Dr. Heidi Moretti, the Diet Detective RD, is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist, blogger, nutrition researcher, and functional and integrative medicine expert!
She is a passionate patient advocate determined to help people wade through the oceans of nutritional and health misinformation out there to find true wellness. (A woman after our own hearts!)
In this interview, Dr. Moretti answers our questions about her interest in nutrition, promoting functional and integrative medicine in the world of conventional medicine, strategies for tackling chronic health issues, and creating a healthier world for all!
This is part of Nutrishatives’ Ask an Expert Series, where we chat with movers and shakers in health, wellness, nutrition, and medicine about their careers, their current work and their expert opinions on… well… their area of expertise!
You are so passionate about nutrition and its ability to help people achieve true health! Could you tell us a little bit about how this passion developed for you? What first drew your interest to health, in general, and nutrition, in particular?
Health is everything. My grandma fell ill when I was 14 and I was very close to her. She painfully died of cancer when I was 14, and even back then, I realized more could be done. At the time, though, I didn’t have the tools!
The ability to change health became apparent in my early years during school in nutrition. I loved research and read every research study I could find and I still do.
Knowledge is power, and with that knowledge, we will change the trajectory of health.
With these studies, I was able to apply certain remedies to my own health, and found these really beneficial to me. These were both nutrition and herbal therapies.
You say on your website that you’ve worked as a clinical nutritionist in a hospital setting and in your own private practice and in nutrition research! Not everyone who goes into clinical nutrition gets to work in nutrition research, as well, even though, as you point out, this can be really helpful for understanding the nuances of scientific literature! How did you end up working in both fields? And, just for fun, what was your specific field of nutrition research?
It goes back to realizing that more can be done. I have never been complacent!
I don’t think most people realize that really great nutrition research doesn’t get applied in a hospital or clinical work. Nutrition research gets filed away into obscurity very quickly! I wanted to change this and am still working on changing it today.
An example of this was when I worked in kidney failure and dialysis.
People with kidney failure have exceedingly high amounts of a disorder called Restless Legs Syndrome. With this, they feel miserable, can’t rest or sleep well at all. This syndrome has been linked to a vitamin deficiency called biotin.
I realized more work needed to be done. Who else was going to do the work if I didn’t? So, I emailed the foremost researcher of biotin metabolism, Dr. Donald Mock, and the rest is history!
We measured biotin status, using very sophisticated techniques. No one had done this before. It was shocking the amount of deficiency we found.
I had some skills doing research in my graduate studies at the University of Washington. Let’s just say that I can be very persuasive to start research in my hospital work and I tend to work well with doctors and other staff.
I also helped get some vitamin D research going in patients with heart failure. Deficiency is universal in this group of patients, yet very little research had been applied to this population.
As with much of the research on vitamin D, no one was asking the right questions. We got some really striking results, finding that simply supplementing vitamin D3 at high enough doses could really help people feel better and have a better quality of life.
People don’t always see functional and integrative medicine as compatible with conventional medicine, even in the medical field. What has your experience been working in “conventional” hospital setting as someone who promotes functional medicine?
You would think I would meet resistance, but I have not. Most doctors are very reasonable if you present them with convincing research.
I think most docs really are fed up with the current systems as well and want to do everything that they can to help a patient feel well. Payer systems don’t always support this, but I know this is why they do what they do. They want to help people.
Sure, there are a few that are stubborn, but I give presentations several times a year about nutrition and holistic medicine. I think this helps, too. The voice of functional medicine needs to be heard.
We are also changing the way we think about medicine, as stated by Dr. Frieden from the CDC: “we need actionable data.”
This means for us as practitioners, we can feel empowered to use the best evidence, as long as there is little or no risk, to move forward with applying research instead of waiting 30 years.
On your website, you touch very briefly on the fact that you overcame your own chronic health struggles with functional and integrative medicine. We’re curious what that process looked like! Was it a series of gradual changes? Or one big “ah-ha” moment that let everything fall into place? Was there once aspect of healthy living that made a bigger difference for your health than others? Or do they all seem to have equal effects on how healthy you feel?
I am an open book, so I love sharing my health stories!
I have overcome health problems — many. In fact, I was always the person looking at my own symptoms and trying to find a supplement or natural therapy that could help me or a diet change that could help me.
This was something I started before I even turned 20 and picked up my first vitamin. Actually, this was something my grandma would try as well, and I think I saw a connection even back then to using natural medicine.
I had an ovarian “problem” after my daughter was born. This problem caused me to use ibuprofen almost every day! I was 31 at the time. Obviously, this wasn’t a good solution to nagging, long-term pain.
The only conventional medicine solution was to go on birth control. I tried that for about 12 hours before I was vomiting over the toilet. There had to be a better way.
With a little of my own research, I found some herbs and food supplements, such as broccoli sprout extract and vitex, which research has shown can help detoxify estrogen. Within a month, I was fully better. Plants are king.
My big “ah-ha” moment did happen after I attended the Institute for Functional Medicine conference, however. The gut connection with just about everything became clear to me at this point, and I learned that certain foods could cause leaky gut, brain fog, mood changes and more.
It was at this conference, where they served only gluten-free foods, that I suspected that I had a food intolerance! With this and a full elimination diet, I went from feeling worn down, skin broken down, achy, to feeling amazing in a very short period of 3 weeks!
I was skipping around feeling like the world was a new place. I wanted to shout it from the roof that the gut is everything and that we really have to focus on it if we want to change the trajectory of disease.
We think it’s amazing that you offer digital nutrition counseling, opening up nutritional medicine to people who might otherwise never get the chance to talk to a nutrition specialist! Can you tell us a little bit about how you came up with the idea to start your website and online practice? Are there any really significant differences you’ve seen between face-to-face nutrition counseling and digital nutrition counseling?
I live, eat, breathe health and I wanted to share my passion with the world, with anyone who wants another way of healing. Many dietitians do it today, and they are so versatile. They are doing amazing things!
I love learning new skills so, why not start a web-based business? After all, I didn’t have much to lose. I knew my path was a bit different from most dietitians, however, as I do incorporate more natural medicine and use more research to directly guide my practice.
What advice would you give someone struggling with chronic health issues who is toying with the idea of exploring nutrition, lifestyle and functional medicine to address their health concerns for the first time? Where should they start? What should they expect from the journey ahead of them?
People should start with what comes up first. What is their biggest struggle? What do they want to change about their health?
Is it sleep? Fatigue? Weight?
There is almost always a straightforward answer from there.
As a functional practitioner, I go in-depth into a person’s health history to help them find the most suitable path.
The journey is likely easier than many people might think. Our food supply is so diverse now that it makes it so much more adaptable to special food needs. We have great supplement tools at our fingertips. The path is a comfortable one, as patients develop more strength and power within themselves to heal along the way.
We know all too well that there is tons of misinformation out there about nutrition, healthy eating, and genuine healthy living! (That’s a huge part of our driving mission — to combat all the misinformation out there!) Is there any single misunderstanding or pervasive belief about nutrition or healthy living that you wish you could erase from the world’s mind?
First, I love your mission, and am honored to be interviewed by you! We both want to combat all the misinformation.
Probably the biggest misunderstanding out there right now is about multivitamins and mineral supplements. The news is continually trashing them. This leaves the consumers and even health providers confused.
Sometimes the only nutrition information a doctor or nutritionist might see is in the news or headlines, so they then spread the wrong information, too. To make it more confusing, there are some really terrible vitamins and minerals out there. Usually, they are at your retail pharmacy.
A couple of easy ways to find a high-quality supplement? Look for natural folate, not folic acid. Avoid supplements with magnesium oxide and a ton of fillers. Look for whole food supplements with GMP certification.
This usually means you will pay more, but you will absorb a lot more too, making it a better and value-added product. You won’t be just flushing it down the toilet, in other words.
What is the one thing you most wish you could get the whole world to understand about nutrition, nutrition research and integrative medicine?
If you could get everyone in the world to make a single healthy lifestyle change, what would it be and why?
What impact would you like to have on the world?
I’m glad you asked! I want to empower people to get their health back.
This does change the world. It makes us more productive, happier and keeps us out of the hospital. It reduces healthcare dollars and will save the economy. Healthy foods also help the soil and environment.
Our health changes everything. It is the one thing we all need more of. Health and happiness through food and nutrition.
What is one question you’ve never been asked in an interview that you’ve always wanted the opportunity to answer?
Here is the one interview question I have never been asked but would like to share with the world: What quality should I look for in a health care provider or nutritionist?
I would look for someone with an open mind and who listens. Look for someone who will take the time to treat you as an individual.
In medicine today, there is a short list of drugs you may get prescribed; this doesn’t answer the real problems you have as a unique individual. You deserve better.
Want to learn more about integrative medicine and treating chronic conditions with a healthy diet and lifestyle? Check out Dr. Heidi Moretti’s blog!