Add Our May Issue to Your Summer Reading List

As finals approach, graduation nears, and the semester draws to a close, Friedman students will be heading off to jobs, internships, and research projects for the summer. But before they do, The Sprout has one more issue for everyone with the latest news, science, trends, and a few more ways to enjoy your summer.

First, the Friedman Justice League examines the evolving state of Chinatown and is seeking input about a potential tour of the neighborhood for new Friedman students as part of their school orientation. Last month, The Sprout‘s own Ally Gallop completed the Boston Marathon, and she shares the experience with readers (and be sure to check out her April article on the DGAC’s recommendations regarding cholesterol, now updated after a conversation with Walter Willett). In other news, food labeling and GMOs continue to be hot topics of debate, and first-time writers Marissa Donovan and Hannah Packman look at the recent “repeal the seal” controversy and GMOs, respectively.

On the science side, Katie Mark describes her experience with blood analytics to determine nutrition for optimal athletic performance. After she compared vitamin K to Robert Pattinson a few months ago, Emily Finnan takes a deep dive into the science behind one of its specific forms: vitamin K2.

Curious about fenugreek or bone broth? We have you covered with pieces by Nusheen Orandi and Grace Goodwin. Meanwhile, Michelle Borges covers a new workshop based out of the University of Chicago that aims to provide nutrition and cooking training to medical students.

Finally, we get you prepared for summer with an addition to your reading list, a workout regimen, and seasonal recipes. Katherine Pett reviews Alan Levinovitz’s The Gluten Lie, which tackles fad diets and popular myths. Rachel Chiaverelli and Justin Zabinski team up to present a beach season workout accompanied by a playlist to get you through it. And Becky Jay and Mireille Najjar bolster your summer menu options with five lettuce-less salads and a peachy French toast recipe.

Good luck to everyone during finals week!

Matt and Katherine 

In this Issue:

Boston’s Chinatown: Fight for Its Life

by Alison Brown and Abigail Harper

2010_Chinatown_Boston_5019274106With the rapid construction of luxury high-rises amidst the newly built Whole Foods Market, Boston’s historic Chinatown is fighting for its life.  In the thick of these evolving changes, the Friedman Justice League is making a push for the Friedman School to support local Asian businesses and gain a better appreciation of the culture in which the school is situated.

The 26.2-mile Cheer Tunnel: What It’s Like to Run the Boston Marathon

by Ally GallopBostonmarathonlogo

“Welcome to Hopkinton: it all starts here.” Or so the famous marathon billboard reads…

What’s the Deal with “Repeal the Seal?”

by Marissa Donovan

kidseatrightThe Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the worlds largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, faced criticism recently after establishing an agreement to display their Kids Eat Right seal on Kraft Singles. This controversy sparked debate regarding Academy endorsement of specific food products both within the nutrition community and extending further out to consumers.

The GMO Debate: A Case of False Dichotomies

by Hannah Packmangmo-signs

The use of genetic modification in our food system is a polarizing issue. However, the current discourse often ignores the grey areas, and may be detrimental to the public understanding of GMOs.

This Test is Helping Me Achieve Better Athletic Performance

by Katie Mark

What if you could restock your fridge based on your blood nutrient and hormone levels?

Vitamin K2: What Is It, Where Is It, What Does It Do, and Do I Need It?

by Emily Finnan, RD

10 years ago, vitamin K2 was largely unheard of. Today, it’s a top Google search term, the subject of numerous books, and over 500 supplements are sold on Amazon. In vitaminkpart, due to a growing number of vitamin K2 supporters who champion it as a necessity for bone and heart health. However, 76 years after its discovery, it seems we still have more questions than answers about this important nutrient.

Fenugreek Speaks!

by Nusheen Orandi

fenugreekYou may think you’ve never heard of this legume, especially since it sounds like an ancient language or something. But its supplement form hit health food stores and is becoming an area of interest in nutrition research. You might even see it in grocery stores “superfood” exclamations soon. What makes people with diabetes or high cholesterol look to fenugreek for help?

No Bones About It: A Primer on Bone Broth

by Grace GoodwinArabasi_soup

What’s up with the latest nutritional “superfood” known as bone broth?  Is this trend all hype, or does it have legs, er, bones? 

University of Chicago Medical Students Sharpen New Skills


by Michelle Borges

A group of medical students at the University of Chicago will soon be starting a Food as Medicine workshop series led by local chefs and its founder Dr. Geeta Maker-Clark, an integrative family physician.

Are Your Diet Choices Based in “Fact” or “Faith?” One Religion Professor Thinks It’s the Latter51FKliVgjSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

by Katherine Pett

Looking for a nutritional antidote to food fears? Take a look at new release The Gluten Lie by Alan Levinovitz, PhD, and stop being scared of your sandwich.

Dr. Jaz and the Chiv: Magic and Music Summer Workout

by Rachel Chiaverelli and Justin Zabinski

beachAs every magazine cover in the supermarket line reminds us, it’s almost that time of the year—BEACH SEASON! Rather than focusing on losing weight and toning up to transiently express some sort of seasonal variation of a six-pack for the beach (pun intended), let’s focus on making a long-term change to look good and feel great this summer and beyond!

5 Lettuce-Less Salads

by Rebecca JayQuinoa-Salad-with-Edamame-Cucumber-and-Avocado-1

When hearing the word “salad,” a heaping bowl (or mason jar…) of leafy greens most likely comes to mind. While lettuce-based salads are delicious vehicles for vegetables and other nutritious toppings, salads come in many other forms. This summer, step out of your leafy comfort zone, and discover a whole new world of lettuce-less salads in which other exciting, nutrient-dense, and in-season fruits and vegetables receive the attention they rightfully deserve.  

Easy, Peachy French Toast

frenchtoastby Mireille Najjar

Embrace the warm weather with classic French toast coated with cinnamon and topped with sliced peaches.

Boston’s Chinatown: Fight For Its Life

by Alison Brown and Abigail Harper

With the rapid construction of luxury high-rises amidst the newly built Whole Foods Market, Boston’s historic Chinatown is fighting for its life, according to a recent Boston Globe article.  In the thick of these evolving changes, the Friedman Justice League is making a push for the Friedman School to support local Asian businesses and gain a better appreciation of the culture in which the school is situated.

Ask any student who began taking classes prior to 2012, and they can tell you about the rapid changes that have happened since then. Between the pristine doorman-manned condos developed on Kneeland and Washington to the Whole Foods on Harrison, the changes are well underway and pervading local lifestyle. People often joke that the development of a Whole Foods (aka “Whole Paycheck”) in a once dilapidated neighborhood is a telltale sign of gentrification, and Chinatown will likely follow suit.


By Mike Babiarz

The average annual income for a family in Chinatown is the lowest of any Boston neighborhood at roughly $14,000, and these developments will lead to rising rent prices, pushing out the working immigrant families that have made Chinatown their home. According to Andrew Leong, professor at University of Massachusetts Boston, and evidenced by those well traveled throughout the United States’ urban landscape, this shift follows a national trend: “Working immigrants are being pushed out of downtown neighborhoods close to work and public transportation, while students, doctors, and others move in.”

These most recent developments are not the first to threaten historic Chinatown. When I-93 and the Massachusetts Turnpike initially cut through, roughly 1,200 units of housing were demolished, and the expansion of Tufts University and Tufts Medical Center additionally took over one-third of the land area in Chinatown. As described in the Boston Globe article, however, there is a scramble to preserve the historic Chinatown of Boston. Home to about 4,400 residents, 77% of which are classified as Asian according to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Boston’s Chinatown is one of the largest in the United States.

Organizations such as Chinatown Land Trust are in the process of trying to buy row houses on Hudson Street to set aside for working class families in an effort to prevent rent spikes and maintain current residents. Boston’s housing chief and director of the Department of Neighborhood Development Sheila Dillon is also in the fight to save row houses in the organization’s commitment to preserve the historic Chinatown neighborhood.

While some could argue the placement of the Tufts Health Science campus does not help stem the tide of gentrification, the Friedman Justice League (FJL) believes Tufts has a role to play in supporting the community it is a part of. Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of college and post-graduate students taking up residency in Boston has increased from five percent to nearly one quarter.

The FJL is working to include a tour of Chinatown as a permanent component of New Student Orientation, in which incoming Friedman students can be introduced to Chinatown’s rich history and culture and become aware of the local businesses to support. In previous years, the Chinatown tour has been offered through the FJL as an extracurricular activity for students through the Asian Community Development Corporation. Currently, members of the FJL are working with administration to examine the feasibility and student interest of such a tour, which is why your opinion is important!

To provide your input on the idea of the integration of a Chinatown tour into New Student Orientation please complete the brief survey.

The Friedman Justice League is composed of students in both masters and doctoral programs at Friedman.  We seek to make our community more diverse and find ways to allow the Friedman community to better address issues of discrimination and oppression in its teachings, research, and programs.  To find out more, visit our blog.

The 26.2-mile Cheer Tunnel: What It’s Like to Run the Boston Marathon

by Ally Gallop

“Welcome to Hopkinton: it all starts here.” Or so the famous marathon billboard reads…

On a windy and chilly morning in Boston, a continuous stream of yellow school buses shipped athletes from the Boston Common to Hopkinton, the marathon’s traditional start. Dropped off at a middle school, runners filtered onto its grassy fields. The temporary banquet tents, with flailing walls allowing the gusts of wind through, were for the 26,610 shivering runners to take refuge in. Abandoned blankets, clothes, and food wrappers littered the tents’ grassy floors. All were remnants of its previous tenants, waiting for their call to the starting line. Long after the wheelchair, elite, and hard-earned qualifying runners heard the gunshot to begin the race, my own 11:15 am journey loomed.

Meteorologists warned of a rainy day, and like clockwork their 11 am prediction arrived. Walking through a neighborhood for over a mile in the rain with no end in sight, entrants shed their remaining outer layers that once kept them warm. The crowds lining the roads became larger and BBQ parties more frequent as we approached the holding corrals. Waiting and shivering from the lousy weather conditions and nerves, this was the moment my weeklong qualms subsided. The marathon announcer and the town’s residents remained positive, cheering on the stories of local runners imbedded throughout the crowd. Though the jury’s recent guilty verdict was known, the pride that this marathon embraced persevered.

BOOM! The gun went off, and the roar of the crowd intensified. Even two-and-a-half hours beyond the morning’s official start, Hopkinton’s residents went wild. So did the 6,000+ runners contained in the surrounding corrals. Tiptoeing past the starting line, we were officially running the marathon.

Hopkinton’s narrow highway, made snug with its road-hugging forests, contained the masses that crept through the first few miles. Forced to keep close, watch for flying elbows, and maintain a slower pace, we acknowledged how this leisurely beginning would save us the much-needed energy required in the miles to come. Small hills came and went, but the crowds hid them. Only our legs felt the climb.

“Gatorade! Gatorade! …Waaaaaaterrrr!”

We heard mile one before it was even seen. The masses split to either side of the highway to grab at the green cups. Forfeiting the stations for my handy water bottle, I took off to find my pace down the road’s centerline. But not for long. Running the majority of the race locked to the sidelines, this was where the fans were. I knew that these were the people that would help me through. All ages of supporters stood in their rain jackets and boots, hands out, orange slices ready, and high-fives available to any runner that required support. And they didn’t disappoint.

And then I heard music. Turning a corner somewhere in Ashland delivered the comforting sounds of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” Up until that point, my thoughts focused on maintaining pace, steady breathing, and swapping between Gatorade and sticky PowerBar gels. Now, I found myself screaming out, “So good! So good! So good!” From here on out, a massive smile plastered itself across my face that didn’t disappear until sometime Monday night.

As to contain fans, town centers roped off the course along the sidewalks. Everywhere else the lack of formal boundaries trusted fans to keep to the sidelines. Yet every so often, their own excitement for the marathon won over. Trickling onto the course, young kids wanted to deliver high-fives and encouragement as close to the action as possible. Youth celebrating the day with alcohol stumbled onto the road, only to be contained by watchful police officers and the military.

Traveling though a constant stream of runners and fans, no familiar faces were apparent. Acknowledging that the Tufts Marathon Team’s cheer crowd was stationed at mile nine in Natick, my energy surged as I anticipated seeing friends. As I scanned the sidelines, my coach Don Megerle appeared! Stopping to enjoy the familiarity, he then hurried me along to my awaiting fans. Standing in the rain for hours, the warm smiles and hugs of my loved ones and fellow Friedmanites shot a rush of adrenaline through me. This was a preview of what to expect in 17 more miles. My smile widened as I returned to the course.

Though Wellesley’s town center was only the halfway point, the condensed fans formed a cheer tunnel as if it were the finish. Fans relentlessly offered licorice, pretzels, and high-fives. The energy and cheers were deafening, which was a great distraction to how my body was reminding me that half-marathons were historically my finish line. The halfway marker came and went. With the feet blisters forming and the steady streaks of pain darting through my legs, there was a whole other race to run. One that included the impending Newton Hills.

Running down flat Washington Avenue, Newton’s infamous hills appear out of nowhere. A 90-degree turn at the fire station onto Commonwealth Avenue forces runners into a thick crowd of screaming fans. Practice on these hills all you want, but their 17.5-mile placement and sequence of a hill-plateau four times over can get the best of any runner. The first hill quickly shoots pain into the legs and reminds its climbers that the worst is yet to come. Jogs slowed to trots and finally to walks. Runners stopped peering down at their watches. There’s no making your pace on these hills. It’s all about fighting through. There is no end in sight, as the road relentlessly climbs and twists upwards like a staircase.

But good old Boston College: their fans encouragingly called us out, one-by-one. They knew these hills hurt, and they were ready to take on the task of urging runners along. Though my legs had become dead weights and my pace slowed to a crawl, the overwhelming and personalized encouragements kept me going. “You go girl!” “Keep smiling!” “Looking good, Tufts!” Sideline snacks now turned to cups of beer.

After 4-miles of slow-motion running, my eyes met those of a saint shouting, “See that flashing light at the top? That’s the end of Heartbreak Hill!”

Adrenaline took over. An end was now in sight, as my eyes locked onto that forever-flashing light. The relief first came from my legs, as they were the first to feel the hills behind me. From here on out, the course was essentially downhill.

From previous runs I knew to be on the lookout for three distinct distant markers: the Prudential Center, the John Hancock Tower, and the Citco sign. As both towers in the skyline appeared, the wet conditions forced my focus to the ground. Cleveland Circle’s trolley tracks are known tripping hazards. The mile markers counted down in an excruciating manner, yet Boston University’s crowd of students delivered an unexpected bout of motivation. Sure they cheered, yet as the runners surrounding me resembled parents the younger cohort of fans seemed to affiliate with my Tufts uniform. The ibuprofen I had consumed two hours prior was now no match for the pain screaming through my lower body. But I couldn’t stop. As the students cheered me on, I wouldn’t allow their efforts to go to waste.

As the red triangle of the Citgo sign emerged, the baseball fan in me came out. The small climb over the Mass Ave Turnpike was no match for running past Fenway Park. Peaking inside, the center field screen was streaming the finish line. That would soon be me! The game had just ended with the Sox defeating the Orioles 7-1. Rowdy fans transferred their adrenaline onto us, as they poured into the streets switching their baseball shouts into those of support.

Kenmore Square’s glass bubble T station, the Buckminster Hotel, and McDonald’s all became familiar sights. I knew where I was and how close I was to Copley. The professional, navy blue, John Hancock mile markers were consistent since Hopkinton, except for one. Though identical in format, mile 25 was replaced with marathon great Dick Beardsley‘s mantra: one more mile. That’s all it was. With a marathon distance behind me all I concentrated on was one more mile. The infamous “right on Hereford, left on Boylston” was near.

Turning right, barricades meant to restrict fans were overflowing with more dangling from apartment windows above. Their cheers bounced off the surrounding tall buildings, a roar I will never forget. Taking that last left, my smile grew. There was no fear running down Boylston. No thought of shifting to the side of the road closer to the library. This last half mile solidified that runners don’t run for themselves. We were running for our country, our team, and most importantly for Boston.

As the finish line neared, the crowd’s cheers were like that of an approaching ambulance. They became louder and louder and louder… until running over the finish line, where for the first time the fans were no longer welcome. Their cheers quickly faded. Medical teams surrounded finishers with wheelchairs, insulated covers, and bottles of water. I could now feel the rain coming down and the pre-race shivers return, as my joints began to stiffen.

Never throughout the 26.2-mile course did it feel as if the crowd grew weary of the constant stream of runners. Town after town, they cheered as if we were the first of the day. As I walked towards my friends, my feeling of pride won over. Though not a born and raised Bostonian, for the past 3 hours and 42 minutes I sure felt like one.

Relive the Boston Marathon by watching a 15-minute video of a runner who captured the entire race while wearing a camera or with the Boston Athletic Association’s official trip from Hopkinton to Copley.

Ally Gallop, BSc, RD, CDE is studying towards an MS/MPH focusing in nutrition communication and behavior change. Her next running adventures include Philadelphia’s “Broad Street Run” in May, Ragnar’s “Reach the Beach” relay in September, and hopefully the Boston Athletic Association’s half-marathon come October.

What’s the Deal with “Repeal the Seal?”

by Marissa Donovan

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the worlds largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, faced criticism recently after establishing an agreement to display their Kids Eat Right seal on Kraft Singles. This controversy sparked debate regarding Academy endorsement of specific food products both within the nutrition community and extending further out to consumers.

Over the last month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) has encountered backlash after licensing its Kids Eat Right seal on Kraft Singles.  After The New York Times ran the story “A Cheese ‘Product’ Gains Kids’ Nutrition Seal,” many expressed confusion that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics would “endorse” a Kraft product. Kraft informed The New York Times that the Academy had endorsed this product, although according to the Academy, this was not an endorsement.

Instead, the Academy stated that: “As part of this nutrition education initiative, the Kids Eat Right logo will appear on KRAFT Singles packaging, identifying the brand as a “proud supporter” of Kids Eat Right and encouraging parents to visit for tips to help kids get more vitamin D and calcium.”

Soon after The New York Times article ran, Academy members began a campaign and drafted a petition against the Kraft Kids Eat Right seal, appropriately named #Repealtheseal. With nearly 12,000 signatures, the petition caused a huge uproar. As of April 1, the Academy made the decision to terminate the Kids Eat Right initiative with Kraft.

Leaders of the #RepealtheSeal campaign, Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, Kate Geagan, MS, RDN, and Regan Jones, RDN responded: “It takes courage to sit down and listen to criticism and then do something about it. They did just that—and we believe it will ultimately improve our profession, our organization and our public trust.”

Although the initiative was terminated, it is important to note that the logo will appear on products until at least July 2015, as some packaging has already been manufactured.

So why is this such a big deal?

In the business world, a logo, such as the Kids Eat Right logo, placed on a product conveys an endorsement or recognition of a paid relationship – in this case between the AND and Kraft. Whether or not the logo was an AND “endorsement,” it would undoubtedly cause confusion for shoppers searching for healthy options.

Having the AND “endorse” products threatens the credibility of the organization and its practicing members. Members of the AND as well as the general public deserve full transparency regarding the relationship between the AND and industry, including Kraft.

As the AND is the professional association for registered dietitians, it is important that it remains an unbiased resource for nutrition information. If not, the AND could lose all credibility, notably expressed by The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart who, following this controversy, claimed that “the AND is as much an Academy as (Kraft Singles) is cheese.”

This controversy is not the first of its kind. The Academy has been criticized in the past regarding its relationship with industry, causing AND member and public concern about corporate sponsorship.

Although this event is unfortunate, it does show that AND members won’t stand for occurrences such as this. AND members are professionals, passionate about what they do and what they represent, shown by their overwhelming support and commitment to #RepealTheSeal.

As Dr. Marion Nestle, nutrition professor and author of Food Politics, told TakePart regarding this incident, “the capital N news is that dietitians are fighting back at last.”

Marissa Donovan is a registered dietitian and first year student in the MS Nutrition Communications program at the Friedman school. She loves hiking, traveling, finding new restaurants and, of course, Netflix. You can follow her on twitter at @marissadonovan1

The GMO Debate: A Case of False Dichotomies

by Hannah Packman

The use of genetic modification in our food system is a polarizing issue. However, the current discourse often ignores the grey areas, and may be detrimental to the public understanding of GMOs.

The ability and willingness to admit mistakes is often considered the typification of the wise and modest scientist. As science is an ever-evolving discipline, it is necessary for those within the field to adapt their thoughts and beliefs with emerging discoveries. Many are reluctant to concede their errors, as they worry it will threaten their scientific authority, but those who do are frequently lauded for their honesty and bravery in doing so. This phenomenon is generally observed in the context of divisive issues, such as climate change, antibiotic resistance, and carcinogenic chemicals.

Most recently, the use of GMOs has been the hot-button issue, not just within agro-ecology, but science as a whole. A number of researchers and journalists have publically “come out” on one side of the issue or the other.

Thierry Vrain, once a high-profile biotechnologist and genetic engineer, became an anti-GMO spokesperson upon retirement. He now warns of the dangers of genetically modified crops, urging that engineered soy and corn contain toxic and allergenic proteins. Vrain also questions the environmental justification of genetic modification; that these crops have higher yields and require less pesticides is unsubstantiated. Vrain is celebrated as a luminary by the anti-GMO camp, and is frequently quoted by organizations like GMWatch, Food Integrity Now, and Natural Society.

On the other side of the equation, Bill Nye, a previous GMO skeptic, recently came out in support of genetic modification after spending time with Monsanto’s scientists. The Washington Post, Business Insider, EcoWatch, and the Environmental Working Group all praised Nye’s conversion to a pro-GMO stance.

Admitting the error of one’s ways is certainly a courageous and admirable act. However, in situations such as these, perhaps an even bolder act is admitting ignorance. Given the contradictory evidence on the safety and effectiveness of GMOs, one would be remiss to conclusively choose either side.

True, GMOs hold great promise to solve our most pressing health, environmental, and economic concerns. For instance, genetically engineered crops can be manipulated to contain concentrated amounts of certain nutrients of concern in an effort to prevent deficiency-related disease. Golden rice, an engineered variety of rice with high levels of vitamin A, is the most obvious example. Vitamin A deficiency typically afflicts those in developing countries with limited access to food; annually, it causes blindness in as many as 500,000 children, and is responsible for 670,000 infant deaths. By providing necessary vitamin A, golden rice may be a valuable tool to promote ocular health and abate infant mortality.

Similarly, GMOs have significant potential to improve the environmental sustainability of agriculture by decreasing the use of land and chemicals.  Bt-corn is one of such engineered crops that have obviated the need for synthetic pesticides. This corn variety has been modified to express proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium that acts as a biopesticide. As such, Bt-corn is poisonous to pests, who are killed after ingesting the engineered crop. (Bt does not appear to have the same effect on humans, and the EPA says it can be ingested without deleterious consequences.)

Because this variety of corn acts as its own pesticide, the use of additional chemical pesticides is not always necessary. This could decrease exposure to and consumption of potentially toxic chemicals. According to a 2012 study at Washington State University, Bt crops have reduced pesticide use by 123 million pounds since 1996. It should be noted, however, that overall pesticide use increased by 404 million pounds, largely due to genetically engineered, herbicide resistant crops.

There are a number of other salient arguments in support of GM agriculture.  Certain engineered crops enable farmers to implement no-till methods, ultimately reducing soil erosion and, less directly, water pollution and eutrophication. GM crops may be a more economically reliable option for farmers, as they are less susceptible to the contingencies of weather, weeds, and insects. Furthermore, engineered crop varieties often have greater yield than their non-modified counterparts. The benefit of this is twofold: farmers will be guaranteed a greater payback for the same amount of land, while unsuitable land can be retired without threatening food supply.

Given the aforementioned benefits of genetic modification, it seems that opposing these wonder-crops would be an act of irrational skepticism. But for every argument in support of GMOs, there is an equally compelling argument against. For one, there is the concern of safety. Although GMO proponents maintain that modified crops are safe for human consumption, the research that supports this claim are typically short-term, experimental studies. The long-term effects of consuming genetically modified foods are unknown.

Of primary concern is allergenicity, as introducing allergenic protein sequences into a non-allergenic organism could possibly render the latter allergenic. Whether allergenicity is likely to occur in GM crops is a contested issue; many argue that the probability is no greater than in non-modified foods. Regardless, the causes of food allergies are still largely misunderstood, and the research on the safety of genetically engineered crops is relatively nascent, making it difficult to accurately assess the possibility of allergenicity.

Even if allergenicity is not a problem, there are other health risks associated with genetic modification.  As previously mentioned, herbicide-resistant GM crops have resulted in greater overall application of weed killers in the United States. Glyphosate (popularly known as Roundup), the most popular herbicide in the United States is, was recently identified by the World Health Organization as a likely carcinogen. Because a large portion of our food supply is treated with glyphosate, it is reasonable to ask about the ramifications of ingesting trace amounts on a daily basis.  In large quantities, it can be fatal.

The toxicity of herbicides is hazardous not just to humans, but to livestock and wildlife as well. Liberal herbicide application can affect all flora and fauna within an ecosystem, poisoning pollinators, and hindering the growth of plants that rely on them. In turn, the animals that use those plants as sustenance or habitat may also be threatened, causing a chain reaction that can shatter an entire ecosystem.

The possibility of pesticide resistance is of additional concern. As we introduce more Bt crops, the number of resistant species increases. There are now five pest species that exhibit resistance, and that number is expected to grow. The issue of herbicide resistance is even more prevalent; there are at least 30 weed species worldwide that exhibit glyphosate resistance. Pesticide and herbicide resistance is not a matter of inconvenience. As weeds and insects become resistant to chemicals, they evolve into “superweeds” and “superbugs,” extremely resilient species that, in large enough populations, will threaten our food supply.

The intent of presenting these arguments is not to sway you towards or away from GMOs; indeed, it is just the opposite. Genetic modification is an extraordinarily nuanced issue, and each application varies significantly in its benefits and its risks. By framing it as a black-and-white matter, one ignores the hundreds of gradations between. It is clear, then, that the question at hand is not “yes or no?” but rather “when?” “how?” and “why?” And in allowing for greater complexity in our discussion of GMOs, we will be more pragmatic in our future development and use of biotechnology.

Hannah Packman is a first year student in the Agriculture, Food and Environment masters program. When she isn’t busy filling her head with food-related facts, she enjoys filling her stomach with food-related objects.

This Test is Helping Me Achieve Better Athletic Performance

by Katie Mark

What if you could restock your fridge based on your blood nutrient and hormone levels?

A generalized handout detailing the optimum pre-game food is now obsolete. The new approach to sports nutrition is personalized nutrition through blood analytics.

Serious athletes are taking the personalized nutrition route to construct their own diet of a champion. Blood analytics provide you with science-based nutrition and lifestyle recommendations to improve your health. It quantifies your biomarker levels, including: total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein, low-density lipoprotein, cortisol, testosterone, glucose, triglycerides, C-reactive protein, vitamin D, calcium and iron.

How does it work? Various companies offer blood testing. You then get your blood drawn at a certified lab offered by the blood testing company that you purchase a blood test from. After you get your blood drawn, your biomarker results are uploaded to the company’s online platform. The platform tells you your optimal level of each biomarker, specifically based on your age, sex, weight, height and activity level. There is a visual spectrum of the range for each biomarker with your optimized zone indicated.

You are then provided with nutrition information for the biomarkers that are not “optimized.” These science-based recommendations suggest what you should eat based on your dietary preferences.

Initially, I had no interest in blood testing. I thought blanket statements, such as “Eat carbs the night before a competition” or “Eat a banana for potassium,” were good enough. For those who want to be at the next level, these generalized statements might not be good enough.

As an athlete, I decided to approach a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (ketogenic) diet to evaluate whether or not this could increase my endurance in road cycling. I know how this diet makes me feel while exercising, but how do I determine its impact on my health?

The answer was blood analytics.

I was able to determine if a low-carb diet affected my metabolic profile to the same extent as to what I was reading in studies. Interestingly, it was. Studies suggest that those who follow low-carb diets have high HDL levels, variable LDL levels, low triglyceride levels and low glucose levels. These theorized results aligned with my actual results.

Blood analytics also told me where I needed to improve. My vitamin D level was extremely low, and my cortisol level was too high. I would not have been able to identify vitamin D as a nutrient I needed to monitor if I didn’t have this test done. My results told me I should increase mushroom and fatty fish intake, such as salmon, tuna or mackerel. According to the blood analytics company I tested with, I was now aware that increasing my blood levels of vitamin D to greater than 40 ng/mL would help me strengthen my bones and avoid stress fractures. Additionally, muscle strengthening requires higher levels of vitamin D. I can find out if I am able to increase my vitamin D levels by re-testing.

We all know general nutrition recommendations: eat your fruits and vegetables, choose whole grains, get regular exercise, etc. And when it comes to sports nutrition: replenish your glycogen stores with carbohydrates, eat a mixture of carbs and protein following exercise, etc. But serious athletes are hungry for more.

Specific recommendations as to what nutrition choices will have the greatest impact on our own health is crucial. For example, if you want to evaluate whether or not you are overtraining.

The testosterone to cortisol ratio is an appropriate overtraining and stress indicator. A low score will suggest you have high stress levels or poor sleep quality. A high score will suggest your recovery time is sufficient and you have good sleep quality. This indicates your body is able to increase strength and muscle mass.

Blood analytics is an individualized audit that provides you with concrete data to assess where you are as an athlete and how you can safely optimize your health through sound, individualized nutrition recommendations. It allows you to identify specific biomarkers that you may need to monitor and gives you approaches to help modify them.

If you decide to pursue this route, be sure to find a reputable blood analytics company. The cost ranges from $50 to up to $1,000 depending on the plan you purchase. All plans differ by the types of biomarkers you can get tested for.

Blood analytics provide a snapshot of your current health; while, providing, a massive amount of information to evaluate how your diet and lifestyle is impacting your body and performance. An approach to sports nutrition for a 40 year-old male is not the same as for a 21 year-old female. Measuring your internal chemistry may help you achieve better athletic performance by identifying what you personally need to modify.

What will be the next advancement in sports nutrition? Possibly technology to quickly improve recovery. But, until then, if you want to be miles ahead of the most competitive exercisers, consider personalized nutrition through blood analytics.

Katie Mark is a first-year Nutrition Communication/Public Health student. She will attempt her first century bike ride from Boston to Hyannis Port on May 30.

Vitamin K2: What Is It, Where Is It, What Does It Do, and Do I Need It?

by Emily Finnan, RD

10 years ago, vitamin K2 was largely unheard of. Today, it’s a top Google search term, the subject of numerous books, and over 500 supplements are sold on Amazon. In part, due to a growing number of vitamin K2 supporters who champion it as a necessity for bone and heart health. However, 76 years after its discovery, it seems we still have more questions than answers about this important nutrient.

What is it?

Vitamin K2 isn’t a new nutrient; it’s simply a form of vitamin K. Vitamin K is a term for a group of essential

compounds that all contain the chemical structure methyl-1,4-napthoquinone.  This group can be further divided into vitamin K1, K2 and K3. Vitamin K2, or menaquinones, is a term for several compounds named MK-4 through MK-13.

Where is it?

Vitamin K2 is predominantly made by bacteria. It’s found in fermented foods and animal products.

MK-7 and MK-4 are the two most talked about and studied forms of vitamin K2. MK-7 is the form found in Natto, a Japanese fermented soy product. MK-4 is the form found in animal products. Additionally, your body likely makes MK-4 from vitamin K1 eaten. The other “MKs” are made by different strains of bacteria found in fermented foods or in your gastrointestinal tracts. It’s debated, but likely a minimal amount of vitamin K from the gut is actually absorbed and used by your body.

Vitamin K1, or phylloquinone, is made by plants. It’s found in a variety of vegetables, some fruits, and vegetable oils. Leafy greens are an especially good source. 90% of the vitamin K we eat is in this form.

Vitamin K3, or menadione, is a synthetic precursor of vitamin K. It isn’t recommend for humans, but it is used in animal feed.

What about grass-fed?

Blogs that tout the benefits of vitamin K2 likely recommend grass-fed animal products as the premier source. Grass does contain vitamin K1. But a cow’s primary source of vitamin K comes from large colonies of K2-producing bacteria that live in their ruminant stomachs. Conventionally raised livestock are frequently given antibiotics, which can diminish gut bacteria. However, livestock feed is typically fortified with vitamin K3, which the animal directly converts o MK-4.

MK-4 is present in conventionally-raised dairy, beef, poultry, and other animal-based foods. A study conducted in the Netherlands, found no substantial difference in MK-4 content between wild, free-range, and “intensively raised” meat, dairy, and eggs. Currently, there isn’t evidence to support grass-fed animals as a superior source of MK-4.

What does it do?

All forms of vitamin K help carboxylate (add extra acid groups) to certain proteins, which helps the proteins’ function. Un-carboxylated vitamin K-dependent proteins are those that vitamin K has not acted on.

Vitamin K & blood clotting

This is vitamin K’s most studied role. Vitamin K is essential for proper blood clotting. A person with a severe vitamin K deficiency, which is rare, will have clotting problems.

Vitamin K & bone

Vitamin K carboxylates the bone protein, osteocalcin, allowing it to act on bone. This has led to the hypothesis that a high level of un-carboxylated osteocalcin is an indicator of vitamin K insufficiency and poor bone health. Vitamin K2 and K1 have been shown to increase osteocalcin carboxylation. Additionally, researchers have found both inside bone.

Two large Japanese observational studies, totaling almost 3,000 people, found positive associations between dietary MK-7 and increased bone mineral density. However, observational trials can’t determine causation. People who eat more vitamin K, might have a healthier diet and lifestyle; especially because vitamin K is found in typically healthful foods.

Randomized controlled trials (RCT) can help determine causation. 11 RCTs have been conducted with 15 to 45 milligram (or 15,000 to 45,000 micrograms) MK-4 supplements. The majority do report that the MK-4 supplement group had a positive result in at least one marker of bone health.  In Japan, where most of these trials were conducted, MK-4 supplements are routinely used as part of osteoporosis treatment. Of note, these doses of vitamin K are much higher than you can obtain from food. Vitamin K is therefore being used as a medication, not as a dietary factor.

RCTs and observational trials conducted using vitamin K1 are inconclusive.

Vitamin K & vascular calcification

Vitamin K may have a role in preventing vascular calcification, a major risk factor for heart disease. This is through vitamin K’s carboxylation of matrix Gla-protein (MGP). It’s not fully understood, but un-carboxylated MGP may increase vascular calcification.  Vitamin K1 and MK-4 both reduce un-carboxylated MGP.

Only one observational, cohort study has shown a positive association between total dietary vitamin K2 intake and reduced vascular calcification. Observational studies using vitamin K1 intake show no effect.  An RCT, conducted at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA), found that vitamin K1 supplementation did slow progression of calcification in those with pre-existing coronary artery calcification.

Do I need it?

The optimum level of vitamin K in the diet is unclear. The adequate intake (AI) of vitamin K, for men 19 years and older, is 120 micrograms (mcg). This was based simply on the amount of vitamin K healthy people eat. The AI doesn’t specify targets of vitamin K1 versus K2. It’s been suggested that the amount of vitamin K needed to prevent clotting problems is less than 10 mcg per day; but at least 1,000 mcg per is needed for optimum bone density.

Below is a table of vitamin K content in various foods. The Vitamin K1 data is predominately from the USDA Nutrient Database. Vitamin K2 data was obtained from three individual studies: here, here, and here.


*unknown fat-content

Many books and health blogs (here, here, here, and here) claim that the US population is widely deficient  in vitamin K2, which they report is specifically essential for bone and vascular health. However, there is a lot more we need learn about vitamin K2. Do vitamin K2 and K1 actually have different functions in our body? If we can make vitamin K2 from K1, does it even matter how much K2 we eat? We don’t know what a sufficient level of vitamin K2 is, let alone a deficient level, or even the best biomarker of K2 status. Furthermore, if 1,000 mcg is the true optimum intake then it seems it would be much easier to reach this level by focusing on vitamin K1 sources rather than K2- you’d need to eat 7 pounds of blue cheese or 300 eggs a day to reach 1,000 mcg!

The good news is that a varied diet that includes variety of vegetables, leafy greens, as well as meats and dairy can supply a person with well over the AI of vitamin K. There is also no known harm of taking high-dose vitamin K supplements. My advice: eat a varied diet that includes servings of vitamin K-rich vegetables and fermented foods. These foods are great for other reasons too– high in other important micronutrients and fermented foods contain beneficial probiotics. If you’re thinking about taking a vitamin K2 supplement, talk to your doctor as vitamin K does interact with some medications.

Emily Finnan is a dietitian and finishing her first year in the Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition master’s program.  She’ll be getting acquainted with vitamin K this summer, completing a practicum in the HNRCA’s vitamin K laboratory.


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