ekweariri also recommends physical activity, such as walking around campus, and works with the dining hall’s executive chef and food service manager to come up with new menu items that are enjoyable, but also healthy.

“I’m not saying that you should not eat fried foods,” she said “I think everyone deserves their favorite meal every once in a while. Everything in moderation.”

Making the nutrition field a more diverse one

Reading food labels may have initially sparked Ekweariri’s interest in nutrition, but she’s now hopeful that her current position will help diversify a field where just 6% of dieticians are black. The SodexoMagic program, founded by Sodexo and NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, is also playing a role in this goal as it works to serve underrepresented universities and colleges, schools and corporations to provide them with good nutrition.

“One thing that I love about working here is because I came from an HBCU, I didn’t have a dietician when I was in college,” Ekweariri said. “Once I entered the major, I got to network outside, but on campus, I did not have a dietician. So whenever I saw this position and I saw that they’re starting to hire campus dieticians, I felt like this is almost a full-circle moment. I get to be the representation of a Black dietician, one, and two, just provide nutrition knowledge for these students.

“I want to be able to be a face. There is a nutritional sciences program here at Morgan State to say, ‘Hey, I made it and there’s more than enough room for us and we need to grow. The diversity in dietetics as a whole needs to grow. So that’s something that is so special about being here. I get to provide the knowledge and get to represent and then hopefully just pave the path for the future.”

Listen to the discussion:



Related Posts

There are approximately 28 million children between the ages of 5 and 11 years old in the United States, and there have been nearly 2 million cases of COVID-19 within

Food insecurity is the lack of consistent access to enough food to meet the needs of all individuals within a household and can be divided into two categories.

Get the Uzima Newsletter