November Is for Nutrients

Now that Halloween has passed, we dive into the loved and dreaded “holiday season.” It’s a good time to put a spotlight on nutrition. Who doesn’t need a refresher on making good food choices after gorging on candy and right before Thanksgiving?

Headlines have been full of news about what foods are good, and not so good, for our health and waistlines. This month, writers for The Sprout took a deep dive into nutrients: What do you need more of? What is simply hype? And, most importantly, is there a delicious treat I can make in the fourth floor Sackler microwaves while I study for my exams? All those answers and more in the November issue of The Sprout!

First up, Emily Finnan explores whether Vitamin C supplements will really keep your immune system “boosted” this cold season. Then Jirayu Tanprasertsuk takes us to the sunshine and to Thailand to discuss Vitamin D.  Julia Sementelli has an idea for how to prevent sore muscles after workouts by drinking tart cherry juice. And Skylar Morelli examines the latest trend in healthy drinks: the juice shot!

Big news broke last week when the WHO released a report reclassifying processed meat as a carcinogen. Katherine Pett asks a Tufts epidemiology professor what to make of the findings. Meanwhile, the UN prepares to replace the Millennial Development Goals with new Sustainable Development Goals, and Connie Ray has the switch covered. In vegetarian news, Ally Gallop takes us on a day-in-the-life trip of one food truck employee!

In policy and justice news, Emily Nink contributes a story about a local community’s work to create more access to healthy food and urban gardens. And Micaela Young takes it global, discussing the implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that concluded negotiations on October 5.

Need a study break? The Sprout suggests several ways to productively procrastinate: Matt Moore introduces us to the student-run seminar series, NewTrition, which has held its first two successful events already this semester. DJ Dr. Jaz is back with “The 30-Second Study Break” workout and all new mix, and Katelyn Castro provides us with a recipe for Apple-Crisp-In-a-Mug.

In this issue:

Vitamin C Supplements and the Common Cold

by Emily Finnan


Cold season has hit. Some of you may have already experienced the hallmark signs: unrelenting cough, non-stop dripping nose, and eyes so watery from sneezing, you can barely see. Unfortunately, even though, in America,one billion common cold infections occur yearly, there is no cure. Nothing can make your cold go away

Vitamin D Insufficiency in a Tropical Country: A Nutrition Paradox

by Jirayu Tanprasertsuk

Last summer I was had a chance to talk to Dr. Boonsong Ongphiphadhanakul, MD, one of the authors of a study on vitamin D status among the Thai population and a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Ramathibodi Hospital in Thailand.

Tart Cherry Juice: A Natural Way to Soothe Your Aching Muscles

by Julia Sementelli

800px-Owoce_wisniYou’ve pushed yourself by running an extra mile or set a personal best for how much weight you can deadlift. Mentally you feel accomplished and alive, but physically you’re exhausted and overcome with muscle soreness. While this is a sign that you actually pushed your body past its normal capabilities, it can be annoying to feel like a slug for the rest of the day or night. Especially when you have big plans to exercise again tomorrow. You want to feel better. And fast. Tart cherry juice may be a solution.

Not Your Average Flu Shot

by Skylar MorelliScreen Shot 2015-09-30 at 9.28.59 PM

Winter is approaching! The days are shorter, the trees are losing their leaves, and our immune systems are likely going to be compromised. Flu season is right around the corner, and it’s important to be both proactive and reactive about avoiding and treating the flu. There are plenty of ways to keep your body healthy such as exercise, keeping warm, eating a nutrient-dense diet, and getting a flu vaccine. Could adding nutrient-dense juice shots also help?

The WHO Says Processed Meat Is a Carcinogen. Is it?

by Katherine Pett 120px-NCI_bacon

Just in time for Halloween, the world had another deadly villain to dress as for costume parties: Bacon.

MDGs Give Way to SDGs

by Connie Ray

The end of September 2015 came with the deadline for the United Nations’ Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) established in 2000. They will be replaced by new Sustainable Development Goals, which have received mixed reaction.

A Day in the Life: 8 Hours Inside a Food Truck

by Ally GallopCarnegie_Mellon_University_Tartan_Express

“I swear the manager said that once the truck’s interior rose above 100°F we would close for the day. At 10 a.m. my watch read 104°F, yet I was still serving up eggplant sandwiches. What weather app was he using!?” Kate works in a food truck for Alfalfa, a meat-free restaurant serving the Boston-area with two food trucks. Through the heat and customer sass, Kate has seen it all.

Growing Food Justice Through Storytelling in Everett, MA

by Emily Nink

20151024_140100Everett Community Growers shares the stories of its members within public and nonprofit institutions to change messaging—and policy—from the ground up. The organization operates two community gardens and will open a new farm in 2016.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Misses Mark on Currency Manipulation

by Micaela Young

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 12.45.51 PMThe Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations came to a dramatic conclusion on Monday, October 5. The “free-trade” deal that links 12 nations and covers more than 40 percent of global GDP has been deemed a great success by the White House and big business. However, many organizations including the National Farmers Union (NFU) have come out with strong critiques of the agreement due to the lack of enforcement on one key issue: currency manipulation.

Innovative NewTrition Talks Foster Engagement Between Students, Faculty, and Staff at Friedman

by Matthew Moore

NewTrition LogoAfter helping to plan and execute the successful 2015 Future of Food and Nutrition Student Research Conference, second-year students Kurtis Morrish (FPAN) and Kenny Westerman (BMN) were inspired to do more. By the end of the conference they had developed the concept for a new lecture series at Friedman; one that is informal, engaging, and not necessarily based on formal research. Less than six months later, NewTrition was born.


The 30-Second Study Circuit

by Justin Zabinski Max 12

Midterm season is upon us, which means gym time is inhibited by endless hours of studying and writing papers. According to a study done by the American Diabetes Association, it is important to take breaks during prolonged sedentary intervals, and it is suggested to do some sort of physical activity during breaks. This is when the 30-Second Circuit can be used!

Apple Crisp In-A-Mug

IMG_0011by Katelyn Castro

Nothing beats a slice of homemade apple pie, fresh out of the oven. But, let’s be honest; sometimes you don’t have the patience to craft a perfect piecrust, or the time to wait by the oven as the sweet smell of apples and cinnamon fill the kitchen. Sometimes, turning to a simpler recipe can satisfy your cravings, saving you time and keeping you sane.

Vitamin C Supplements and the Common Cold

by Emily Finnan


selbst fotografiert von Claudius Tesch

Cold season has hit. Some of you may have already experienced the hallmark signs: unrelenting cough, non-stop dripping nose, and eyes so watery from sneezing, you can barely see. Unfortunately, even though in America one billion common cold infections occur yearly, there is no cure. Nothing can make your cold go away.

To fill the void left by pharmaceuticals, which can’t treat this prevalent condition, herbal and dietary supplements seem to step in. Vitamin C supplements are one popular remedy for colds. One brand, Emergen-C, which sales peak in the winter months, sells over 500 million supplement packets yearly. The tangy powder can be mixed into a glass of water for a fizzy, fruity drink that, in one packet, provides 1,667% of the daily value of vitamin C, 500% of the daily value of vitamin B6, and 417% of the daily value of vitamin B12, among 12 additional vitamins and minerals. You can see the supplement facts for the full information.

There has been a substantial amount of research on vitamin C and colds. So what does the evidence say? Is vitamin C just a tasty placebo?

Vitamin C & Immunity

Vitamin C has a true role in immunity. When white blood cells attack invader pathogens, like a cold virus, they release damaging substances to kill it. But in the process, the cells can damage themselves. This is where antioxidants like vitamin C, with the help of vitamin E, come in. They protect white blood cells via their antioxidant function.Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.16.22 AM

In fact, the Recommended Daily Allowance, or RDA, is based on immune function. It is the amount of vitamin C needed to maintain maximum neutrophil levels (a type of white blood cell) with minimal urinary excretion. This is 90 mg a day for men and 75 mg a day for women.

Most supplements provide 1,000 mg of vitamin C. That’s 11 times the RDA. Logically, if vitamin C helps immune cells, the more the better. Is this is the “immune boosting” the supplements often speak of?

Immune boosting is a vague, perhaps intentionally, term. It has no scientific meaning. “You can have a hyperactive immune system, but that wouldn’t be good. You want to be able to fight the cold but then you need to have your immune system slow back down when you’re no longer sick,” says Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg, director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. A supplement can’t turn a healthy immune system into a “better, “boosted” system.

But taking a 1,000 mg supplement appears to have no harm. . As Dr. Blumberg says, “high doses, theoretically, of any nutrient can kill you. However, I’m unaware of any long-term untoward consequences of vitamin C, at any dose.” Some people have taken up to 30,000 mg per day without reports of adverse side effects! Any excess absorbed vitamin C is quickly excreted in the urine.

There is a tolerable upper limit set for vitamin C: 2,000 mg per day. This is because doses of this level, and higher, can cause GI upset due to our body’s limited ability to absorb large doses. At intakes greater than 1,000 mg, absorption falls to less than 50%. If unabsorbed vitamin C makes it to the colon, this hyperosmotic load can lead to things like diarrhea. As Dr. Blumberg says, “This minor side effect has its own automatic safety switch. Someone says, ‘Gee this gives me diarrhea. I think I’ll take less.’ ”

Vitamin C & Colds

The popular theory that vitamin C can alleviate or prevent the common cold stems from chemist Dr. Linus Pauling, an esteemed double Nobel Prize winner. In 1970 he wrote a book titled Vitamin C and the Common Cold. In this book he claimed that 1,000 mg of vitamin C could reduce your risk of catching a cold by 45%. This claim was largely based on one study of children at a skiing camp in the Swiss Alps.

Over 40 years later, and 67 randomize placebo-controlled trials later, we’ve learned a lot.

A 2013 systematic review of vitamin C and colds pooled over 11,000 participants who took between 200 and 2,000 mg of vitamin C daily for 2 weeks to 5 years. Vitamin C supplements had no effect on prevention or severity of colds. Among the vitamin C intervention group, they did find a slight decrease in duration of colds. Adults had 8% shorter colds. For people who were currently undergoing short-term, intense physical activity the vitamin C intervention group was 50% less likely to get a cold. These participants were marathon runners, skiers, and soldiers working in the subarctic. Perhaps that’s why Dr. Paul’s skiing children benefited from vitamin C?

In the other group of studies participants were given between 1,500 and 8,000 mg of vitamin C on the first day of cold symptoms. After pooling over 3,000 cold events, vitamin C was found to have no significant effect on duration or severity of cold symptoms.

To Take or Not to Take

Is vitamin C going to cure your cold? No. And neither will anything else. Research has shown that unless you’re undergoing some intense exercise, vitamin C only has an effect of slightly shorter colds, if taken daily. The authors of the review state, “This level of benefit does not justify long-term supplementation in its own right. So far, therapeutic supplementation has not been shown to be effective.”

Vitamin C is essential to immunity, so it is important to obtain an adequate amount in your diet or through supplements. On average, Americans consume vitamin C in amounts above the RDA. However, about 30% of Americans’ intakes are inadequate, falling below the Estimated Average Requirement.

You can obtain adequate vitamin C from diet alone. “People who eat a lot of citrus fruits and leafy greens could be eating up to 500 mg of vitamin C. Following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans will put you well over the RDA,” says Dr. Blumberg.

For those who are concerned about meeting vitamin C needs through diet, or choose to supplement, dividing your vitamin C supplement into smaller, more frequent doses would allow for more absorption rather than a one-time large dose.

Whether you prefer a vitamin C supplement or a fruit salad, my advice is the same –good luck this cold season!

Emily Finnan is a registered dietitian and a 2nd year biochemical and molecular nutrition masters student. You can read her nutrition quips and MBTA complaints on twitter @emilyyfin.

Vitamin D Insufficiency in a Tropical Country: A Nutrition Paradox

by Jirayu Tanprasertsuk

As winter approaches, days are getting shorter and nights are getting longer in New England. Around this time, I, as a person who was born and raised in Thailand, can’t help missing the warm climate of my home country where the sun shines all year long. Last summer I was very fortunate to have a chance to talk to Dr. Boonsong Ongphiphadhanakul, MD, one of the authors of a study on vitamin D status among the Thai population and a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Ramathibodi Hospital in Thailand.

To be honest, I thought this interview would be a boring conversation about happy Thai people who get vitamin D from an infinite amount of sun exposure—yet it would turn out to be 30 minutes filled with fascinating information. Through this article, I want to share my personal learning experience on the paradox of how people in a tropical country may not get enough of this “sunshine” vitamin.

Sunlight as a source of vitamin D

Before delving further into this issue, let’s look at some basic science. Vitamin D is either obtained from food or produced when our skin is exposed to UVB in sunlight. The UVB converts 7-dehydrocholesterol located beneath our skin to vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 remains inactive until it is activated twice by the liver and kidney. The first activation in the liver converts vitamin D3 to 25-hydroxycholecalciferol or 25(OH)D, and the second activation in the kidney converts 25(OH)D to 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol or 1,25(OH)2D, which is a biologically active form of vitamin D.

Vitamin D insufficiency is more common than we thought

Clinically, one’s vitamin D status is determined by serum 25(OH)D levels. Clinicians use this value because it reflects the total amount of vitamin D coming from diet, supplements, and sun exposure. The Institute of Medicine considers a person with a serum 25(OH)D level less than 12 ng/mL (or 30 nmol/L) to be “vitamin D deficient”, while a person who has a value less than 20 ng/mL (or 50 nmol/L) is “vitamin D insufficient.” The Endocrine Society uses higher cutoff values for people who are at risk of diseases associated with low vitamin D status. Our body requires vitamin D to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, and to build strong bones. While vitamin D deficiency causes rickets in children and osteomalacia (softening of the bones) in adults, optimal vitamin D level has been shown to be associated with many potential health benefits, including increased bone density, and prevention of fractures and falls.

Global vitamin D status is indeed worse than many people would expect. If we use 20 ng/mL as a cutoff value, prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency in the US is approximately 40 percent. A study in South Korea shows prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency in summer can be as high as 50 percent among teenagers. Dr. Ongphiphadhanakul’s study fortunately shows the prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency for Thailand to be only 6 percent, but the prevalence is unexpectedly high at 15 percent among Bangkok residents. The result also shows that living in a big city, being young, and being female are three important predictors that increase the risk of vitamin D insufficiency among Thai people.

Living in a hot city

As a Bangkokian, I have my own hypothesis of why people who live in big city might not get enough of the “sunshine” vitamin. Given the choice of being outside (and sweating like a waterfall) or staying cool and dry inside with the A/C on, it’s a no brainer to stay away from sunlight and scorching heat. Surprisingly, my hypothesis does not explain everything.

“City lifestyle might just be one of many factors,” Dr. Ongphiphadhanakul said. “If we had a group of healthy people exposed directly to sunlight in Bangkok at noon, we would only see a subtle rise in their serum 25(OH)D. However, when we used a UVB lamp to shine UVB on their skin, their serum 25(OH)D level increased dramatically.”

So what does this little experiment imply? Well, it seems like there is nothing wrong with the ability of skin to convert 7-dehydrocholesterol to 25(OH)D, but there is something wrong with the sunlight in Bangkok. I asked him what the reason behind this was.

“We are not sure just yet,” he admitted. “Right now, our hypothesis is that the air pollution may absorb or scatter UVB in the atmosphere, resulting in less UVB reaching the earth surface. We still need further research to confirm this hypothesis.”

One study in Iran seems to find similar results. If being exposed to sunlight in the city is not going to raise my vitamin D level, why bother staying outside? I guess I had made the right call staying indoor and sticking to my bestie (aka A/C).

Getting high vitamin D, like a grandma

As we grow older, we expect our skin to be less efficient at vitamin D production. Because of this reason, many professionals believe older adults are at increased risk of developing vitamin D insufficiency. This was shown not be the case in Thailand (as well as in South Korea, Malaysia, and Iran). Teenagers and younger adults have lower serum 25(OH)D levels than older adults. Another study also shows the prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency to be at a whopping 45 percent among kids in urban areas of Thailand. The reason remains mysterious.

“The abundant sunlight may overcome the disadvantage of decreased vitamin D production in older adult populations,” Dr. Ongphiphadhanakul explained. “After retirement, they may have more leisure time to spend outdoors, while teenagers and young adults may stay busy with school and work and spend more time indoors.”

Come to think of it, I can totally relate this to my own experience. I went to grade school and middle school in Bangkok, and I can remember spending the entire day, including lunch, indoors. Gym class was only once a week and we often played soccer in the shade of tall buildings. I guess 45 percent is about right then.

Tanning is not a thing around here

Light skin color is a paradigm of beauty in Thailand, and there is an ongoing skin-whitening craze among Thai women. Skin-whitening agents are in sunscreen, skin lotion, facial wash, deodorant, and even vaginal wash. I personally know people who take glutathione just to make their skin color look lighter.

Dermatology clinics can be found on every corner in Bangkok, promising to introduce people to the miracle of “whiter, lighter, spotless” skin. Thai women do everything they can to avoid sunlight, which tans the skin. I asked my female Thai friend what kind of sunscreen she usually uses.

“I use SPF 50++,” she replied. “People rarely use SPF 30 anymore. It is too low for the strong sunlight in this country.”

I admit I did not possess much knowledge on sunscreen, so I did a little research myself. It turns out SPF value refers to the efficacy of UVB blockage. While dermatologists say to avoid UV rays to lower the risk of getting skin cancer, vitamin D researchers promote the benefits of sunlight exposure.

Even though it is hard to determine general guidelines for everyone, some researchers recommend “5 – 30 minutes between 10 am and 3 pm at least twice a week to the face, arms, legs or back without sunscreen.” For me, I believe it is a matter of balancing skin health and bone health.

Sun exposure may not be the best strategy

Dr. Ongphiphadhanakul agreed with the right timing and right location, sun exposure could surely increase vitamin D status. I believe one example would be spending an afternoon lying on the beach on Phi Phi islands. However, for people who are susceptible to vitamin D insufficiency or having severe vitamin D deficiency, sun exposure may not be the best strategy to raise their 25(OH)D level.

“This is where nutrition plays an important role,” he suggested. “Supplementation is inexpensive and effective for treating or lowering the risk of certain diseases. We also don’t quite understand how different forms (epimers) of vitamin D behave in our body. The next step in vitamin D research is how to match the right dose and form of vitamin D to the right population.”

Vitamin D supplementation is shown to be effective for treating osteomalacia, rickets, familial hypophosphatemia, and renal osteodystrophy. However, for healthy general population, Dr. Ongphiphadhanakul insisted a good quality of sun exposure is still the best way to maintain their vitamin D status.

Can fortification protect everyone?

A large portion of the U.S. population relies on fortified foods to meet their Vitamin D needs. Milk, orange juice, and breakfast cereal are commonly fortified with vitamin D in the US. I asked Dr. Ongphiphadhanakul if vitamin D fortification in Thailand is a possible solution to decrease the prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency.

“We currently have no policy of vitamin D fortification because of a popular belief that Thai people still get sufficient vitamin D from sun exposure. And even now that we know this may not be true, we still need to consider two important things before implementing vitamin D fortification policy: the degree of fortification and the food medium.”

I asked him what food he would fortify if he could choose freely. “Some scientists suggest rice because we eat a lot of rice,” he said.

This is very true and it would be my choice as well, since rice is widely consumed in developing countries of Asia. We usually eat rice with entrées that are cooked in vegetable oil, which would be a good mediator for vitamin D absorption in our small intestine, since vitamin D is fat-soluble. There have also been suggestions to fortify rice with iron, zinc, and vitamin A, aka ”triple-fortified rice,” to decrease the prevalence of deficiency of those nutrients. However, the idea of vitamin D fortification is still not widely considered in Thailand.

Vitamin D vs. Vitamin A

“The prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency has now exceeded the prevalence of vitamin A insufficiency in Thailand,” Dr. Ongphiphadhanakul said. But how worried should we be about this situation?

“Compared to vitamin A, we don’t know whether the national burden from vitamin D insufficiency is higher or lower. And this is because we still don’t have enough data on the non-skeletal functions of vitamin D.”

To clarify his opinion, we are now clear about vitamin D‘s classical roles in regulation of calcium homeostasis, maintaining bone health and neuromuscular function. However, recent studies have found associations between vitamin D and its potential roles in regulating blood glucose homeostasis, the autoimmune system, and protection from depression, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. But we still do not have sufficient evidence to establish a causal relationship between vitamin D and its non-skeletal actions.

“This is also a reason why vitamin D fortification is unlikely to happen soon,” Dr. Ongphiphadhanakul said. “A high prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency does not mean that it’s a national problem. We want to be cautious about the right amount of fortification before we do anything.” It is hard to get vitamin D intoxication from natural food, but if foods are heavily fortified or overly consumed, there may be harmful consequences.

I should end my vitamin D journey by pointing out the irony of this story. While people who live in the high latitude areas are longing for more summer, some people who live closer to the equator are avoiding the sunlight to the extent that they become vitamin D insufficient. It seems like people are never satisfied, but I digress. City lifestyle, shades of tall buildings and air pollution from urbanization may also contribute to the high prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency, and this may be a sign for Bangkokians to finally take good care of the city’s environment.

For now, I’ll suggest to anyone who is planning a trip to Thailand: do not get allured by the tasty local foods and get stuck in Bangkok. Explore the northern part of the country where you can go whitewater rafting in a rainforest while making friends with elephants, or the southern part where undisturbed beaches are as white as snow. And just keep smiling in the Land of Smiles, because you know you are finally boosting your vitamin D level!

Jirayu Tanprasertsuk, aka Boo Boo, is a graduate student in Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition program. His palms and feet are always yellow because of overconsumption of papayas.

Tart Cherry Juice: A Natural Way to Soothe Your Aching Muscles

by Julia Sementelli

You’ve pushed yourself by running an extra mile or set a personal best for how much weight you can deadlift. Mentally you feel accomplished and alive, but physically you’re exhausted and overcome with muscle soreness. While this is a sign that you actually pushed your body past its normal capabilities, it can be annoying to feel like a slug for the rest of the day or night. Especially when you have big plans to exercise again tomorrow. You want to feel better. And fast, and tart cherry juice may be a solution.

The typical protocols for dealing with soreness are to pop a couple ibuprofen and lie on the couch watching Netflix until the pain subsides. Although these methods are effective, too much Advil can upset your stomach and cause a number of other health issues if taken too often. Enter tart cherry juice as an alternative.

What’s so great about tart cherries?

New to the scene, tart cherry juice boasts a slew of health benefits including reduced muscle soreness and improved sleep and joint pain relief. Tart cherries are packed with the flavonoids anthocyanins. Like other anthocyanin-containing foods, such as cranberries and blueberries, tart cherries contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These allow you to skip the Advil in favor of a natural alternative in mitigating your sore muscles.

“Why would tart cherries help my post-exercise regimen?”

Vigorous physical activity can cause muscle damage and thus acute inflammation. Research supports the claim that tart cherry juice does aid in reducing inflammation due to strenuous exercise. According to the results 2010 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, healthy runners consumed 355 milliliter bottles of tart cherry juice twice daily for 7 days before and during a vigorous running event. While both the group that consumed tart cherry juice and the placebo group experienced pain after the events, the tart cherry juice group experienced significantly less pain compared to the placebo group.

Another study examined the efficacy of tart cherry juice in the prevention of symptoms from occurring following exercise. A 2006 British Journal of Sports Medicine article described, a randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover design study in which 14 male college students drinking 12 fl. oz. of tart cherry juice twice a day for eight days while performing a series of arm weight lifting exercises. Researchers found that tart cherry juice drinkers experienced significantly lower losses of strength and less pain compared to placebo drinkers. The evidence linking tart cherry juice and muscle soreness prevention is strong.

What’s the magic dose?

So how much do you need to reap the benefits? Two tablespoons of tart cherry concentrate diluted with 7 ounces of water or 8-ounces of juice before and after exercise should do the trick. Add the concentrate to smoothies or sip on the solely the juice.

While tart cherry juice is not anti-inflammatory miracle cure, it may be an alternative to taking ibuprofen to relieve muscle soreness. So if you’re physically active and chronically sore, consider adding tart cherry juice to your post-exercise regimen.

Julia Sementelli is a first-year NutComm student. She is also a Boston-based registered dietitian. You can find her blogging at “Girl Verses Food.” 

Not Your Average Flu Shot

by Skylar Morelli

Winter is approaching! The days are shorter, the trees are losing their leaves, and our immune systems are likely going to be compromised. Flu season is right around the corner, and it’s important to be both proactive and reactive about avoiding and treating the flu. There are plenty of ways to keep your body healthy such as exercise, keeping warm, eating a nutrient-dense diet, and getting a flu vaccine. Could adding nutrient-dense juice shots also help?

Also known as “nature’s flu shot,” juice bars are raving about them. They consist of lemon, ginger, turmeric, and cayenne pepper. The lemon, ginger and phototurmeric are liquefied through a juicer, while the cayenne pepper gets sprinkled in. The shot comes in a little cup, and you take them back in one shot (if you dare). Many claim that these shots have potent antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antibacterial, and antiviral properties that can help alleviate colds, flus, and many other ailments. The shots also give you instant energy and are a great, nutritious way to start any day. How does it work? Let’s break down the ingredients and look at the research.


Ginger (Zingiber officinale), is a root that grows in the ground and is used as a potent spice in food and teas and has also been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes. It has been gaining a lot of attention for its anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and antioxidant properties. . In a study that observed human cell cultures and effects of ginger, they found several interesting things. 1 Higher doses ginger decreased release of arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid can increase oxidative stress and inflammation. Research indicates that inhibitors of arachidonic acid have potential therapeutic value against inflammation and tumors. Ginger also displayed anti-tumor properties by inhibiting growth of existing lung and colon cancer cells in vitro.


Lemon is rich in vitamin C, which is essential for proper immune functioning. This vitamin helps scavenge free radicals and helps recycle glutathione levels, another antioxidant. The more free radicals we have in the body, more likely we are to get sick. Vitamin C helps increase production of lymphocytes, which are the white blood cells needed to fight infections. Lymphocytes help to attack invading bacteria, toxins, and viruses that enter body, such as the flu. 3


Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant spice that helps stimulate the immune system. Curcumin, the main component in turmeric, exhibits antiviral activity in the body. Many studies have observed that curcumin affects membrane mobility and can suppress cellular entry of viruses like influenza and hepatitis. In a study on curcumin and influenza activity, researchers concluded that curcumin did inhibit activation of type A influenza viruses in cell cultures.4 They also found that curcumin treatment had different effects at different stages of the flu. They tested the cell cultures at three points in time: eight hours before and throughout infection, at the same time of infection, and two hours post infection. In the very early stages of influenza infection, curcumin displayed highest influenza inhibition properties, although curcumin also was effective at all stages of the flu.

Cayenne pepper

Cayenne is a very hot pepper that increases circulation and heats up the body. It contains the powerful phytochemical capsaicin. Capsaicin has been gaining interest in research studies. It may offer protection against inflammation. But, what’s even better is that it helps clear up sinuses! In the dead of winter, it’s hard to go anywhere without hearing sniffles, coughs, and sneezes all around you. Cayenne has been proven to relieve sinus pressure and congestion. In a randomized control trial of 46 participants, half the group was randomly assigned to the intervention, which was a capsaicin-based nasal spray.2 The other half received a placebo. After two weeks, subjects in the intervention group had improved individual symptom scores and total nasal symptom scores. Sinus pain, sinus pressure, nasal congestion, and headache pain were also significantly improved.

Let’s put it together

Together all four of these ingredients pack a spicy punch that instantly heats you up and may cut through any indigestion or clear up your sinuses. Whether you need an instant fix to warm up your body, need to clear sinus congestion, or want some anti-inflammatory benefits, nature’s flu shots may help you to feel better.

It’s important to note that “nature’s flu shot” is not in any way a substitute for an actual flu vaccine – If you truly want to prevent the flu, getting a vaccine at your local clinic is the best bet!  Flu shots are important for people in higher-risk groups (children, the elderly, or the immune compromised) or for people who work with them, like in schools and hospitals.

If interested in trying nature’s flu shot, you can find them at whole foods (called the “Immune Boost”) for $3, or at juice bars anywhere from $3 to $6. You can also purchase ginger, turmeric, lemon and cayenne and make these fabulous shots at home, or add them to your go-to hot toddy. If you have an issue with anything spicy, be sure to ask your shot-preparer for a chaser as this shot is spicy and intense. Cheers!

Skylar Morelli is a second-year NutComm Student. She believes the sunshine and ocean are the most potent forms of therapy.

The WHO Says Processed Meat Is a Carcinogen. Is it?

by Katherine Pett

Just in time for Halloween, the world had another deadly villain to dress as for costume parties: Bacon.

The Internet exploded last week when the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a report classifying processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans” based on what they determined as “sufficient evidence that consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.” Unprocessed, red meat was classified as a probable carcinogen based on “limited evidence.”

Unsurprisingly, news media and social media were quick to respond.  Reactions looked something like this:

Well, your risk of colorectal cancer is already low. Adding more processed meat takes up absolute risk by less than one percent!

Others argued about the WHO’s ability to make this determination.

This is based on observational evidence! You can’t determine cause from survey studies! Correlation does not equal causation!

Even people who didn’t quibble with the WHO’s findings had qualms about its delivery. The Atlantic went so far as to call the IARC “confusogenic,” and locked in an “ivory-tower mentality.”

The Atlantic is certainly right that the report is confusing, and had no help from much of the media, who were quick to misinterpret the story. Some headlines characterized the IARC report as a study, when it was actually a decision made on the basis of previous research.  Most, emphasized the fact that processed meat now shares the same classification as smoking, creating the implication that the WHO finds processed meat as risky as a pack-a-day habit.  It doesn’t. And predictably, every organization associated with red meat promotion loudly questioned the strength of the evidence.

As a quick recap, the IARC categorizes substances into four different groups: carcinogenic, probably carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic, and probably not carcinogenic. These categorizations aren’t based on the risk of getting cancer from the substances examined; it is based on the total amount of evidence that something is associated with cancer.

But the ruckus raised good questions: How much evidence is there that processed meat is a carcinogen? Can the WHO really say that something causes cancer from observational studies—that is, studies based on following populations, rather than performing experiments?

I asked Professor Mark Woodin, of the Tufts School of Public Health to weigh in on what he thinks of the report.

“The term ‘cause,’ as used here by the IARC, would be better phrased as ‘increased risk.’ As in, ’high consumption of processed meat increases your risk of cancer.’ Accurately getting at cause requires experiments, such as large randomized trials. Sometimes, associations in well-run observational studies are big enough to merit consideration of the word ‘cause.’ Typically, such risk ratios are larger than 3.0 and sometimes can be much larger than that; think lung cancer and smoking,” he said.

He also pointed out that it is problematic to describe any food as a “cause” of disease, particularly when analysis is based on survey data. The WHO estimated that the increase in risk of colorectal cancer goes up by only 18% for every 50 grams increase of processed meat consumption per day. This is about 2 ounces of meat or 2 slices of bacon.

“The very small increase in the risk ratio could well be due to unmeasured confounding variables…In general, single foods have very small risk ratios, and even macronutrients, such as protein or fat, have relatively modest associations with disease. Part of the issue is accurately quantifying a person’s diet. It’s extremely difficult for people to accurately remember their long-term dietary habits.”

Perhaps tellingly, the WHO is cautioning people not to get too bent out of shape: “The latest IARC review does not ask people to stop eating processed meats, but indicates that reducing consumption of these products can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.”

So what does this mean for you? If you are someone who might be at a greater risk of colorectal cancer, consider reducing your intake.

If not, remember that recommendations to reduce red meat and processed meat intake are consistent with the national dietary guidelines. Regardless of whether these foods increase cancer risk, processed meats are often high in sodium and saturated fat, which are two nutrients also consistently associated with increased chronic disease risk.

Katherine Pett is a second-year student in the Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition program.  Data is the new bacon.

MDGs Give Way to SDGs

by Connie Ray

The end of September 2015 came with the deadline for the United Nations’ Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) established in 2000. They will be replaced by new Sustainable Development Goals, which have received mixed reaction.

The MDGs incorporated eight goals to improve living conditions and health in developing countries. These goals included cutting in half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, those suffering from hunger, and those without access to safe drinking water; reducing maternal deaths by three-quarters; reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds; and achieving universal primary schooling.

A summary report published by the United Nations delineates the MDGs’ successes as well as their failings. This month, these discrepancies were recognized by the United Nations and became the foundation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the product of several years of work by specialized UN committees.

The Sustainable Development Goals include seventeen goals with 169 sub-goals, or “targets.” Unlike the MDGs, which focused primarily upon the developing world, the SDGs aim to unite both developed and developing nations to focus on economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability.

Included are goals to “end poverty in all its forms;” achieve universal healthcare; eliminate all preventable maternal, infant, and child deaths; and “achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all men and women.” Other goals focus on ending gender discrimination, expanding access to education, improving sanitation, and promoting clean energy.

Worldwide reactions to these new goals have varied, from derision to endorsement, from skepticism to enthusiasm. Filmmaker Richard Curtis, for example, started an organization called Project Everyone, which is aimed at increasing global awareness of the SDGs. The organization’s website,, features a video collaboration of hundreds of international celebrities offering their support. The SDGs have been praised by some for their idealism and comprehensiveness.

On the other end of the spectrum, critics have called the SDGs overly idealistic, too broad in scope, and too impossible to measure, let alone achieve. The Economist recently called the SDGs “worse than useless.” The 169 targets of the SDGs cover seemingly everything, from promoting sports to valuing domestic work. Critics claim that having too many “top priority” issues defeats the purpose of prioritization and muddles the true focus.

Further criticism targets funding for the goals, or rather, lack thereof. With an estimated cost of $3 trillion to implement, there is no plan to raise the money as the SDGs currently stand.

Amidst a sea of criticism and praise, the UN Statistical Committee now has until March 2016 to further finalize a plan for monitoring progress and to define global indicators of success.

All of the SDGs and their targets can be accessed at

Connie Ray is a first year MNSP student at the Friedman School. She currently lives in Virginia, where she raises her two sons and teaches yoga.


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