February: All About the Food

It seems like each passing month is bringing more and bigger news about our food, food system, and food faux pas. This month, we have a packed issue.

Connie Ray and Emily Finnan take a deep dive into the process and politics of creating the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, which have been making headlines since they were published. Ray tackles how the guidelines were made and the early hangups in the political process. Finnan chronicles the differences we see between the 2015 guidelines and previous iterations.

Next, a major change at the Friedman School is underway as we say goodbye to a longtime faculty member, Dr. Miriam Nelson. Katherine Pett takes a retrospective look at the 30 years Dr. Nelson spent with Tufts University. Notably, Dr. Nelson was on the panel for the 2015 and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines.

As promised, February is delivering up the food news:

Disha Gandhi gives us an overview of Indian cuisine and how you can create your own spicy dishes.  Julia Sementelli delivers up a delicious recipe for an açai bowl, a healthy way to mix up your morning—or anytime—meal!

Micaela Young visits the locavore restaurant in Somerville, Cuisine en Locale, and tells us about the experience. You’ll want to check this one out! Apparently, this restaurant has everything.

Another restaurant has been in the news a lot lately, but not for good reasons. Shannon Dubois takes a look at the food safety issues that seem to be plaguing popular fast food restaurant Chipotle.

Katie Mark examines a food that’s been shown to increase performance in athletes, and it’s a bit of a surprise. Should you try beetroot juice before your next workout?

If Katie’s article inspires a trip to the gym, be sure to bring Justin Zabinski’s Welcome “Back” Workout so you have the right circuit and playlist to start your February off right.

Covering medical nutrition, Katelyn Castro revisits the difficult topic of diabetes. What does the current research say about the physiology and treatment of this disease? Is there one way of eating for diabetic patients that’s best for all?

And finally, Ally Gallop and Claire Whitney tackle a topic frequently visited by writers and dietitians a like: How can you write for different audiences?

Enjoy this month’s Sprout. We hope everyone’s spring semester is getting off to a great start!

Matt & Katherine

In this issue:

2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Process & Politics

by Connie Ray

On January 7, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the highly-anticipated Dietary Guidelines for Americans for the years 2015-2020. The guidelines, released every five years, always brew up some controversy among food and nutrition professionals, but this year’s may be the most hotly debated in history.

2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Content & Controversies

by Emily Finnan, RD

With the next five years of Americans’ nutritional recommendations at stake, a hot debate surrounding the Dietary Guidelines is a guarantee!

Looking Back on the Work of Dr. Miriam Nelson

by Katherine Pett

A retrospective look at the illustrious career of Tufts scientist Dr. Miriam Nelson as she moves to her new position as the Director of Sustainability for the UNH Sustainability Institute.

Indian Cuisine: Spicing Up the World

by Disha Gandhi

Growing up in a vegetarian Indian household taught me to develop quite a taste for savory and spicy foods, become obsessed with everything mango flavored, and to not be afraid of vegetables like bitter melons. It also taught me how to cook very complicated, but delicious, Indian food. So, I would like to provide some information about Indian cuisine with some nutrition facts.

The Acai Bowl

by Julia Sementelli, RD

I am all for using 2016 to become our best selves, but when I hear people berating themselves for their holiday eating behavior and talking about their new fad diet, I just want to say, “Stop! “ Our bodies are simply craving a return to routine and a few extra fruits and vegetables. My current favorite way to get fruits and vegetables back into my diet is with an açai bowl.

Restaurant Review: Cuisine en Locale

by Micaela Young

Apart from sitting blocks away from my apartment, I was anxious to check out this restaurant because of its mission: to partner with local farmers and bakeries to source all of its ingredients from within Massachusetts. The result? Delicious, fresh food. Drawn by both the eclectic, friendly atmosphere and the great menu, Cuisine en Locale attracts a diverse crowd that makes this lounge and bar a fun place to hang out, get a taco and a locally-brewed cider, and catch up with friends.

Chipotle in the News

by Shannon Dubois

Chipotle is a very popular restaurant, with more than 1,500 locations across the US, Canada, France, Germany, and the UK. Chipotle claims fame for its quick and casual service of touted healthy foods and the catchphrase, “Food with Integrity.” However, in the past six months, Chipotle has been under fire, as many different foodborne illness outbreaks have been reported all across the US.

Should Athletes Juice It Up with Beetroot Juice?

by Katie Mark

Lettuce begin our workout at a higher beet. I’m not just talking about the new Beyoncé song, but the beetroot that comes from the beet plant. Beet it with the juicing cleanses, and juice up your water with beetroot (BR) juice.

Welcome “Back” Workout

by Justin Zabinski

It’s time to make wise diet and exercise choices to eradicate excess calories stored after feasting away while watching copious amounts of holiday movies with friends and family over the break!

Nutrition and Diabetes: A Closer Look at Current Research

by Katelyn Castro

No one ever said understanding the components of a healthy diet would be simple. The connections between nutrition and disease continue to grow and evolve as scientific research emerges. Consider the most recent publication of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). All of the past and present dietary guidelines may share some common themes, but every five years they are updated after an extensive review of the current scientific literature.

Health Literacy 101: How You Write Matters

by Allison Gallop, RD, LDE & Claire Whitney, RD, LD

Health literacy. Ever heard of it? Well, there’s a 99.9% chance you’ll stumble upon it in your future career. You will need health literacy if you want a population or an individual to comply with your suggestions, be it to eat more vegetables or exercise daily. Over the winter break, Tufts University’s Public Health and Professional Degree professor Sabrina Kurtz-Rossi led an eye-opening course in health literacy (HCOM 509). We were shocked by our carelessness! So where are we, as future communicators, going wrong?

2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Process & Politics

by Connie Ray

On January 7, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the highly-anticipated Dietary Guidelines for Americans for the years 2015-2020. The guidelines, released every five years, always brew up some controversy among food and nutrition professionals, but this year’s may be the most hotly debated in history.

The Process

The process of developing the Dietary Guidelines is a complex one, involving health and nutrition professionals, public input, lobbyists, the HHS, and the USDA. The general timeline is as follows:


  1. A Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) is formed, made up of nutrition, health, and medical researchers. This year’s DGAC included 14 professionals (2 from Friedman: Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, Committee Vice Chair, and Miriam Nelson, PhD). Of those 14 members, here is a breakdown of the specialties of members of the committee:

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The Committee reviews current scientific evidence on the relationships between diet and health, including original systematic reviews (analyzing and grading evidence based on its strength); a review of existing systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and reports by scientific organizations (reviewed for quality); data analyses gleaned from national data from federal agencies; and food pattern modeling analyses.

  1. The DGAC submits its report to the Secretaries of the HHS and USDA. The recommendations are made public and are open to commentary for 45 days. The committee report is subject to further analysis by both federal and nonfederal nutrition and health experts. Ultimately, the document is approved by the HHS and USDA Secretaries.
  1. Referencing the previous edition of the Dietary Guidelines, the DGAC Report, and public and federal agency comments, the HHS and USDA develop a new edition of the Dietary Guidelines.

The Politics

As previously mentioned, this version of the Dietary Guidelines has been a controversial one from the very beginning. What follows is a brief summary of some of the major debates and controversies along the way.

The House Appropriations Bill

Congress got involved in the formation of the Dietary Guidelines this time around when the House of Representatives passed the Agricultural Appropriations Bill in July 2015, with a few pointed and controversial riders. These amendments aimed to directly impact the 2015 Guidelines, imposing an impossibly high evidentiary standard (i.e., only evidence that can receive a Grade 1: Strong Evidence grade by the Nutrition Evidence Library). This would disallow the inclusion of any recommendations with “Moderate” evidence, including recommendations to select a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; to decrease sodium intake for individuals with high blood pressure; and to limit sugar to help prevent dental caries, all of which receive a grade of “Moderate.” It would also prevent any mention of physical exercise, food safety, or sustainability, limiting the Guidelines exclusively to diet and nutrient intake.

Many leading health and nutrition groups strongly opposed these riders and accordingly wrote to the House Appropriations Committee in protest. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, CSPI, Friends of the Earth, the American Public Health Association, and others cosigned a letter disagreeing with the Bill. In an unprecedented move, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee sent its own letter delineating the detrimental effects that the Bill would have on the Dietary Guidelines.

Although the Dietary Guidelines were due to be released by the end of 2015, they were further delayed. In December 2015, the omnibus spending bill passed and made into law along with a further provision allocating $1 million to fund an investigation of the Dietary Guidelines process by the Academy of Medicine to search for scientific bias.

Ultimately, the 2015-2020 Guidelines skated by; they were already completed by December and were released January 7, 2016 before any of these provisions could affect them. It is unlikely, however, that the next Dietary Guidelines will escape these newly imposed congressional regulations.

Issues of Sustainability

USDA and HHS announced earlier last year that, despite inclusion of recommendations in the DGAC report, the official Dietary Guidelines would not include recommendations based on sustainability. Their press release stated that sustainability is beyond “the scope of our mandate.” The issue was further highlighted by the aforementioned rider attached to the 2016 spending bill, limiting the Guidelines in scope to nutrition/dietary recommendations only. Many leading experts believe the decision to exclude sustainability was made in response to meat industry lobbyists who were outraged that the DGAC concluded a sustainable diet is one that limits animal products

Lobbyist Fights

During the typically allotted 45-day public commentary period, comments on the DGAC can be submitted for consideration. These include comments by lay people, academics, lobbyists, and businesses. That period was extended to 75 days this time around. A group of 30 senators, led by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), requested the extension, concerned that the committee’s report “greatly exceeded their scope in developing recommendations.” Thune specifically discussed concern about the recommendations to limit red meat as well as the commentary on sustainability. Indeed, a large percentage of the public comments submitted expressed concern or outrage about one or both of these issues.

According to The Hill, “In March, 71 GOP representatives and 30 Republican senators signed letters critical of the Advisory Committee Report, specifically attacking the recommendations against eating less red meat and lowering sodium on behalf of the cattle and restaurant industries, among others. Those same politicians received more than $3 million in donations from food-related donors from 2013 to 2014 alone. Senators who signed the letter received almost half a million dollars just from the beef and cattle industries, according to campaign contribution records from OpenSecrets.com.”

The sheer number of comments submitted is indicative of the level of controversy and outrage. Compared to the just over 2,000 comments submitted in 2010, there were over 28,000 comments submitted this time around.

And many people believe the actions of meat industry lobbyists paid off. Not only was sustainability not mentioned in the final Dietary Guidelines, but neither was the DGAC’s recommendation to limit red and processed meat.

The wording from the DGAC report reads (emphasis added):

A healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.

Rather than recommending a diet lower in red and processed meat as did the DGAC report, the final Dietary Guidelines state that a healthy eating pattern includes: “A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products” and limits “Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.”

Much of the nutrition community is certainly in an uproar over this change. Rafael Perez-Escamilla, a Yale epidemiologist and member of the 2015 DGAC, attributes this change in wording to the effectiveness of meat industry lobbyists and calls it “a major gap.” Dr. Walter Willett, head of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, goes so far as to call the exclusion of the recommendation to lower red meat “censorship.”

The American Cancer Society is also disappointed. “The science on the link between cancer and diet is extensive. By omitting specific diet recommendations, such as eating less red and processed meat, these guidelines miss a critical and significant opportunity to reduce suffering and death from cancer,” said Dr. Richard Wender.

However, as usual, not everyone is in agreement. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sent out a press release praising the Dietary Guidelines for their science-based approach, claiming that they will “provide a solid basis for federal nutrition policy, identify future research needs and equip health professionals and employers with the tools necessary to benefit the public.”

Tufts’ own Dr. Alice Lichtenstein, vice chair of the DGAC, describes the Guidelines as a “very good document. I think it’s a big step forward from the 2010 Guidelines. It isn’t written exactly as I would have done it, but from a public health perspective, focusing on the negative and sidestepping the positive is not particularly useful to anyone. If you follow the basic guidance that’s given in terms of eating patterns, you will end up consuming a healthy diet.”

Referencing criticisms of the Guidelines’ wording, she offers the opinion: “These are centered in minor points, not major points.”

In Summary

For better or for worse, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines are here to stay for the next five years. If nothing else, the complicated road we’ve traveled to get to this point has proven that releasing a national document with a federal agency’s stamp of approval is anything but simple. When there are so many with vested interests, it will certainly be interesting to see what the 2020 process has in store.

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.

2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Content & Controversies

by Emily Finnan

With the next five years of Americans’ nutritional recommendations at stake, a hot debate surrounding the Dietary Guidelines is a guarantee!

As you’re probably well aware, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines (DG) for Americans were released! Every five years, this report, a joint venture of Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), aims to provide food and beverage recommendations to promote health, prevent chronic disease, and help people reach and maintain a healthy weight.

The final Dietary Guidelines aren’t just lofty recommendations. They’re the basis of food/nutrition policy and federal nutrition programs like WIC, national school meals, meal programs for the elderly, and others. Organizations, industry, health professionals, and individuals all use these guidelines.

The guidelines were formed over a long, two-in-half-year process detailed in this month’s Sprout article by Connie Ray, the “Process & Politics,” of the DG. A team of scientists starts the process with the Scientific Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) that aims to inform the DG.

The Dietary Guidelines are a pretty big deal. We can expect contention. This edition seemed to generate even more disputes, however, starting with the release of the DGAC report. Debates even took to the congressional floor! Ray’s article explores the congressional controversy that happened before the guidelines were even released.

It is important to note that the DG actually don’t change much with each new edition despite a media portrayal of fickle nutrition recommendations (remember when one day kale was a “superfood,” the next filled with toxic thallium?). Overall, what we know to be a healthy diet, and what dietary changes Americans should make, holds true.

We still need to eat more vegetables and fruits (especially whole fruits). We fall way behind on the recommendation to make “half your grains whole.” The majority of us aren’t meeting dairy goals with most of the dairy we eat being saturated fat-rich cheese versus low-fat milk and yogurt. Most of us are way over the recommended maximum 2,300 milligram of sodium a day.

Though not everyone agrees on even those unchanging recommendations, they were largely accepted without major controversy. Scientists and organizations were quick to sound off within hours of the release on what did change—or, alternatively, did not change—in the 2015 DG.

For cholesterol there isn’t a new or different recommendation, but rather a lack of a recommendation in the 2015 DG. It was removed from the list of nutrients to limit. In 2010, Americans were over-consuming the recommended 300-milligram limit on cholesterol.

Per the 2015 DG, “Adequate evidence is not available for a quantitative limit for dietary cholesterol.” The guidelines confusingly add, “but this change does not suggest that dietary cholesterol is no longer important…individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible.” The DG go on to cite the high saturated fat content of many cholesterol-containing foods. Eggs and shellfish get special mention for being high in cholesterol but low in saturated fat.

It seems most media outlets took the lack of cholesterol recommendation as vindication, concluding that cholesterol is not the artery-clogging nutrient it was once thought of. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group that advocates for vegan diets, filed a lawsuit against the DG (they also did this in 2011 with the 2010 DG). They questioned if a conflict of interest from the egg industry led to the deletion of a cholesterol limit. However, overall, the group praised the guidelines, focusing on the “eat as little as possible” phrasing.

And despite some heavy media coverage and significant controversy, butter is NOT back. The recommendation to eat less than 10% of total calories from saturated fat remained, with continued encouragement to replace solid, saturated fats with unsaturated plant oils.

We are still eating too much added sugar. We are down from on average 16% of total calories to 13%, with most of that added sugar still coming from beverages. New in this version of the Dietary Guidelines is a calorie limit on added sugar: less than 10% of total calories. By distinguishing added sugar from sugar naturally present in food, the sugar in fruit and milk gets a pass. The proposed re-vamped nutrition facts panel would have added sugars listed separately, with a corresponding daily value, making this recommendation easier for individuals to implement.

It seems most were happy with the “sugar cap.” The World Health Organization has said since 1989 to keep added sugars less than 10% of total calories. More recently in 2015, a further reduction was recommended for dental health: keep sugars to less than 5% of total calories. Unsurprisingly, The Sugar Association rejects the sugar limit, describing it as an, “agenda based, not science based” recommendation, claiming a lack of scientific evidence to justify the cap.

Nutritionist and food industry critic Dr. Marion Nestle criticized the DG for not outright recommending to “drink less soda.” Indeed, just one 16-ounce soda can put a person over the recommended sugar limit. Nestle and quite a few others, including Friedman Dean Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, note the DG switch from talking about food (i.e., eat more green leafy vegetables), to talking about nutrients when they want us to eat less of something (i.e. eat less sugar, instead of drink less soda). Nestle blames “food politics.”

The DG do suggest cutting down on sugar by drinking no-added sugar beverages, but do not recommend diet drinks. In fact, this was the first time the DG mentioned diet drinks: “Replacing added sugars with high-intensity sweeteners may reduce calorie intake in the short-term, yet questions remain about their effectiveness as a long-term weight management strategy.” Caffeine also gets a first time mention. Moderate caffeine consumption is OK, but if you don’t drink caffeine, there’s no reason to start.

For the first time, the scientific report considered sustainability. The DGAC recommended a diet that limited animal products. This drew intense industry criticism and even a Change.org petition, titled “Hands Off My Hot Dog.” The Secretaries of Health and Human Services and Agriculture decided not to include sustainability in the DG. Ray’s article further explores the controversy behind the influence industry had on the exclusion.

The scientific report’s main finding—what constitutes a healthy diet—is as follows: “higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat.” This pescatarian-esque diet recommendation drew harsh criticism from the North American Meat Institute, which called removal of “lean meat” as part of a healthy diet “arbitrary and capricious,” publicly questioning the scientific rigor and transparency of the DGAC.

The 2015 DG recognized the scientific evidence regarding meat and health, stating, “Strong evidence…has shown that eating patterns that include lower intake of meats as well as processed meats and processed poultry are associated with reduced risk of CVD in adults. Moderate evidence indicates that these eating patterns are associated with reduced risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer in adults.”

However, the recommendation to eat, per week, 26-ounce equivalents of meat, poultry, and egg goes unchanged from 2010. The 2015 DG do sort of recommend you eat less meat, particularly red and processed meat, if you read between the lines.

For protein, the big take home is to increase variety. Since Americans get most of their protein from poultry, meat, and eggs, the recommendation to increase variety by eating more seafood, nuts/seeds, and legumes can be interpreted as “eat less meat.” Teen and adult men generally overconsume protein, so it is recommended they decrease protein intake by eating less of the common protein foods like meat, chicken, and eggs. Recommendations to limit saturated fat can lead someone to eat less red meat, and recommendations to eat less sodium could lead someone away from typically high-sodium processed meat. The DG do green light lean, low-sodium processed meats.

The tiptoeing around processed and red meat yielded perhaps the largest criticism of the Dietary Guidelines. In an interview with NPR, Mozaffarian said, “A challenge here is that the Dietary Guidelines come from USDA, which is inherently conflicted. It wants to improve the health of Americans yet it also wants to promote farming and food industry.”

The American Institute of Cancer Research had some harsh feedback: “We are dismayed to see that the Dietary Guidelines have allowed lobbying efforts to supersede the scientific evidence, when it comes to meat and cancer risk.” The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network echoed this sentiment, calling the DG a “missed opportunity to reduce death and suffering.”

It will be interesting to see if the discord surrounding the 2015 DG fizzles out or creates serious change in how the Dietary Guidelines are created and disseminated. But, if you are unhappy with the guidelines, sit tight. Only five more years and we can debate once again!

Emily Finnan is a second-year Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition MS student and registered dietitian. When she’s not reading lengthy government documents, she’s tweeting: follow her @emilyyfin.

Looking Back on the Work of Dr. Miriam Nelson

by Katherine Pett

A retrospective look at the illustrious career of Tufts scientist Dr. Miriam Nelson as she moves to her new position as the Director of Sustainability for the UNH Sustainability Institute.

When I traveled to Dr. Miriam Nelson’s office on Tufts’ Medford campus, I was stumped. Where in her long career should our conversation start? As the Dean of the Friedman School, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian said in his letter to the Tufts community, “Tufts’ loss is of course the University of New Hampshire’s gain. Here at Tufts, Mim [Dr. Nelson] leaves behind an indelible legacy that stretches back 30 years to her days as a graduate student.”

Dr. Nelson, who started as a scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) studying exercise science, has built her career from the lab NelsonMiriambench to the world stage, creating a bestselling nutrition book line, a national organization for women’s health, and serving on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee twice. This March, Dr. Nelson will be leaving Tufts University after 30 years to become the Deputy Chief of Sustainability and the Director of The Sustainability Institute at the University of New Hampshire (UNH).

 In 1983, Dr. Nelson graduated from the University of Vermont and came to the Tufts University School of Nutrition, still located on the Tufts Medford campus. As she progressed through her education, completing her dissertation on women’s health and exercise in 1987, Nelson was one of the first generation of Tufts students to do her graduate research at the HNRCA.

After completing her PhD, Nelson took a brief hiatus from Boston in Washington, DC as a Congressional Research Fellow for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), which in retrospect, seemed to foreshadow her future work.

“I was very involved in the nutrition monitoring bill, which became the basis of the dietary guidelines, which is funny, because I was very instrumental in getting that through. I didn’t know at the time, I’d be so involved in it thirty years later, “she said.

But after a year in DC, she returned to Tufts—this time with a one-year contract at the HNRCA.

It’s easy now to look back on Dr. Nelson’s career and see a linear trajectory. Her degree from Tufts and work on Capitol Hill create an ideal base for her future endeavors. But in the moment, it was impossible to see how all these factors would come together. “Really loosely, I see that there have been several different careers that I’ve had at Tufts,” she said.

The John Hancock Center and Strong Women Program

One of these careers was at the HNRCA where she and colleagues conducted numerous studies looking at physical activity, nutrition, and healthy aging. They aimed to discover how people dealing with chronic conditions (diabetes, heart disease, frailty, etc.) could optimize health through nutrition and exercise. But over time Nelson and her colleagues’ interests diverged from the mission of the HNRCA.

“I was slowly moving towards a community setting or a home-based setting, [rather than the more clinical work typically done in the HNRCA],” she explained.

So when the Jaharis building was built a block away from the HNRCA, Dr. Nelson decided to move.

As part of the shift, Dr. Nelson founded the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Obesity Prevention in 1999.

“We started with a tiny little grant from the dean at the time, Irv Rosenberg, who believed in us, and two people. And we grew it to about a 55-person team and a budget around $7 million a year,” she said.

The John Hancock Center team, through funding received from John Hancock Financial Services and the New Balance Foundation, achieved remarkable outcomes over the next decade, including the Shape Up Somerville studies led by Dr. Christina Economos and innumerable collaborations with other researchers including many Friedman faculty.

Another of Nelson’s careers was as an author and community activist. In 1997, Dr. Nelson released Strong Women Stay Young based on her and her colleagues’ research that would become the first of a series of “Strong Women” books. The books and the ensuing interest they created led to further research.

“The books I wrote because of the research I was doing. But then because of the books we started doing a lot of research in communities, and we started the StrongWomen Program which is now national.”

The StrongWomen Program provides resources to help women start their own community-based programs to help stay healthy as they age by training StrongWomen leaders who provide exercise and nutrition counseling to their communities.

Since leaving the lab, Dr. Nelson and her colleagues had been, “thinking more about making monumental population shifts as opposed to clinical work.” A collective impact approach is evident in the John Hancock Center as well as in the mission of ChildObesity 180, which was founded in 2009 by Dr. Economos, Peter Dolan and Dr. Nelson.

Using her strong background in science to take system-wide approaches to nutrition and research led to her appointment as Vice-Chair for the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans in 2008 and as a member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) in 2010 and again in 2015, which is one of her most lauded accomplishments.

Sustainable Food: Championing Sustainability as Part of the DGAC

 Since the release of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, little else has been discussed in the nutrition world. Dr. Nelson, who strongly recommended that the guidelines include sustainability, was at the center of the action.

The evidence of controversy, she said, is clearly present in the public comments of the advisory committee’s report. For the 2010 report, there were 2,186 public comments submitted. For the 2015 report? Close to 30,000.

“I feel responsible for about 23,000 of those [comments] because of the sustainability piece. It’s hit the intersection of what people are caring about and their deep-seated values, and also the social conscience of a nation. You’re seeing the polarization of very few in the private sector that don’t want to see any kind of link with sustainability,” she said.

Making a recommendation for sustainability was something the Advisory Committee had to think long and hard about: How could they frame it within the scope of US dietary guidelines? According to Dr. Nelson, the issue of sustainability was one of the really novel parts about the 2015 report.

Ultimately, it is within the purview of the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to do what they feel is best with the technical report. But Dr. Nelson said the decision to exclude sustainability from the guidelines was due to pressure from Congress, which was in turn feeling the heat from private interests, particularly from the beef industry.

But even adding the concept of sustainability to the technical report was a step in the right direction according to Nelson.

“The kicker here is that the guidelines have always been concerned with food security. And if you think about food security for future generations, we need to think about a sustainable diet,” she said.

Director of the Sustainability Institute at UNH

In her new position at UNH, Dr. Nelson will get to work with the longest standing sustainability establishment in higher education. The Sustainability Institute has several arms: it works to create a greener environment and culture within UNH but also works on regional and worldwide issues such as local food systems and climate change. Dr. Nelson seemed eager to get started.

“My job is really trying to grow the institute to have a larger global impact. And certainly I want to connect food sustainability, public health and climate change,” she said.

Though the scope of her work has been vast, a consistent theme throughout her career has been close ties to higher education. For Nelson, this creates a thread that links all her work together.

“I see myself as a continuous learner. To me there is a progression to [her current position with UNH] from nutrition biochemist and exercise physiologist. Those skills for scientific inquiry have served me well.”

Katherine Pett is a second-year student in the Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition Program. She is the co-editor of The Friedman Sprout with Matt Moore.


Indian Cuisine: Spicing Up the World

by Disha Gandhi

While some people may wake up to the smell of coffee, pancakes, bacon and eggs, I am used to waking up to the smell of my mother’s garam (hot) masala chai, and spicy puffed rice cereals. My mom is usually cooking a savory dish every morning. While I wished to smell cinnamon buns and coffee instead of very spicy and savory aromas, it was probably best that I didn’t eat cinnamon buns and bacon in the morning. Growing up in a vegetarian Indian household taught me to develop quite a taste for savory and spicy foods, become obsessed with everything mango flavored, and to not be afraid of vegetables like bitter melons. It also taught me how to cook very complicated, but delicious, Indian food. So, I would like to provide some information about Indian cuisine with some nutrition facts.

Indian cuisine consists of a variety of foods that differ by the region it comes from. This makes it very challenging to offer a general explanation. However, a few things tend to remain consistent. Every self-respecting Indian cook has a drawer in the kitchen devoted to a spice box that usually contains cups of red chili powder, turmeric powder, cumin seeds, ground coriander, mustard seeds, cardamom, and garam masala or curry powder. In addition to those spices, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, garlic, and onion are essential. The process of cooking almost always begins with heating up cumin, mustard seeds, onion, ginger, and garlic in a pan with oil.

In regards to nutrition, these spices are known to have many health benefits. To name a few, ginger is known to increase gastric motility and prevent nausea and vomiting. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric powder, has numerous health benefits that have been previously discussed (“Turmeric: The Health Benefits of a Spicy Life“). Mustard seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and their active ingredient, thymoquinone, has anti-inflammatory effects and benefits against neurotoxicity. Finally, I was surprised to learn that cumin seeds are a great source of iron. All of these ingredients can be found at your local Indian grocery store at an inexpensive price, or if you prefer a more expensive option, the Whole Foods that is a couple blocks away from Tufts Health Sciences campus will not let you down.

These spices are normally cooked with a vegetable or meat and served with a source of grain, such as naan or basmati rice. North Indian food and South Indian food is most popularly consumed, and typically most Indian restaurants in the U.S. serve food from these regions.

North Indian food will normally include a vegetable or meat dish mixed in tomato gravy. For example, palak paneer consists of a spinach puree mixed with buttermilk and tomato gravy that is cooked in spices I mentioned above. Then paneer or curdled cheese cubes are added. This is served with a jeera (cumin) rice or naan. Chicken tikka masala consists of spiced tomato gravy mixed with yogurt-marinated chicken. Again this is served with some sort of grain.

South Indian restaurants will usually serve sambhar, dosa, idli, and tamarind rice. This is also consumed with a variety of chutneys. Sambhar is a pigeon pea lentil and tamarind soup cooked with chopped vegetables including tomatoes, onions, eggplant, carrots, and drumstick pieces. Sambhar is served with dosa, idli, and uttapam, which are made with rice flours and split black lentils. This dish is often consumed with a coconut chutney.

After this brief taste of Indian food, one must ask: what can be possibly wrong living on the Indian food diet that is so rich in fiber, a variety of micronutrients, antioxidants, and healthy fats? As a matter of fact, Indian food has never been as popular as it is now, especially among foodies and chefs. Commonly used Indian ingredients such as turmeric powder and lentils are hyped up by nutritionists and dietitians, as well.

Then why do South Asians suffer from chronic diseases, especially type 2 diabetes? A nutritionist from New Delhi claims that the high glycemic diet compounded with poor eating behaviors is a major factor. While the main dishes will have many healthy veggies and spices, they are consumed with refined carbohydrates such as naan and white rice. The Indian snack items such as samosas and biscuits are highly refined and processed and filled with trans fats. Also, portion sizes served at Indian restaurants are huge, and therefore most people tend to overeat, which leads to excessive caloric intake.

The previous paragraph was not to discourage anyone from trying Indian food; it was written for informational purposes that health professionals might find useful when working with Indian patients. Nevertheless, I hope I have made your mouths water for some delectable Indian food. Thus, I must end with providing a Chana Masala (Chickpea Curry) recipe adapted from Chowhound.


Chana Masala


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 medium yellow onion, small dice
  • 4 teaspoons peeled, finely grated fresh ginger
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 serrano chilies, stemmed and finely chopped
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes and their juices
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • ½ teaspoon red chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ cup water
  • Cilantro leaves for garnishing


Heat vegetable oil in a pan and add cumin seeds. Once cumin seeds start sizzling in the oil, add onion, garlic, ginger, serrano chilies, salt, and pepper. Let it cook until onions are soft.

  1. Open the can of whole peeled tomatoes and strain the juice in a separate bowl and make sure to save it. Dice the tomatoes and set aside.
  2. After onions have softened, add garam masala, turmeric powder, red chili powder, ground coriander, salt, and pepper (as you wish) to the onion mixture and cook for about a minute.
  3. Add the saved tomato juice, diced tomatoes, water, and chickpeas to the onion mixture and bring to simmer. Then lower the heat and let the sauces thicken for about 20 minutes.
  4. Garnish with cilantro, and then it is ready to eat!

Disha Gandhi is a second-year BMN Student at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Her current goal is to spread the joy of Indian food as well as its nutrition. You can follow her on twitter @DishaG318.

The Acai Bowl

by Julia Sementelli, RD

As a dietitian, my personal nutrition ethos is to add more than take away. Nobody likes to have things taken away from them, especially their favorite foods. As we find ourselves in the midst of the season of dieting and restriction as people try to compensate for the “damage” they did over the holidays, it is important to remember that there is no reason to go cold turkey and remove all of the “bad” foods from our diet. While I agree that a few weeks of eating more sugar, salt, and fat than we’re used to can leave us feeling “blah,” a highly restrictive diet—or worse, a juice cleanse—is not the answer.

I am all for using 2016 to become our best selves, but when I hear people berating themselves for their holiday eating behavior and talking about their new fad diet, I just want to say, “Stop! “ Our bodies are simply craving a return to routine and a few extra fruits and vegetables.

My current favorite way to get fruits and vegetables back into my diet is with an açai bowl.

Açai is the fruit of euterpe oleracaeae, a large palm tree found along the Amazon River in South America. Açai has gained attention for its antioxidant and phytochemical composition. High in anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, and other flavonoids, açai is a nutritionally-dense fruit to add to your diet. You can find açai in your grocery store’s frozen foods aisle, typically located with other frozen fruits.


Açai bowls first burst onto the healthy food scene in Hawaii and Southern California and gained a following, and for good reason. An açai bowl has it all. It’s quick to prepare and visually appealing, and depending on what you add, it covers all of the texture bases: smooth, creamy, crunchy. It’s essentially a delicious, thicker version of a smoothie that is eaten with a spoon.

My recent obsession with the açai bowl is, unfortunately, not an inexpensive one. Even though I have my favorite spots to grab an açai bowl while out and about in Boston, I have taken my efforts to the kitchen, where I prepared an açai bowl that trumps the ones available—for much less money!


  • ¼ – ½ cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 packet frozen açai
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 banana (save ¼ of the banana for slicing on top)
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • 2 tablespoons granola
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter

*Aside from the açai packet, you can modify the ingredients however you like: use different milk or coconut water, add strawberries, and top with unsweetened shredded coconut instead of granola. The fun is making it to accommodate your favorite flavors and textures.

IMG_4832 (1)


  1. Place the almond milk and the frozen açai in the blender. Blend.
  1. Add the blueberries, spinach, and banana. Blend well to ensure that all ingredients are well-incorporated.
  1. Add toppings.

And here are a few examples of the finished product:

So, the next time you are in the mood to eat something special and nutritious for breakfast or lunch, whip up an açai bowl. Enjoy!

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” (http://girlversesfood.squarespace.com).


Restaurant Review: Cuisine en Locale

by Micaela Young

Cuisine en Locale was first established in 2005 as a locavore catering and personal chef service. The company moved to 156 Highland Avenue in Somerville and began hosting events in February 2014. Apart from sitting blocks away from my apartment, I was anxious to check out this restaurant because of its mission: to partner with local farmers and bakeries to source all of its ingredients from within Massachusetts. The result? Delicious, fresh food. Drawn by both the eclectic, friendly atmosphere and the great menu, Cuisine en Locale attracts a diverse crowd that makes this lounge and bar a fun place to hang out, get a taco and a locally-brewed cider, and catch up with friends.

As Bill Hader’s infamous Saturday Night Live character Stefon the “City Correspondent” would say, this place has everything: board games, a jukebox, live music, vapers, goths, interpretive dancers, an old TV playing static with the specials written on the screen, and plain families of four.


As you walk in the doors, you are greeted by three chandeliers and mirror-written signs guiding you toward the restaurant and lounge. Up the stairs there are two pool tables, a dance floor, tables and chairs, and a bar at the far end of the enormous space Cuisine en Locale calls home. Next to the jukebox you will find ample board games like Sequence and Connect Four to play while you sip your delicious whisky sour! The adjoining music lounge, called ONCE, was deemed 2016’s “Best of the New” by the Boston Globe. The antithesis of mainstream, the music you will hear ranges from brass bands to experimental rock.

My favorite part? Pool tables with ample space, no wait time to play, and only $1 per game!

The events of the week start with Taco Monday (because Taco Tuesday is so cliché) and Metal Tuesday (serving pizza), with DJs and regular dinner menus Thursday through Saturday, 5pm to 10pm (bar is open ‘til 1am). With vegetarian, vegan and meat-lover options, depending on availability, the fare is well-suited for its sundry audience at reasonable prices.


The fish taco was the favorite of the table on Taco Monday: Hake on a corn tortilla with a sage and cranberry sauce and topped with a few sprigs of cilantro that tasted as if they were just plucked from the garden. We also tried the yellow-eyed pea and corn taco, as well as the lamb. Each $4 taco came with a side of spinach topped with pickled onions (which sounds odd, but it was SO good).

The service overall was laid-back, but attentive. Everyone who worked there was very welcoming and friendly—the bartender even made me a whisky sour without the “sour.” The scribbled-on tables and low-budget chairs did not make for the most appealing eating atmosphere, but continued the chill, relaxed vibe.

The Thursday before, my boyfriend and I moseyed down the street for their once a month special DJ event. The cover was $3, and we enjoyed playing three rounds of pool while listening to anything from the artists’ original mashups with weird vocals to the Beatles. I found the crowd refreshingly different; looking around the room I spotted top hats, rainbow hair, Goths and steam punkers mixed in with us boringly dressed folks. While this may not be appealing to some, I love places that allow people to be and come as they are.


Overall, the atmosphere was fun and off-beat, and the food tasted great. If you ever find yourself in the Somerville bar void between Porter and Union Square hit up Cuisine en Locale for an interesting time. For you sports fans out there that want to watch the game on 10 different TV screens, this probably isn’t the place for you…

Micaela Young is a first-year student in the Nutrition Communication program with a concentration in Agriculture, Food & Environment. While she is a homebody who LOVES to cook, she does enjoy having a nice stranger serve her a stiff drink and a yummy taco every once in a while.



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