Every year in October, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics hosts The Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (otherwise known as FNCE®). FNCE brings together ten thousand registered dietitians (RDs), dietetic technicians, registered (DTRs), students, interns, researchers, physicians, policy makers and industry leaders. FNCE is a forum for talking about current practices, care guidelines, controversies, innovation and entrepreneurship in the field of nutrition.
This year, FNCE was held on October 20-23 in downtown Washington D.C. The conference focuses on providing over 100+ educational sessions presented by seasoned experts, including Friedman’s own Dean Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, Dr. Eileen Kennedy, and Dr. Alice Lichtenstein. The expo portion of FNCE offers attendees booth after booth of health foods, supplements, and services relevant to the practices of nutrition professionals. Attendees of the conference and expo can network with brands, media, and fellow professionals at sponsored events or practice group receptions before and after each organized day within the program. Each day also offers special events like culinary demonstrations, book signings, and poster presentations of research conducted by dietitians across the country.
[Note: the preceding section was adapted from the article summarizing last year’s FNCE].
Three current students from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, Erin Child, Molly Knudsen, RDN and Katie Moses, RDN share their highlights from this year’s event.
Why did you go to FNCE this year?
Erin Child: This was my first FNCE experience. My first year at Friedman, FNCE was in Boston and I had no idea what it was, but I do remember my peers returning with bags bursting with snacks and swag. They talked about all the great educational sessions they went to, the networking opportunities they had, and the fun new products they got to try. This put FNCE on my radar, and I knew that I wanted to go at least once before I graduated. I am also in the DPD (Didactic Program in Dietetics) program at Simmons University and am working towards a career in pediatric dietetics. Attending FNCE and meeting other members of the Pediatric Nutrition practice group was a crucial networking opportunity as I apply for dietetic internships in the spring.
Molly Knudsen: I choose to attend FNCE this year mainly for networking purposes, as I am about to embark on the daunting post-grad job search. I learned about FNCE during my dietetics coursework in undergrad and have wanted to attend ever since. I am also interested in ending up in Washington D.C. after graduation, so this was a great excuse to check out the city and network with professionals in the area.
Katie Moses: I am transitioning between being a student member and a professional member of the Academy. I wanted to meet RDs who are currently practicing and to get more involved in the medical nutrition practice group.
What was your favorite Education Session?
EC: FNCE is enormous and overwhelming, and learning how to navigate it correctly (for your goals) is more than half the battle. So, I’m going to be honest, my approach to the education sessions will have to change for next time. I wound up missing a few sessions that I really wanted to go to after struggling to “pick one”—largely due to long distance between sessions. The two education sessions that everyone was talking about, and that I plan on going back and watching once the recordings are released, were: “Nutrition Interventions Amidst an Opioid Crisis: The Emerging Role of the RDN” and “Debate: A Conversation on Weight Management and Health at Every Size.” But the education session that really stood out to me was “Hot Topics/Careers in Dietetics.” What was supposed to be an inspiring “find your dream career” talk from Brierley Horton MS, RD, the nutrition and food editor of Cooking Light and Friedman alum, turned into a “what do you do when you lose your dream job.” Horton revealed to us that she found out on the day that the slides were due for her talk at FNCE that Cooking Light was being folded into Eating Well and she was out of a job. Her honest talk was humorous, passionate, and inspiring for young nutrition professionals like myself.
MK: My favorite education session was titled “The Transformative Power of Food and Nutrition Professionals in Industry.” This session included registered dietitians Missy Schaaphok, the manager of global nutrition sustainability for Taco Bell Corp., David Grotto at Kellogg’s, and Shalene McNeill from the National Cattleman’s Beef Association. These professionals all talked about their unique paths to their current careers and the challenges and opportunities dietitians can face in the food industry. These are all relatively unconventional career paths in the field of dietetics, and I found it inspiring how they managed to navigate these uncharted waters and positively shape the food environment. Even though Taco Bell may be a more indulgent restaurant choice, hearing about how the franchise reduced sodium from the menu across the globe made me feel hopeful for the future.
KM: My favorite session was on malnutrition in preparation for our Capitol Hill visits during the Public Policy Workshop.
What was your favorite new product at the Expo?
EC: I had so much fun trying so many new (and familiar) products. The two standout products that were new to me were Safe Catch’s tuna and salmon products and Nut Pods’ dairy free creamers. Safe Catch makes flavored tuna and salmon pouches (as well as canned). I loved all the flavors I tried, but the stand outs for me were the Cajun and Tandoori tuna flavors. Nut Pods creamers are dairy-free, and despite having a large variety of different flavors (like Peppermint Mocha and Pumpkin Spice) are all sugar and sweetener free too!
MK: I really liked the Safe Catch products as well. Safe Catch tests the mercury levels of every tuna, and their products have the lowest levels of mercury compared to other tuna brands. This was also the first time I tried 88 Acres Pumpkin Seed Butter, and I was a huge fan! Shout out to Hannah Meier (previous co-editor of the Sprout!) and her team for letting me try all their amazing products.
KM: I loved the Low FODMAP bread flour from Lo-Fo Pantry. I can’t wait to make gut-friendly bread!
Did you find any new food and nutrition trends that surprised you?
EC: The expo floor featured so many types of milk (plant based, lactose-free, etc.) and many plant-based snacks and meal kits. Finding a large proportion of plant-based companies was not surprising, but still worth noting. I was most surprised by what I expected to see, but didn’t! I did not come across any cricket or insect-based products, which I was expecting based on rising interest in high-protein meat alternatives. Nor did I come across any companies focused on fermented foods (where were my pickles and sauerkraut at?!). With the continued focus on gut-health, it seems like fermented foods (aside from yogurt) would be a logical area of growth. Both food categories are talked about all the time at Friedman, so I was expecting to see them more strongly represented at the Expo. Maybe next year!
MK: Yogurt and kefir (a fermented dairy drink) brands had a huge presence on the expo floor alongside plant-based dairy alternatives. Also, gut-health had its own section of the exhibit. The microbiome was a huge topic of conversation on the expo floor as well as in education sessions. However, none of these trends really surprised me. The product I found most surprising was Thrive Culinary Algae Oil. Yes. It is made from algae. It claims to have the highest level of good fat compared to other oils, a high smoke point, and a light, neutral taste ideal for cooking, baking, and salad dressings. Plastered on the front of the bottle was the slogan “The Best Oil For Your Heart.” I was skeptical, to say the least.
KM: I was also impressed by the diversity of the probiotics on the market, some with formulas that specifically target athletes or weight loss.
What was the most controversial topic that came up?
EC: The Academy hosted two debates as part of the educational sessions this year. One was on Health at Every Size (HEAS) and the other was on Intermittent Fasting. I was not able to attend either but did notice more people talking about HAES after the debate. HAES promotes a weight-neutral approach to counseling and health care. This is a growing approach within the dietetics community, and one I am still learning more about. I look forward to watching the debate and continuing to learn from my colleagues.
KM: I was also most impacted by the debate about HAES. It’s a very polarizing issue in dietetics and it was interesting to see the perspective of both sides.
MK: I attended a debate on intermittent fasting, which is a hot and controversial topic right now. Research in this area is still lacking and inconclusive, but it was great to get an in-depth look at all sides of the current literature and hear professionals’ opinions on the matter. The most heated topic of that debate was whether intermittent fasting promotes or is a type of disordered eating pattern.
How has your understanding of food and nutrition changed since going to FNCE?
EC: My understanding of food and nutrition wasn’t changed by going to FNCE; at the end of the day, the goal of dietitians and nutrition professionals is to help everyone eat healthier. Based on what I saw and heard, what it means to eat healthy is still the same for me. I did appreciate how well my education at Friedman (and Simmons) has equipped me to engage with all the topics and vendors at FNCE, ask questions, listen, and learn. The number of career paths open to RDs and those working in the field is wide and I’m so excited to see how the profession continues to grow.
MK: Attending FNCE did not significantly change my understanding of food and nutrition. My knowledge of the current research in nutrition science has expanded, such as in the fields of child and maternal health, animal agriculture, the microbiome of breast milk, and research needed for dietary guidance. A lot of the conversations I heard in sessions and in passing are topics that have come up in my coursework at the Friedman School, which validated that professors at Friedman are really prepping us for the “real world.” It felt great being able to actively contribute and have an opinion during these conversations.
Erin Child is a second-and-a-half year NICBC student in the dual MS-DPD program. She is graduating from Friedman in December and will be finishing up at Simmons in May. Erin is incredibly grateful for the funding from Friedman, Simmons, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that made her trip to FNCE® possible. For the next few weeks you can find her catching up on the sessions she missed, while eating all the snack samples she brought back.
Molly Knudsen, RDN is a second-year in the Nutrition Interventions Communication and Behavior Change Program. She thoroughly enjoyed the learning opportunities present at FNCE as much as she enjoyed tasting the free samples from the expo floor. Molly hopes this was the first of many FNCE experiences to come!
Katie Moses, RDN is a second year NICBC student, and will be graduating in December.