Celebrate National Nutrition Month with the Many Facets of Food


Source: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

This month, The Sprout looks at all the ways nutritionists, scientists, and dietitians interact with food. We explore what it’s like to work as a food scientist, how Tufts’ own Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging is learning to prevent cataracts through nutrition, and how YOU can warm up in the mornings with a healthy breakfast.

Cailin Kowalewski reveals that March is National Nutrition Month, but no one seems to know! Is there a reason this opportunity to inform the public about healthy eating is so underutilized?

Katie Mark continues her exploration into the high-fat (and highly trendy) ketogenic diet; many claim it can reverse metabolic syndrome, yet Katie discusses how this low-carb protocol can actually raise your body’s level of stress hormone. Mireille Najjar keeps us healthy this month with 10 excellent breakfast ideas you can use to get your day off to a running start.

If you’re interested in science, you’ll be excited to read all about Disha Gandhi’s experience as a food scientist with Wrigley (yes, the gum company). Or, check out the discoveries made at Tufts Nutrition and Vision lab in preventing cataracts through proper diet, written by Nusheen Orandi.  

If pseudoscience is more to your taste, then head over Katherine Pett’s review of the new bestselling diet bookThe Food Babe Way by the notorious Vani Hari.

There’s even more going on at Friedman now that spring is on its way, including opportunities to engage with student research as part of the Student Research Conference or to join Tufts’ multicultural food movement with the World PEAS CSA. These articles, by Matt Moore and Buki Owoputi, respectively will motivate you to get involved!

For readers all across the country, this winter has been a tough one and may have put a damper on your exercise commitments. Fear not, Ally Gallop has written all about how to stay healthy and keep on running even in the cold weather, and Skylar Morelli advises you to move indoors and consider high intensity interval training (HIIT). Finally, Grace Goodwin takes a look at the new sponsorship deal between CLIF Bar and the Boston Athletic Association and whether energy bars are good to keep you fueled during all that exercise.

Throughout this issue, we hope you learn something new, preferably while sipping on a warm beverage!

Here’s to a great March,

Katherine and Matt

In this Issue:

March is National Nutrition Month

by Cailin Kowalewski
143904lrgThe Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ annual education and information campaign, National Nutrition Month®, takes place this March. This year’s theme, “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle,” offers timely, practical, lifestyle-centric messages promoting healthy weight maintenance, chronic disease risk reduction, and overall health promotion. Sounds good, right? Sure does. Should you care? You bet! And why? Because no one else does.

How Does a Ketogenic Diet Affect YOU? Part 2: A Deep Look Into Cortisol

by Katie Mark

Recent high hopes for high-fat diets have us further evaluating the ketogenic diet for a wider population. In this three-part series, we’re examining how the ketogenic diet affects biomarkers. Part 1 of this series investigated what ketosis does for fasting glucose and insulin. In Part 2, we look at how a ketogenic diet may affect cortisol levels.

10 Healthy Breakfast Ideas


by Mireille Najjar

Eating a well-balanced breakfast every day is key to staying energized, focused, and alert. Get a fresh start to your day with a healthy, wholesome (and delicious) breakfast using these simple tips and recipes.

My Experience as a Sensory Scientist at Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company

by Disha Gandi14081966763_4bf0bcb76c

Warning: the following article requires active participation. Please have 1-2 pieces of gum at your side prior to reading.

HNRCA: Mechanism that Causes Cataracts Discovered in Mice


by Nusheen Orandi

Although it may be hard to see through seven feet of snow and gray slush, the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) is still hard at work, especially in the Nutrition and Vision lab.

How do You Find a Word that Means “The Food Babe”? 

by Katherine Pett511aD7n++YL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Vani Hari, AKA The Food Babe, has taken the Internet by storm and created quite a controversy. Supporters laud her for taking on corrupt “Big Food,” but scientists and doctors aren’t so sure her point of view is valid. The Food Babe is proud of the fact that she doesn’t understand science, and says so herself in her new book, The Food Babe Way. As a student at the Friedman School, I decided to investigate.

9 Reasons to Attend Friedman’s 9th Annual Student Research Conference

Angela Tagtow, Executive Director, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion

by Matt Moore

The Future of Food and Nutrition Graduate Student Research Conference (SRC) takes place on Saturday, April 11. Students from Friedman and across the country will attend and present original research from a range of topics related to nutrition and food systems. Last year’s conference drew over 200 attendees from 30 institutions across the country. The Sprout presents nine reasons for Friedman students to attend.

Join Tufts’ Multicultural Local Food Movement!

by Buki Owoputiworldpeas

How many times in the last year have you eaten a fruit and/or a vegetable? Hundreds? Thousands? (We Friedman students sure do love our fruits and veggies!) How many times in the last year did you eat a fruit or a veggie grown on a local farm? If you are like most of us, it is not nearly as often. In an increasingly globalized conventional food system, there is a huge disconnect between local food production and local eaters. That’s where New Entry Sustainable Farming Project comes in!

Running Cold: Your Body Exercising in the Wintery Outdoors

by Ally Gallop

In a city of runners, the past few weeks have made it difficult to train. As the snow begins to (hopefully) melt, many runners are itching to return to the outdoors. Though cleared trails are advantageous, this cold Northeastern weather is not. Knowing how the body deals with the cold will help you train smarter. So what does your body do the moment you step outdoors, ready to exercise?

Why HIIT Workouts are a Total HIT!


by Skylar Morelli

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is an effective, fat burning form of exercise that has been scientifically proven to lower risk for many diseases. HIIT involves different stations of exercises, with each movement done in short, intense durations with brief breaks in between. HIIT has become one of the most popular and successful methods of training.

CLIF Notes on the New Running Sponsor in Town

by Grace Goodwin

clifbarThe well-known CLIF Bar just became a generous sponsor of runners in our city. Here’s what Friedman students think of the bar…and did you know that CLIF makes liquid pizza?

March is National Nutrition Month

by Cailin Kowalewski

We’d like to thank the Academy…

But not that academy. We’re talking about The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), whose annual education and information campaign, National Nutrition Month®, takes place this March. This year’s theme, “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle,” offers timely, practical, lifestyle-centric messages promoting healthy weight maintenance, chronic disease risk reduction, and overall health promotion. Sounds good, right? Sure does. Should you care? You bet! And why? Because no one else does.

A perusal of the AND’s website provides a good sense of their offerings to support nutrition in March. These include promotional resources like PSAs, a “Good Nutrition Reading List,” and information about Registered Dietitian Day on March 11. But while these resources may be useful to nutrition professionals, it is undeniable that the campaign lacks a sense of user-friendliness for the layperson. It lacks interactive appeal. It doesn’t encourage engagement. It doesn’t encourage excitement.

The AND’s campaign exemplifies efforts to secure a place for science-based nutrition information in the conscience of the American public. Unfortunately, it also exemplifies how gloriously these campaigns continue to fail.

For example:

The National Nutrition Month Facebook page has 11,294 likes. The Food Babe has 922,723.

A search for National Nutrition Month’s #NNM handle on Twitter brings up results for Nerd Nite at Melbourne University and Noname Magazine Studio’s radio updates.

Finally, we can observe the campaign’s striking presence in the blogosphere:

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 8.20.35 PM


To be fair, the AND campaign may be wildly successful despite its lackluster performance on social media. “Dial a dietitian night” on local radio stations, cooking demos, recipe contests, and brochure handouts may be great ways to pique interest in our time-strapped, data-saturated culture. But more likely, these strategies will slip through the cracks and the general public will not realize the AND even exists.

The issue is one that rings true throughout the field of food and nutrition policy. How do we stay relevant? How can science earn a trusted place in the minds of Americans? On the heels of significant events like the release of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee’s scientific report, an overhaul of the Congressional seating chart, and the rise of Vani Hari’s (aka the Food Babe) latest book to national best-seller lists (God help us), how can we build momentum that embraces and propels nutrition science?

Friedman students are equipped with a unique awareness of these questions, and with skills that make us uncommonly well-suited to proposing informed, innovative solutions. I bet that there is a Friedman graduate working at the AND, and I would be shocked if Friedman staff weren’t themselves involved in the current campaign. The question remains, how can something as potentially impactful as a National Nutrition Month remain as underutilized as it is?

The time for formality and organizations focused on providing resources for professionals has passed and a respect for the public, communal nature of American health and wellness is essential. As a school, Friedman should be leading the charge by leveraging the skills and talents of its students, facilitating our growth, and placing into our hands the most difficult challenges in nutrition policy that can be conceived.

We are ready to speak on behalf of science, and we are ready to be heard. But unlike academies and organizations like the AND which operate top-down communication campaigns, Friedman students have firsthand exposure to the dialogue that is necessary for understanding something as simultaneously complex and personal as nutrition. In short, we know how to listen, and it would behoove the organizations that will likely hire us in the near future to start acknowledging what we hear and want to hear.

Cailin Kowalewski is a second-year FPAN student at the Friedman School of Nutrition. 


How Does a Ketogenic Diet Affect YOU? Part 2: A Deep Look Into Cortisol

by Katie Mark

Recent high hopes for high-fat diets have us further evaluating the ketogenic diet for a wider population. In this three-part series, we’re examining how the ketogenic diet affects biomarkers. Part 1 of this series investigated what ketosis does for fasting glucose and insulin. In Part 2, we look at how a ketogenic diet may affect cortisol levels.

High-fat…high cortisol…high stress?

Cortisol is considered the “stress hormone,” and it influences blood sugar levels, blood pressure, immune response, and stress response. Chronically elevated levels of circulating cortisol can hinder cognitive performance, disrupt sleep, impede immune function, increase abdominal fat, and cause blood sugar imbalances.

Studies have found that cortisol levels increase on a ketogenic diet, but some say the relationship between ketosis and high cortisol needs to be made clearer. First, chronically elevated cortisol correlates with metabolic syndrome, a group of symptoms such as high blood sugar, excess abdominal fat, and abnormal cholesterol levels that increase the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

It seems possible that ketogenic diets may cause metabolic syndrome because higher cortisol levels suggest the onset of metabolic syndrome. However, this isn’t the whole picture: It’s also possible that there are multiple forms of cortisol, and their measurements mean different things.

Cortisol is measured in bodily fluids, including urine, saliva, and blood. Multiple forms of cortisol are measured from these samples: cortisone (the inactive form), free cortisol (the active form), and metabolites of cortisone and cortisol resulting from enzyme activity. Equally important, these levels of cortisol biomarkers can vary depending on the time of day.

A holistic understanding of cortisol metabolism relies on looking at the enzymes 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (11β-HSD) and 11β-HSD1 (a subtype of 11β-HSD). 11β-HSD1 is found in every cell, but the highest amounts are found deep within fat cells. In fact, it does not matter if a person’s blood cortisol level is low, medium, or high because a highly active 11β-HSD1 will generate a high amount of cortisol inside cells.

Here is a breakdown of cortisol metabolism:

  • Production: 11β-HSD converts cortisol (active) to cortisone (inactive)
  • Regeneration: 11β-HSD1 converts cortisone to cortisol
  • Clearance: Other enzymes help metabolize cortisone and cortisol into metabolites

The cortisol profile of metabolic syndrome, which the ketogenic diet reverses, consists of:

  • High cortisol production
  • High cortisol clearance rates
  • High 11β-HSD1 expression in adipocytes and low 11β-HSD1 expression in the liver (the location that determines where and when cortisol is regenerated)

Now, let’s see how a 24-hour urine proxy is used for detecting cortisol. This proxy results in a less-than-clear picture because cortisol levels are affected by production, regeneration, and clearance. For instance, if clearance decreased or if regeneration increased, cortisol levels could go up if production stayed the same or lowered. This is analogous to simply measuring someone’s total cholesterol without observing LDL and HDL.

Take home message: levels may appear similar when there is a big difference in cortisol metabolism.

One study, published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, used 17 obese men and randomly assigned them to an ad libitum (eat as much as you want) high fat-low carbohydrate (HF-LC) diet (66% fat, 4% carbohydrate) or moderate fat-moderate carbohydrate (MF-MC) diet (35% fat, 35% carbohydrate) for four weeks.

The study found a reversal of the previously described metabolic syndrome cortisol profile for only the HF-LC group: blood cortisol increased, clearance decreased and regeneration increased (due to an increase in 11β-HSD1 activity in the liver). According to the researchers, the ketogenic diet improved the cortisol profile because it was different from the cortisol profile seen in metabolic syndrome.

Furthermore, even though the MF-MC group lost a similar amount of weight, there was no change in 11β-HSD1 activity. This increase in 11β-HSD1 activity in the HF-LC group was independent of the differences in energy intake and weight loss because the same effect was seen in the controls.

A final component to note is that obesity is associated with high cortisol. However, the connection between obesity and elevated serum levels of cortisol has not always been a consistent connection.

Some people with high stress and lots of abdominal fat had normal or low levels of cortisol in their blood. Usually, chronically elevated levels of cortisol leads to increased adiposity; yet, there have been cases of people with high stress and high cortisol, but no obesity. And as we saw in “The Basics of the Ketogenic Diet,” the ketogenic diet has demonstrated effectiveness as a weight loss tool.

What’s the verdict?

We see that diet, especially a carbohydrate-restricted one such as the ketogenic diet, may increase certain forms of cortisol. But blood cortisol levels are only half the story—cortisol levels inside cells illustrate the other half. Also, cortisol will vary depending on the time of day, with levels highest in the morning. Caffeine, stress, and exercise can also increase cortisol levels.

Ultimately, further research is needed to better understand the connections as to why cortisol increases on a ketogenic diet and if cortisol levels are more affected by other variables, such as the activity of the 11β-HSD1 enzyme.

Katie Mark is a first year Nutrition Communication student from Miami, Florida. Due to Boston’s Snowpocalypse, she does not foresee herself living in Boston in the future, so she will return to South Beach following graduation.

10 Healthy Breakfast Ideas

by Mireille Najjar

Eating a well-balanced breakfast every day is key to staying energized, focused, and alert. Get a fresh start to your day with a healthy, wholesome (and delicious) breakfast using these simple tips and recipes.


A hearty, fiber-rich breakfast topped with fresh berries.

Bircher muesli (Swiss oatmeal)

Soak oats, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds in milk overnight. In the morning, stir the mix with strawberries, blueberries, grated apples, and fresh yogurt. Bircher is rich in fiber and antioxidants, as well as beneficial fats and calcium.

Natural muesli

Munch on this fiber-rich oat dish with nuts and seeds, kiwi, a handful of berries, and a spoonful of yogurt. Natural muesli is high in antioxidants and probiotics, a type of “good” bacteria that protects against harmful bacteria and stimulates a healthy gut.

Poached eggs on spinach and whole-grain toast

Add a handful of baby spinach to a piece of whole-grain toast and top with poached eggs and reduced-salt baked beans. Baked beans are a great source of iron, B vitamins and fiber. Baby spinach is rich in beta-carotene, a compound found in many fruits and vegetables, as well as vitamin K and folate (vitamin B9).

Whole-oat porridge

For a fiber-rich dish, try whole-oat porridge with almond milk, almond flakes and chia seeds (rich in omega-3 fatty acids and fiber). Top with diced pear and banana, cinnamon, and a drizzle of honey. Oats are a good source of beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that helps reduce cholesterol levels.

Green veggie juice

Try this antioxidant-filled smoothie to start your day feeling energized. Toss baby spinach, parsley, celery, cucumber, apple, lime, and avocado in a blender until smooth.  Add a teaspoon of dried spirulina (a plant-like organism packed with protein), B vitamins, iron, and minerals.

Muesli and yogurt breakfast cups

Add layers of muesli, yogurt, and a variety of berries in a glass. Top with crushed mixed nuts and some shredded coconut. Yogurt is abundant in probiotic bacteria, which supports good immune and digestive health.

Spelt toasted sandwich

Prepare a spelt (a type of wheat)-toasted sandwich filled with avocado, a fried egg, rocket lettuce, and tomato relish. Eggs are an excellent breakfast choice that provides plenty of protein, zinc, and iron. Avocado is also a great source of the antioxidants vitamin E and beta-carotene.

Fruit smoothie

Transform a traditional fruit smoothie into an organic, protein-rich one that will stabilize your blood sugar levels and prevent you from craving sweets during the day. Prepare the smoothie with organic milk, frozen raspberries, banana, yogurt, chia seeds, two dates and 2 tbsp. of protein powder (fermented brown rice, pea, or whey protein). This is a great on-the-go breakfast when you are short for time.

Quinoa porridge

Opt for nutritious, gluten-free quinoa porridge to up your intake of protein and fiber. Prepare the porridge using almond milk, diced apples, cinnamon, sunflower seeds, and almonds; finish with vanilla yogurt.

Scrambled eggs on whole-grain toast

A classic dish with a hearty twist—scrambled eggs made with pesto, grilled tomato, and avocado served on whole-grain toast with a touch of flaxseed oil. This protein-rich dish is packed with heart healthy fats that will keep you filled until lunchtime.

Mireille Najjar is a first-year NUTCOM student and an avid food and dessert lover, particularly of sushi and chocolate.

How to Become an Expert Gum Taster: My Experience as a Sensory Scientist at Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company

by Disha Gandhi

Warning: the following article requires active participation. Please have 1-2 pieces of gum at your side prior to reading.

The multibillion-dollar food industry provides us with all of the calories and food products we desire. But who within the food industry conceptualizes the vast variety of foods available? Who develops the recipes, evaluates consumer response, and assesses the quality? Food scientists, that’s who.

Prior to working as a food sensory scientist at the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, I completed my undergraduate degree in Food Science at the University of Illinois. In fact, most graduates within my program went on to work throughout the food industry. But when we learn about optimal nutrition at the Friedman School, the food industry, creating products for profit, is often positioned as at odds with a healthy diet.

We learn about reducing sodium intake, avoiding processed foods, and returning to the way our grandparents ate. It may seem like food scientists are the monsters that invented and feed the obesity and diabetes epidemics. Though we can argue that this notion seems pretty reasonable, food scientists and their industries do exist and we need them for many reasons.

Believe it or not, the guy who invented gum, William Wrigley Jr., was a food scientist back in 1891. Without his invention the person pushed up against you on a very crowded train would probably have very nasty breath. So in honor of Wrigley, let’s have some fun! Grab those pieces of gum and work through the following:

In answering these four simple questions, base your responses on the following 9-point hedonic scale test:

1-Dislike Extremely
2-Dislike Very Much
3-Dislike Moderately
4-Dislike Slightly
5-Neither Like nor Dislike
6-Like Slightly
7-Like Moderately
8-Like Very Much
9-Like Extremely

Question #1. On a scale of 1-9, please evaluate the overall liking of the gum:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Question #2: On a scale of 1-9, please evaluate the overall liking of the flavor of the gum:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Question #3: On a scale of 1-9, please evaluate the overall liking of the texture of the gum:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Question #4: Continue chewing the gum for roughly five minutes. Please evaluate the overall liking of the flavor intensity of the gum:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Congratulations! You just completed a mini consumer sensory test questionnaire. During my year at Wrigley, my group conducted a number of consumer tests on various Wrigley and Mars products such as Orbit Gum, 5 Gum, Skittles, Starbursts, Snickers Ice Cream Bars, Uncle Ben’s Rice Products, amongst others. We evaluated consumers’ preferences on different scales similar to the one you just completed. Thereafter, we delivered the results to Wrigley’s head sensory scientists who were better able to make decisions regarding their formulations, eventually deciding whether or not the tested product should be released into the market.

Now that you’re aware of how sensory testing occurs, here’s some insight into what I did as a food scientist:

What was a really cool product I worked on?
I definitely have to say that it would be Dove chocolate-covered gum. I had never thought that gum could be covered in chocolate! Not only did the food scientists create gum with a chocolate coating around it, they also created raspberry, chai, and strawberry coated gum. Some formulations tasted very well, while some were vomit-inducing. This product was released to select Dunkin Donuts around the Chicago area. I worked on this product in its early stages, so it might be a while before it gets released nationwide, if at all.


What was so great about this job?
When you work in research and development, you tend to know a lot of information about the projects that pertain to your team. I was lucky with my position because I was exposed to a whole variety of products that both Wrigley and Mars produced including products from around the world, such as Chinese jasmine flavored mints

My team did not only do consumer acceptance tests, we also did qualitative descriptive analysis. So how does this work?
First, here is a list of basic tastes, flavors, and textures:

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 8.29.05 PM

Now, let’s go back to that piece of gum you were/are chewing. Or, if you have another piece handy then start chewing it.

Now ask yourself: after about 30 seconds of chewing the gum, what were the range of flavors you experienced and at what intensity would you rate these flavors on a scale of 0-15? 0 represents no flavor intensity and 15 represents a very high intensity. How about after a minute? What about 12 minutes?

Qualitative descriptive analysis is performed by panelists who evaluate the basic tastes, flavors, and textures each on a scale of 0-15. What was really interesting about these panelists is how they were equally calibrated regarding gum and candy. For instance, a sweetness rating of five represents the sweetness level of 50 grams of sugar in 1L of water. They were given this reference sample daily to ensure their internal calibration was set. Panelists then were able to evaluate the sweetness of a piece gum or candy by referring back to their reference sample. For your general knowledge, the sweetness of a piece of gum starts at an intensity of about 8-9 and as time progresses it lowers to about a 2. So, in the exercise earlier, if you rated the sweetness of your gum at about 8-9, you are already on your way to becoming an expert gum taster! Scientists looked for consistency in the panelists’ ratings of each flavor attribute in order for them to discern the flavor profile of their product. This knowledge helped them decide for example, if a different type of sweetener in Orbit Spearmint Gum made a difference when compared to the control product.

Valuable exposure to sensory science, working with a variety of people, and now knowing almost everything there is to know about gum (except how it’s formulated) made working for Wrigley a wonderful learning experience.

Though Disha Gandhi thinks that sensory science is neat and vital for a company’s well being, her heart lies in food and nutrition. Hence, why she’s studying towards a MSc in Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition at the Friedman School. In her free time she loves to read food blogs and explore restaurants in Boston.

Mechanism that Causes Cataracts Discovered in Mice: The Latest in Nutrition and Vision at the HNRCA

by Nusheen Orandi

Although it may be hard to see through seven feet of snow and gray slush, the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) is still hard at work, especially in the Nutrition and Vision lab.

The Nutrition and Vision lab, directed by Dr. Allen Taylor, just published a paper in the Janurary Online Early Edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about how tinkering with one protein, called ubiquitin, leads to other biochemical reactions that result in the clouding of the eye lens, known as cataracts. Not only is this publication groundbreaking in vision academia, but this knowledge applies to other diseases in the body that are affected by the same process, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Taylor is a Professor of Nutrition at Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Professor of Ophthalmology at the School of Medicine, and part of the faculty of the Department of Developmental, Molecular, and Chemical Biology at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. He gave insight to the progress of the lab, where nutrition fits in, and where research is going from here.

How does it work?

Many age-related diseases, like cataracts, are related to the accumulation of damaged or abnormal proteins. Ubiquitin is a protein part of a proteolytic (protein breakdown) pathway that regulates this protein buildup to prevent a number of diseases. As Dr. Taylor put it, ubiquitin is important for “cleaning up bad proteins.”

“We’re interested in what forms cataracts and age-related macular degeneration and its nutritional correlate,” he explained. Dr. Taylor and his colleagues examined how damage to the ubiquitin proteolytic pathway can cause the improper degradation of these bad proteins to lead to cataract formation.

In the experiment, Dr. Taylor and his research team identified a mechanism that leads to the formation of cataracts in the mice. The team mutated one of the lysine amino acids of the ubiquitin protein, which altered gap junction proteins called connexins and caused calcium to be retained in the cells of the eye lens. The resulting levels of calcium initiated the biochemical pathway of another protein called calpain, which is a digestive enzyme responsible for shredding proteins. The hyperactivation of calpain in the eye eventually led to the opaqueness of the lens, known as a cataract.

Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide and affect over 85% of the elderly. The inefficient degradation of proteins that cause cataracts is a significant investigation. The same ineffective ubiquitin proteolytic pathway leads to congenital cataracts as well, which is the leading cause of childhood blindness.

So, what does nutrition have to do with it?

Diet affects many diseases, and cataracts are no exception. Although having cataracts is mainly an age-related disease, nutrition can impact disease development.

“There’s a nutritional correlate to inefficient proteolysis,” Dr. Taylor explained. “It can be caused by anything that causes too much stress in the body. If you have inefficient nutrition, you won’t have enough antioxidants, and this causes oxidative stress. It messes up the proteolytic pathway and disease builds up. You don’t have enough proteolytic machinery to fight these toxic proteins.” An example he gave was having a diet high in sugar and lacking fruits and vegetables. The excess sugar causes oxidative stress on the body that accumulates with age. Without the proper antioxidants, regulatory proteins like ubiquitin can’t operate at maximum capacity. Eat healthfully because it affects your vision!

Is this research only related to vision?

No, and that’s what makes this research even more exciting. The accumulation of toxic proteins and ineffective proteolysis mechanisms is also related to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Maybe you thought ubiquitin was a curious name for a regulatory protein, but it was actually a conscious term, being ubiquitous, or everywhere, in the body.

“Protein buildup takes place everywhere, like the brain,” offered Dr. Taylor. This relates to Alzheimer’s disease, where without the proper proteolysis mechanisms, plaques can form and cause the gradual neuronal breakdown. Defective ubiquitin proteosome in the brain, caused by oxidative stress and inflammation by the neurotoxin known as MPTP, is associated with one of the causes of Parkinson’s disease.

The Nutrition and Vision Lab at the HNRCA demonstrated the importance of adequate nutrition on age-related diseases, such as cataract formation, giving further indications of a parallel with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. How we take care of ourselves goes a long way and causes a domino effect of all the biochemical pathways in our body.

Nusheen Orandi is a first-year student from California in the Nutrition Communication program and likes to spend her time tea-shop hunting, tensely watching the Tottenham Hotspurs, and cooking and eating with friends and family.

How Do You Find a Word that Means the Food Babe? A Fearmonger, a Food Activist, a Clown?

by Katherine Pett

Vani Hari, AKA The Food Babe, has taken the Internet by storm and created quite a controversy. Supporters laud her for taking on corrupt “Big Food,” but scientists and doctors aren’t so sure. The Food Babe is proud of the fact that she doesn’t understand science, and says so herself in her new book, The Food Babe Way. As a student at the Friedman School, I decided to investigate.

I was determined to not hate The Food Babe Way. I actually figured I would buy most of Hari’s arguments. After all, she’s for effective labeling and more clarity in the food industry, goals that are downright noble in my mind. Sure, she has been lambasted on Reddit and NPR, critiqued by The Atlantic, and debunked by scientists like Kevin Folta, Steven Novella, and Michelle Francl, but she must make a few good points, right?

511aD7n++YL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Food Babe is a banking consultant turned investigator best known for getting the “yoga mat” chemical, azodicarbonamide, taken out of the bread at Subway restaurants. Emboldened by success, she has identified  other chemicals she believes are hazardous and has gone after numerous other food producers, including Kraft and General Mills, demanding they reveal ingredient lists and remove food additives.

The Food Babe’s campaigns have caused a stir. Experts argue that The Food Babe’s activism is actually fearmongering: she is making people afraid of GMOs, food colorings, and antioxidants (used as preservatives) and causing a national case of chemophobia.

I’d done my background research on Ms. Hari, and I felt ready to approach the book with an open mind. No, she doesn’t understand much about biochemistry, but neither does most of America! That doesn’t mean citizens aren’t capable of understanding food and making healthy choices. It also doesn’t mean they aren’t entitled to engage with the food industry.

So I went into the book with a mission: Who really IS the Food Babe and what can we learn from her book?  And this is what I decided…

As a Friedman Student and as a human being, I simply cannot recommend that anyone read this book.

The Food Babe is NOT a Science Fan

The Food Babe bills herself as a friend of the public and an enemy of “conventional wisdom.” In her words, “I’m not a part of the nutrition, dietetics, or medical establishment. And that’s a good thing, because many of them have swallowed and passed along the industry-funded advice that has made us all sicker, fatter, and more unhealthy than we’ve ever been in history.”

While it’s certainly true that a lack of nutrition education has kept her out of the pocket of “Big Food,” it’s also kept Hari from being able to discern scientific evidence from not-so-scientific evidence.

Consider, for example, her widely publicized critique of microwaves (that has now been taken down from her blog). In her character assassination of the technology, she claimed that microwaving food not only destroys nutrients, but that it alters water’s crystal structure, something she said can also be done by exposing water to the words “Hitler” or “Satan.”

While her book unfortunately doesn’t make claims this entertaining, she still advocates for getting rid of your microwave and espouses some radically unscientific theories. For instance, she declares that pasteurized milk is the reason for increased bone and heart diseases in the United States.

Pasteurization, she says, “kills” phosphatase, which is necessary for calcium incorporation into bones. Without “alive” phosphatase, the calcium you drink cannot leave your veins and simply sticks to your blood vessels, causing calcification and artery disease.

I’m not sure where The Food Babe got this idea, but it is false. Not only are enzymes and proteins in our food not alive, and thus cannot be killed (we can only assume she means that they are denatured, or misshapen by the heating process), people don’t need dietary phosphatase to absorb or utilize calcium. This “fact” is just one of many less-than-true assertions she makes.

There are plenty of resources on the web that are more than happy to point out numerous factual errors The Food Babe has made in her research. Try here, here, here, or here.

However, what is astonishing about the depth of Hari’s ignorance is that most of it could have been cleared up with a little Wikipedia. Surely making the connection that “azodicarbonamide” is in both yoga mats and bread took a little Googling—why couldn’t she have Googled the amount of it you’d have to consume for it to be problematic? (It’s a lot.)  It leads one to think that perhaps The Food Babe isn’t as interested in the truth as she’d have you believe.

The factual mistakes in her book overshadow her valid points. She rightly, in my opinion, points out the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture and criticizes the White House, and Michelle Obama in particular, for endorsing Subway as “healthy food” for kids.  Despite these and a few other helpful tips, I felt the good parts of this book came too few and far between.

The Food Babe is Not a Writer

The style of the book, sort of a tone-deaf combination of conspiracy theory and pop-science, did not win me over. Vani Hari may have a talent for scaring food companies, but she does not have a deft hand with prose.

The Food Babe Way often feels as if it was written by a valley girl describing like, the grossest thing she like, ever, like saw. For instance:

“The word ‘natural’ on a label is virtually bogus.”


“There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.”

She repeatedly and ham-handedly uses terms like “toxins,” “laced,” and “poison” to describe food additives, deliberately making processed foods seem more like illegal drugs than, say, macaroni and cheese.

She mentions castoreum, and how it’s derived from beaver’s anal glands four separate times.  She uses the word “laced” fifteen times. She uses a form of the word “toxin” over one hundred times.

About 50% of the book, it seemed, was ingredient lists of processed foods with the “toxins” bolded. The same processed foods could be listed (with the requisite multi-page ingredient lists) more than once. Sugars and sodium were bolded as “toxins.” Surely no one would be surprised to learn that a chocolate chip cookie contains added sugar, but when they read that the cookie is “laced with” “toxic” added sugar, they may get a different impression.

It is one thing to read a diet or lifestyle book that is beautifully written, argued, or researched, even if you don’t agree with all the findings. It is quite another to feel like you’re reading a very, very long high school paper.  Books by Michael Pollan or Malcolm Gladwell can be hotly and intelligently contested, but they are at least well crafted.

I point out Michael Pollan as a foil because he and the Food Babe share many of the same beliefs (he is referenced several times in “The Food Babe Way”).  For instance, the Food Babe gets her advice to avoid foods with ingredients you can’t pronounce from Pollan.  They share a fundamental unease with GMOs and a similar approach to dieting.  Because of this, I recommend potential Food Babe readers try some Michael Pollan instead.  They will hear many of the same viewpoints accompanied by better research and writing.

The Food Babe is NOT an Idiot

If you follow The Food Babe Way diet, I commend you, because it seems complicated. Every day you have to drink lemon water with cayenne pepper and a green juice, and you can never, ever eat a GMO or a non-organic bite of food. Her meal plans in the back of the book look like they barely hit 1,000 calories per day.

However complicated the protocol is, it is healthy. The Food Babe diet is like an expensive, all-organic version of the USDA diet guidelines: plant based, low in red meat and saturated fats, and including only whole grains.

By the time I finished the book I was convinced that the Food Babe knew exactly what she was doing. Her book reads like a phishing email, designed so only the most gullible will follow up, join the Food Babe Army, and buy the Food Babe products.  A growing online backlash against the Food Babe frequently cites how Vani Hari banishes critics from her blog and Facebook page.  When scientists questioned her theories, she shot back a blog post saying, calling critics “hate groups” and arguing that “these issues are too important to be left to experts.”

While Ms. Hari is absolutely right that the public can and should be engaged in public debates about food safety and nutrition, I don’t think this is what she is doing.  Unilaterally deciding that something is toxic and scrounging up a gullible public to follow her unquestioningly is the opposite of intelligent debate.

At the end of the book, she inserts a recommended reading list that includes books by Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and Marion Nestle.  I recommend you skip The Food Babe Way and go right to those instead.

Katherine Pett is a first-year student in the Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition program at The Friedman School.  She is NOT in the pocket of the food industry, either that or they haven’t told her how to access her secret account in the Caymans.  She can be reached at katherine.docimo@tufts.edu and on Twitter @smarfdoc.


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