11th Annual Future of Food and Nutrition Research Conference

by Nako Kobayashi

Last month, the Friedman School hosted the 11th annual Future of Food and Nutrition Conference. Graduate students from across the country and around the world gathered to discuss their innovative research related to food and nutrition. Nako Kobayashi summarizes and offers some of her thoughts on the topics covered during the conference.

“The future of food and nutrition is now, and you are the future of food and nutrition,” said Dr. Ed Saltzman, the academic dean of the Friedman School, as he kicked off the 11th Annual Future of Food and Nutrition Conference on April 7th. Attendees from Friedman and beyond, including prospective Friedman students, gathered to learn about the innovative graduate student research from around the country and abroad. The future, Dr. Saltzman noted, is “not just based on disciplinary excellence, but [excellence] across disciplines and in teams of disciplines” that work toward “creating new paradigms.”

True to Dr. Saltzman’s insights, the conference was a great representation of the increasingly interdisciplinary and systemic nature of food and nutrition research and innovations. Seventeen student presentations were divided into six sessions: food insecurity, child health and nutrition outcomes, sustainable agriculture and dietary patterns, nutrition and health, agricultural productivity, and consumer food access and choice.

Britt Lundgren, the Director of Organic and Sustainable Agriculture at Stonyfield Farm and Friedman alum, kicked off the conference with her keynote address that emphasized the importance of food and nutrition research. “I think this represents one of the toughest sustainably issues we face,” she explained when talking about the environmental impact of food production, “because the stakes are so high. We’re talking about how we feed ourselves sustainably, how we feed future generations sustainably … which ultimately impacts quality of life.”

Climate change is not only an environmental problem, Lundgren explained, but “a public health problem first and foremost.” Changes in temperature are limiting our ability to produce crops in certain locations, and these limitations will only increase if we do not act quickly to slow the change. In addition, extreme weather events that result from the changing climate further threaten our ability to produce food. Instead of viewing agriculture as a contributor to climate change and other environmental problems, “Not only can agriculture be a part of the solution to climate change,” Lundgren explained, “but agriculture must be a part of the solution to climate change … it is possible to turn agriculture into a net sink of carbon instead of a net source.”

Norbert Wilson Friedman School Student Research Conference

Dr. Norbert Wilson from the Friedman School moderating a Q&A session with Doug Rauch from Daily Table (Source: Laura Gallagher)

A Q&A session with Doug Rauch, the Founder and President of Daily Table and former president of Trader’s Joes, continued the narrative of finding solutions in unlikely places. Rauch explained how Daily Table makes food shopping an empowering instead of demeaning experience. Daily Table is a non-profit community grocery store with two locations in Massachusetts: one in Dorchester and another in Roxbury. Wanting to help reduce the astonishing amount of food waste in our supply chains, Rauch initially sought to establish a food bank. However, he realized that a large portion of the people who could benefit from such a service may not utilize it because the food bank environment is one that perpetuates a sense of shame instead of agency and pride. “We all should feel entitled to lead healthy, happy lives,” Rauch commented.

Rauch found a solution in the retail space. Instead of handing out free food, he decided to offer food at reduced prices, so people would feel like they are getting a bargain instead of qualifying for a free handout. By avoiding the so-called “philanthropic black hole,” where people must continuously rely on outside help without being empowered to utilize their own agency, Rauch explains that Daily Table offers a “dignified shopping experience to a community that is nutritionally suffering.” In addition, Daily Table also helps support the local economy. As opposed to a farmer’s market, where a farmer comes from outside of the community, Daily Table creates jobs for local residents by hiring from within the community.

The research presented by graduate students spanned a wide range of disciplines and topics, from the relationship of mitochondrial function and intestinal barrier integrity to women’s role in the cacao value chain in Indonesia. The conference reinforced the pragmatic and innovative aims that often characterize food and nutrition research.

Student Research Conference

A graduate student explaining her research (Source: Laura Gallagher)

The presentations related research to real-world problems and solutions. Instead of investigating theories within an academic vacuum, the graduate student researchers took a wide and interdisciplinary stance. For example, one student investigated the relationship between campus food pantry use, GPA, and diet quality of University of Florida students to inform campus food policy (Jamie Paola, University of Florida), while another created a travel cost model to understand the factors that influence food pantry use (Anne Byrne, Cornell University). Theresa Lieb from the University of Oxford stepped back to look at food systems as a whole, and identified possible policy routes moving forward while arguing for a more sustainable global diet that moves away from meat and dairy consumption.

While there are certainly many problems that need addressing within our food system, the Future of Food Nutrition Conference showed that hope remains for a more sustainable and just food future. As Dr. Saltzman noted in his opening remarks, “I think that as we move forward, the future is indeed in good hands.” I am hopeful, after attending the conference, that Dr. Saltzman is right.

Nako Kobayashi is a first-year AFE student interested in food and agriculture issues. The Friedman School appealed to her as an option for pursuing graduate studies because of the programs’ emphasis on holistic, pragmatic, and viable solutions to food and nutrition issues.

 

 

Policy Corner: The $2.4 Billion Cost of Hunger

by Emily Cavanaugh

In February of this year, the Greater Boston Food Bank released a report on the hidden costs of hunger and food insecurity in Massachusetts. For the Policy Corner this month, Emily Cavanaugh reports on what the report’s findings mean for public health policy in the Commonwealth.

The Greater Boston Food Bank recently partnered with Children’s Health Watch on a report, released this February, documenting the hidden costs of food insecurity in the state of Massachusetts.  This first-of-its-kind study was commissioned as part of the mission of Children’s Health Watch to “inform public policies and practices that give all children equal opportunities for healthy, successful lives”. Children’s Health Watch is headquartered at Boston Medical Center, where the health effects of hunger can be seen firsthand.

The report states that these health effects cost the commonwealth a whopping $2.4 billion in 2016. High cholesterol, anxiety and depression, asthma, and diabetes were just a few of the conditions the study related to hunger. Indirect costs incurred by anxiety, behavioral problems, inattention or ADHD by food insecure children were also captured. Lastly, the study sought to account for work absence and lack of productivity caused by the related health conditions.

Costs of various diseases and poor health outcomes caused by hunger, as estimated by the study. (Image: MACostOfHunger.org)

Costs of various diseases and poor health outcomes caused by hunger, as estimated by the study. (Image: MACostOfHunger.org)

Though it’s difficult to prove certain causality by these methods, the study concluded that “as with the relationships between smoking tobacco and lung, throat and mouth cancers, the evidence of relationships between food insecurity and these health outcomes is so strong … that we believe we are justified in acting on strong evidence even if it is not absolutely conclusive and unassailable.” The combination of poverty and food insecurity contribute to poor health and educational issues and create a feedback loop, reinforcing the poverty that is the root cause of hunger.  While this study didn’t address racial disparities in food insecurity, a 2017 pamphlet from bread.org states that people of color in Massachusetts are 3 times more likely to face poverty and hunger, and in 2016, Children’s Health Watch reported significantly higher rates of hunger among immigrant families.  Intervening to address food insecurity can help to breaking that poverty-health-education feedback loop, enabling wellness and opportunity for all the Commonwealth’s residents.

Having established that hunger is a public health issue, how do we address it? The study makes recommendations in 3 main areas – healthcare practices, policy at the federal and local level, and academia. In the healthcare industry, we can consistently screen for hunger and intervene as necessary, pointing patients and parents to resources like SNAP and food banks.  GBFB has partnered with nine medical providers in the state, including three in Boston to implement the Hunger Vital Sign two-question that screening tool for food insecurity. As healthcare providers see the evidence of hunger during doctor’s visits, they are uniquely positioned to connect families in need with the available resources. Therefore partnerships between doctors and hospitals, foods banks, and other assistance programs could be very effective.

On a national policy level, the upcoming Farm Bill could contain changes to nutrition assistance programs, and the study recommends that lawmakers be pressured not to reduce SNAP funding. Reduction in funding could lead to reduction in the number of families served or amount of food dollars granted to each family, further reducing support that is already sometimes inadequate.

At the state level, lawmakers can mandate “breakfast after the bell” programs, especially in low-income communities. Several communities, from Boston to Worcester to Chicopee have implemented breakfast after the bell and have seen increases in attendance, and decreases in tardiness and nurse visits. The state could also increase funding for WIC and the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program. The CDC has acknowledged the link between nutrition, health, and academic performance, meaning hunger can limit the academic potential of children and should be addressed to provide more equality in our school systems. Access should be improved to state and federal assistance programs, first by creating a common application for MassHealth, SNAP, and WIC benefits. Filling out one set of forms to access multiple benefits would increase participation, particularly for those who are on the edge of qualifying for assistance.

We can all contact our representatives at the state and local level to bring these causes to their attention. You can find your legislator here, or contact legislators serving on specific committees such as public health or education. Contact your city or town officials to inquire about school food programs. Call a SNAP outreach partner organization and help residents enroll in SNAP programs.

Lastly, in academia, we can undertake research that supports these policy recommendations and sheds light on the causes and effects of hunger in our community.  Research regarding vulnerable populations can help target nutrition assistance where it is needed most. Though interventional studies are challenging to carry out, they provide strong evidence for effective solutions. A stronger causal link between hunger and health outcomes would strengthen the argument that food insecurity is a public health issue that needs to be prioritized in policy making.  Lastly, a review of costs to implement some of the recommended programs, compared to the annual $2.4 billion cost of adverse outcomes could make a compelling, black and white case for addressing hunger as a public health issue.

Emily Cavanaugh is a professional in the medical diagnostics industry with a Bachelor’s degree in biology and a persistent passion for nutrition.  After years of reading Marion Nestle books and following FFPAC on twitter, she decided to get involved by writing a Policy Corner article. She is also an enthusiastic home cook, bread baker, and gym goer.

How Nutrition in MassCare May Put The ‘Health’ Back in ‘Universal Health Coverage’

by Ayten Salahi & Hattie Brown

Including local incentives for food equity and nutritional status may boost momentum and potential of the MA Right to Health movement. Members of budding student group – the Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) – met with Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge to discuss the need to include nutrition in a proposed cost analysis of a single payer health system (S.2202).

Pictured left to right: Ayten Salahi (MS/RD Candidate), Kurt Hager (MS/MPH Candidate), Senator Jamie Eldridge, Alana Davidson (MS Candidate). 22 NOV 2017

In thousands of American households, the prohibitive cost of healthcare has forced families into an impossible position: choose between financial ruin or the health decline and possible death of a loved one. In Massachusetts, this bleak reality has motivated both the state legislature and its constituents to revive a movement in favor of a single payer healthcare system. However, the degree to which nutrition interventions and food access will be covered in the proposed model remains largely unknown.

The central tenet of a single payer scheme under universal health coverage (UHC) is that health care is a human right. The proposed legislation in Massachusetts seeks to offer and protect healthcare for all residents through a publicly-financed program that provides comprehensive care and coverage under a single insurance plan. The single payer public option would serve as an alternative to employer-sponsored healthcare, in which premiums are paid through payroll deductions, coupled with co-pays and out-of-pocket deductibles. For middle- and lower-income beneficiaries, a single payer system means lower cost for better access to care.

In Massachusetts, the single-payer campaign has reached unprecedented support with 120 co-signers under a 2017 proposal colloquially called MassCare (H. 2987, S. 619). Though neither of the proposed legislation were passed this year, an amended bill (S. 2202) was passed with overwhelming support by the state Senate on November 10 by a 33-6 vote (all six Republicans in the chamber being against). S.2202 authorizes a cost analysis of a state-wide single payer system, and will be reviewed by the House in early 2018.

While MassCare holds promising potential to reduce healthcare spending for both the state and per capita, the proposed legislation does not explicitly or implicitly include nutrition interventions as a line item for consideration in the single payer costing analysis. Historically, UHC policy-makers have deemed nutrition-related services as non-essential, and therefore not covered by insurance. The World Bank refutes this trend, and reports that to accelerate progress towards affordability and access of care requires a “fundamental rethinking of how to keep people healthy.” The recommendations go on to cite regulatory measures targeted to improve diet-related behavior as seminal to the public health agenda. Just last year, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRI) further urged policy-makers to include access to adequate nutrients as an essential service in all UHC programs.

To learn more about how nutrition might fit into the proposed single payer costing analysis, three members of the nascent, student-run Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) took to the Massachusetts State House in late November to meet with single payer champion and state Senator Jamie Eldridge. FFPAC emphasized that, as Massachusetts prepares to analyze the cost effectiveness of single payer models as outlined in S.2202, additional resources should be allocated to determine the efficacy of funding nutrition therapy programs within the model. To achieve this, FFPAC proposed that the MA single payer costing analysis include: 1) medical nutrition therapy coverage for patients with, or at risk for, hypertension, obesity and cardiovascular disease (CVD); 2) enteral nutrition coverage as outlined in MassHealth; 3) food insecurity screenings for all patients; and 4) tailored food prescriptions for low-income patients.

State Senator Jamie Eldridge, lead Senate sponsor of An Act Establishing Medicare For All in Massachusetts, said, “I was excited to meet with graduate students from the Friedman School of Nutrition, to discuss how preventative health, including nutrition interventions, would be a key component of single payer healthcare, and would help reduce healthcare costs in Massachusetts.”

As the proposed bill continues to undergo revision and review into 2018, FFPAC will continue to advocate that Massachusetts – home of the healthcare law that led to the Affordable Care Act –should again lead by investing in nutritional therapy programs in a single payer model as a method to improve the health of its citizens, lower healthcare costs, and lower the tax burdens of its residents.

The Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) is a developing student-run organization of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. The group will be formally established in December 2017, with a mission to advance evidence-based nutrition and agricultural policies in support of public and environmental health, by equipping students with the skills and relationships necessary to impact policy through advocacy. FFPAC will host its general interest meeting in the early 2018. For further information, please contact friedmanfpac@googlegroups.com. Stay tuned for opportunities to join us and amplify the voice of food advocates in 2018!

Ayten Salahi is a first-year FPAN MS/RD candidate, co-founder of the FFPAC, and is dedicated to the future of policy, programming, and clinical practice in sustainable diets. Ayten came to Friedman after working as a molecular and clinical researcher in neuropharmacology and diabetes management for nearly 8 years.

Hattie Brown is an MS candidate in the FPAN program, and a co-founder of FFPAC. Her interests at Friedman are in the economic implications of food systems, with a focus on the intersection of sustainable agriculture and access to nutritious food. Before coming to Friedman, Hattie worked as a researcher in various capacities, including legal, for a public finance firm, and clinical, for a study analyzing phytochemical compounds in cocoa and their impacts on satiety.

 

 

NewTrition Welcome Back 2017

by Kenny Westerman, Katherine Rancano, Jessica Ellis and Jennifer Huang

NewTrition_logo

NewTrition uses a platform of TED-style talks to generate excitement and discussion about the field of nutrition both within and outside of the Friedman community. Previously, NewTrition has invited students, professors and external speakers to deliver short presentations on topics that interest them (which are not necessarily related to their coursework or research!) Check out this vimeo to get a better idea.

If you are interested in helping us organize these events this year, giving a talk yourself, or nominating someone else who you think would be a great speaker, please email tuftsnewtrition@gmail.com! Also, feel free to contact Kenny, Katherine, Jessie, or Jennifer with any questions.

Contact:

8 Small But Worthwhile Changes You Can Make to Eat Healthier

by Katelyn Castro

Every March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates National Nutrition Month® with new (and a little cheesy) nutrition theme each year. This year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” While this can be interpreted in many ways, here is my spin the theme, including a step-by-step guide on how healthy eating can fit into your lifestyle.

National Nutrition Month 2017: Put Your Best Fork Forward! For more information about National Nutrition Month and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, visit www.eatright.org.

National Nutrition Month 2017: Put Your Best Fork Forward! For more information about National Nutrition Month and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, visit http://www.eatright.org.

When January rolls around, reflecting on the past year leaves many people vowing to lose weight or eat healthier. Yet, about 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February, according to U.S. News. Why? More often then not, we set our weight loss goals too high or make our diets too extreme, asking our bodies to work in overdrive and making failure is inevitable. Our high expectations can leave us feeling defeated and too frustrated with ourselves to even consider a different approach.

Creating SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely— goals on the other hand, can set us up for success. By working on a behavior, like eating more mindfully, rather than focusing on an outcome, like weight loss, lofty goals can become more reasonable. Now, three months into the New Year, is the perfect time to re-evaluate resolutions and take a more practical approach to health and wellness with SMART goals.

“Put Your Best Fork Forward,” the theme of this year’s National Nutrition Month® aligns perfectly with this sustainable approach to healthy eating. National Nutrition Month® 2017, recognized by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is all about making small changes in our food choices—one forkful at a time—to develop lifelong, healthy eating habits.

Below is a list of eight small changes that you can make to shift towards healthier eating. Since our priorities, like our food choices, are personal and unique to each of us, I included eight suggestions so you can focus on a goal that fits into your lifestyle Make the goal specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely with the help of this resource, and give it a try!

1. Cook more meals from home.

When you take the time to cook your own meals, whether it’s English muffin pizzas or an elegant chicken marsala dinner, you can choose the ingredients and manage the portions. Even if you choose to add some oil, butter, or salt while cooking, most homemade meals are still lower in unhealthy fats, sodium, and calories than the restaurant or fast food version, according to research. Homemade meals also save money and time. In the time it takes to have a pizza delivered or a meal served at a restaurant, your dinner can be prepared and ready to eat—especially if you choose simple, tasty recipes like these.

SMART Goal Idea: If you eat out frequently on weekends, skip your Saturday restaurant plans and spend time with your family or friends cooking a meal from home instead.

2. Switch one of your daily grains to a whole grain.

Many of us have at least one go-to starch, whether it’s pasta, rice, or bread. Choosing the whole grain version of one of your mainstay starches is an easy way to add fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and reduce added sugars. For example, swap white bread or honey wheat bread for whole grain bread, switch white or veggie pasta to whole wheat pasta, or replace Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal with Kashi Heart to Heart Warm Cinnamon cereal.

To find whole grains at the grocery store, ignore the front of the package labeling or the whole grain stamp of approval—these health claims can be deceiving! Instead, go straight to the ingredient list: the first ingredient listed should include the word “whole” followed by the name of the grain in the product. For example, if “whole wheat flour”, “whole oat flour”, or “whole rye flour” are listed as the first ingredients, then you’ve found yourself a whole grain!

SMART Goal Idea: If you add rice to your meals on a regular basis, swap out the white rice for a brown rice, or try one of these lesser-known whole grains.

3. Change the way you use fat in cooking.

Adding butter to a skillet for pancakes or pouring oil into a pan for a stir-fry can seem like second nature after a while. However, it’s easy to overdo it with these calorie-dense foods—one tablespoon of oil has about 120 calories! Using oils, like canola and olive oil, instead of butter when cooking can be a simple way to replace saturated fats with more heart-healthy unsaturated fats in meals. Also, investing in an oil mister or an oil spray like PAM can make a little oil go a long way, sparing you some calories.

SMART Goal Idea: If you like to sauté or roast foods like meats, veggies, or potatoes on a daily basis, skip the butter and layers of oil and use an oil mister. Spray the bottom of the pan before cooking, then add food and lightly spray the oil again over the top of food.

4. Aim for two to three servings of vegetables each day.

Eighty-seven percent of Americans do not meet the recommended servings of vegetables (2 1/2 cups daily), according to a national report from the Center of Disease Control. If you fall into this group, then you’re probably missing out on some essential nutrients. Vegetables are loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are all important for skin, eye, heart and immune health. For some veggie inspiration, check out these flavorful vegetable-filled recipes.

If you already eat enough veggies, focus on increasing the variety of your vegetables since different colored vegetables have different vitamins and antioxidants. Aim for a combination of green vegetables like broccoli and spinach, red/orange vegetables like carrots and tomatoes, and starchy vegetables like peas and potatoes.

SMART Goal Idea: If you are a pasta lover, steam or roast some veggies while your pasta is cooking. Fill half your plate with pasta and fill the other half with a colorful array of cooked vegetables and some protein like beans, chicken, or shrimp. Broccoli and squash, tomatoes and spinach, mushrooms and cauliflower are a few tasty veggie combinations.

5. Sweeten your breakfast and snacks naturally.

Flavored yogurt, sweetened cereal, and packaged oatmeal are some of the sneakiest sources of added sugars. Even a serving of Raisin Bran cereal has 18 grams of sugar—equivalent to 4 to 5 teaspoons of white sugar! Unless you’re eating Raisin Bran for dessert, save those added sugars for times when you’re really craving sweets. Stick to the unsweetened yogurt, cereal, and oatmeal, and flavor them yourself with fruit, nuts, or seeds. Even drizzling some honey or a sprinkle of brown sugar on unsweetened oats, cereal or yogurt, will still give you less added sugar than most sweetened versions.

SMART Goal Idea: If you rely on sweetened oatmeal packets for breakfasts, replace them with plain quick oats or rolled oats. If you like your oatmeal fruity, try this recipe. For a more savory and creamy oatmeal, give this recipe a try.

6. Make water your beverage of choice.

If you’re a regular soda drinker, switching to water could be the simplest change that you can make to improve your health. Replacing soda and other sugary drinks with water doesn’t just save you calories, but it eliminates empty calories so you can make room for other calories from more nutritious food.

If you’ve already cut out soda from your diet, focus on drinking enough water. Since many metabolic pathways rely on water, dehydration can make our metabolism work less efficiently. Memory, concentration, mood, energy level, and muscle movement are also negatively impacted by dehydration, even mildly dehydration. Though eight cups of water daily is generally recommended, the best way to find out how much water your body needs is to check your urine. Yes, I’m talking about your pee—you want it to be a light, almost clear color. If it’s dark yellow, then you may not be drinking enough water throughout the day. To up your H2O intake, set a reminder on your phone to drink more water with one of these apps or try one of these drinks to give your water some more flavor.

SMART Goal Idea: Once you determine out how many cups of water your body needs, split the volume in three and aim to drink that amount every three to four hours throughout the day. For example, if you need nine cups of water, try to drink 3 cups before noon, 3 more cups in the afternoon, and 3 more cups before you go to sleep.

7. Go meatless once a week.

Since the World Health Organization identified processed meats as “carcinogenic” and red meat as “probably carcinogenic,” concern continues to grow over the potential risks of eating too much of these meats, especially processed meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and deli meats. While avoiding all processed meats and red meats may be unrealistic, try committing one day of the week to not eating meat. Making this small change has several health benefits including reduced risk of heart disease and lower risk of some cancers, according to research from the Meatless Monday campaign. Going meatless once a week may seem a little less daunting, when you consider everything you can add to your plate like whole grains, beans, lentils, and vegetables. For some delicious meatless meals, check out these recipes.

SMART Goal Idea: Instead of ordering a burrito with steak, cheese, and rice, fill your burrito with black beans, rice, corn salsa, and guacamole­—you’ll still get plenty of protein, with the addition of fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.

8. Check in with your hunger, fullness, and cravings.

Not ready to change anything about your eating habits? That’s okay too! Start by getting more curious about how, when, and why you eat. Before meals, ask yourself how hungry you are. After eating, consider how full you are: satisfied or uncomfortably full? When you have an intense food craving, ask yourself what may be triggering the craving. Are you overly hungry, stressed, or distracted? Is it emotional hunger or physical hunger? Keeping track of how certain foods make you feel and identifying what may be influencing your food choices can give you perspective for when you’re ready to make changes.

SMART Goal Idea: Pick one meal each day and spend 10 to 15 minutes tracking your hunger, fullness, and cravings before, during, and after the meal. Keep a journal, write a note in your phone, or get an App to track your intake and make you more mindful.

Katelyn Castro is a second-year student in the DI/MS Nutrition program at the Friedman School. She’s a foodie, runner, and part-time yogi on a mission to make healthy eating easy, sustainable, and enjoyable. You can find her thoughts on all things relating to food and nutrition at nutritionservedsimply.com.

 

Bulletproof Coffee: the Breakfast of Champions?

by Ally Gallop, BSc, RD, CDE

Imagine waking up in the morning to a breakfast of butter, oil, and coffee. Better known as Bulletproof Coffee, it’s the new rage in the diet world. With proponents noting marked improvements in alertness, hunger suppression, and weight loss, bulletproof coffee and its creator are altering the morning routine. But navigating through these claims, the science doesn’t align.

After a trip to Tibet in 2004, Silicon Valley businessman Dave Asprey tasted Tibetan Yak Butter Tea: a concoction of brewed tea, salt, and yak butter. Upon returning to the U.S., Asprey devised his own version. Now marketed as bulletproof coffee (or BPC), it pairs well with his newly released book The Bulletproof Diet. Advocates for BPC include U.S. Olympic marathoner Ryan Hall, Divergent actor Shailene Woodley, and singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran. BPC is said to be creamier than a latte, prevent hunger before lunch, increase alertness, and be loaded with vitamins A, E, and K2 alongside omega-3 fatty acids. Yet the most enticing reason in opting for this drink is because it seemingly causes weight loss without having to exercise.

The recipe for BPC is simple. In a blender combine many of Asprey’s own products:629px-Bulletproof_Coffee_Starter_Kit

  • At least 2 tablespoons of unsalted grass-fed butter,
  • 1-2 tablespoons of Brain Octane™ Oil, and
  • Bulletproof® Upgraded™ brewed coffee beans.

Keep in mind, BPC is meant as a breakfast replacement. So let’s compare the BPC nutritional content to that of a typical breakfast: two scrambled eggs, an apple, black coffee, and a slice of whole grain toast with a tablespoon of peanut butter.

Typical Breakfast BPC *Unable to find specific nutrient data for grass-fed butter and omega-3 content.**The USDA Foods List only lists information for vitamin K1.
Calories (calories) 491 461
Total Fat (g) 23 51
Saturated Fat (g) 4 43
Omega-3 Fatty Acids (mg) < 1 n/a*
Total Carbohydrates (g) 48 0
Total Fiber (g) 10.4 0
Protein (g) 24 0
Vitamin A (IU) 803 400
Vitamin E (mg) 1.88 0.4
Vitamin K1 (μg) 9.5 0.8
Vitamin K2 (μg) n/a** n/a**
Caffeine (mg) 142 142

Starting the day off with a high-fat brew that shuns hunger and enhances alertness sounds like a great idea. Losing weight is easier when your stomach isn’t grumbling. High-fat BPC in the gut slows the rate of stomach emptying, suppresses ghrelin (the “eat more” hormone), and reduces the amount of calories consumed at subsequent snacks and meals. Since fat takes the longest to leave the stomach and be digested, even in its liquid form, Asprey’s claim makes some sense.

But Asprey’s claims regarding omega-3s and vitamins A, E, and K2 are cloudier. The amount of these nutrients in grass-fed versus conventionally grain-fed beef is higher. Yet only 60% of studies found a statistically significant difference. Further, no research exists on the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in butter- all the research comparing omega-3 contents is in types of beef, not dairy.

Recently, I contacted Kerrygold, a popular brand of grass-fed butter, and asked them to elaborate on the omega-3 content their product. They responded by saying that they have no research on omega-3’s present in butter. While grass-fed dairy may be a wiser nutritional source, there is currently no research that supports Asprey’s supposition that it has more omega-3s.

The caffeine content of BPC is likely the source of increased alertness drinkers report. It’s also possible that if the coffee truly does have a higher omega-3 content, those omega-3s could give the brain extra power.

Asprey’s line of Bulletproof® Upgraded™ coffee beans are touted as being free of mycotoxins (i.e., mold), which he claims are pervasive components of every other coffee on the market. However, coffee producers like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts have long known about these mycotoxins. That’s why coffee beans are wet-processed, which means that the beans are washed to eliminate the mold. So the upgraded brew is no better than the rest.

But what really stands out about BPC? How about its fat content: the brew fulfills 23% of both your daily total caloric and fat intake. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends 25-35% of daily total calories should come from fat. BPC fulfills that quota on its own. The Canadian Society of Intestinal Research also reminds us how fat is a stimulant for the intestines. Higher intakes may result in abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and floating stools. But that’s never advertised.

Being so high in calories, how can BPC help weight loss? If, like with any diet, fewer calories are consumed, then weight loss may occur. Asprey’s book recommends following a low-carbohydrate diet as to induce ketosis. And food restriction generally leads to weight loss.

In an interview with Runner’s World, University of California Davis’ director of sports nutrition Liz Applegate debunks Asprey’s idea behind Brain Octane™ oil, which is made of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Asprey believes that the oil increases the body’s ability to burn calories because it is processed differently than other fats. Unlike long-chain triglycerides, MCTs pass directly from the gut into the bloodstream and are immediately available to be burned for energy. However, Applegate notes that there is no scientific evidence to support MCTs’ ability to increase metabolism and promote weight loss. If consumed in amounts that surpass the body’s immediate needs, MCTs will still be converted to and stored as fat.

IMG_4790

Breakfast of Champions?

Ultimately, this article wouldn’t be complete without attempting BPC myself. I found it odd watching butter dissolve into my morning cup. The oil slick on top was definitely unsettling. Using coconut oil and regular coffee in place of Asprey’s oil and beans, the concoction was creamy with a subtle hint of coconut. My hunger was suppressed the rest of the day, cravings for carbs were reduced, and I was able to forgo my mid-morning snack. In comparison to my normal routine of breakfast and a snack, I likely saved 120 calories. But due to an injury, I was unable to exercise. Would this daily pattern of high-fat BPC power me through morning exercise sessions?

Should YOU add BPC to your diet?

The typical breakfast provides protein and fiber, long having been touted as essentials for their hunger-suppressing properties. But choose BPC, and neither exist. The idea is you can’t have both food and BPC.

For those who already eat breakfast, replacing it with BPC on a short-term basis or intermittently could be all right. The BPC’s calories are appropriate for a morning meal. Caloric intake may even be less, depending on what one would normally eat. However, the habit of drinking coffee alongside breakfast may return, thereby increasing total calories consumed. In a recent article, Chris Gayomali, a journalist for Fast Company, tried BPC for two weeks. By the end, he was adding toast in addition to his BPC. After two weeks he ditched BPC completely because he missed eating solids.

Diet trends tend to fail due to deprivation. Given that all other meals and snacks consumed throughout the day remain constant, having BPC and food in the morning could lead to weight gain since it is so high in calories.

If you’re adamant about BPC, doing so every-other-day and ensuring intake of higher fiber and protein foods is advised. That way you can indulge while still limiting saturated fat intakes, promoting gut health with fiber, and sparing protein. Following the IOM guidelines, you wouldn’t require any additional fat on a BPC day. On those days opt for vegetable-dishes, lean protein, and unsaturated fats, like those from nuts, plant oils, and avocados.

For those who don’t typically eat breakfast, adding almost 500 calories of BPC in addition to your usual food consumption could lead to significant weight gain.

So what’s the final consensus?

When it comes to Bulletproof Coffee, the science is lacking. Egregious claims that the oil supplies “fast energy for the brain,” “reduces brain fog,” and is responsible for “rebalancing…yeast in the gut” are stated on Asprey’s website. Yet they lack any footnotes for supporting literature.

We also can’t look at foods in isolation. Rather, the whole diet matters. Asprey’s BPC argument focuses on the nutrients in two items: butter and oil. Humans are encouraged to seek variety in the foods we eat. The typical breakfast I detailed above already contains all of the nutrients advertised as part of BPC and more. If for an entire month one were to replace their breakfast with solely BPC they would be missing out on vital nutrients that variety would fulfill.

Like any other diet, BPC is supposedly “universal.” It’s meant to meet the needs of all of its followers. For me, I felt full. Others may be starving after just a couple hours.

And ultimately, Dave Asprey is a businessman. His empire includes a line of pricey oil and coffee beans in addition to travel mugs, T-shirts, and anti-aging skin creams. With a booming business plan, book, and BPC shops in the works, Asprey is raking it in when you drink his breakfast of champions.

Ally Gallop, BSc, RD is a Certified Diabetes Educator and is studying towards an MS/MPH focusing in health communication and epidemiology. She continues to drink black coffee alongside her high-fiber and scrambled egg breakfast.

Turmeric: The Health Benefits of a Spicy Life

by Nusheen Orandi

What if adding only a fraction of a teaspoon of something to your cooking could prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease while also having anti-cancer, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties? This is no magical drug, but a spice that comes in a delectable shade of orange in your local grocery store. Turmeric, that is.

Turmeric, a powder derived from grinding up dried rhizomes (roots) of the turmeric plant, is a widely used spice in the Indian, Asian, and Middle Eastern cultures. However, research behind turmeric is largely aimed at curcumin, the most active component of turmeric that makes up 2-5% of it.

Turmeric

Could turmeric (curcumin) be the first treatment for Alzheimer’s disease?

It’s probably not a coincidence that India has one of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease in the world. The relative lack of the disease in India, where turmeric (and thus curcumin) is a commonly consumed spice, has led researchers to conduct epidemiological studies that examine the effect of curcumin. Alzheimer’s is a devastating illness that deteriorates cognitive function. Researchers believe that one of the first pathologies of Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation of plaques (protein fragments) in the brain. The build up of these plaques can kill nerve cells and produce free radicals that damage nerve cells, which is what leads to Alzheimer’s disease.

Where does curcumin come in? As an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent, curcumin could reduce or prevent these plaques from forming, thus preventing the neuronal breakdown that leads to Alzheimer’s disease. This could make a difference to millions of seniors worldwide who are at risk for or fall victim to this disease.

Is “curcumin” also “anti-cancer?”

A possible cure for cancer?

The discovery of this medical Holy Grail has been the dream of physicians and research labs alike. Although curcumin is likely not the whole answer, its anti-tumor properties give hope to the realm of oncology research.

Curcumin’s anti-tumor qualities seem to be derived from its ability to “inhibit the proliferation and survival of almost all types of tumor cells.” Evidence demonstrates that curcumin can initiate apoptosis (or programmed cell death) in tumor cells, known as “curcumin-induced cell death.” This reduction of cell growth prevents tumors from occurring. Curcumin has also been shown to inhibit the growth and proliferation of cancer cell growth. Researchers are not sure why curcumin targets only cancer cells instead of normal cells, but continue to dive into its many biochemical pathways. The ongoing studies of the anti-cancer chemical properties of curcumin could lead to the development of a drug or synthetic extract to treat certain cancers and protect patients from harmful chemotherapies. Perhaps turmeric could indeed personify its nickname, given for its color, “the golden spice.”

Move over blueberries, curcumin is the new antioxidant in town

At this time of year, we become hyper-aware of our health, keeping a fair distance from sniffling strangers on the T and packing in antioxidant-rich foods. Berries are not your only friends! Curcumin is a free radical scavenger, preventing oxidative damage to the lipid membranes of our cells. This process, known as lipid peroxidation, can lead to the destruction of DNA and proteins, which can cause damage that leads to a spectrum of ailments. Whether it’s protection from the common cold or from chronic diseases such as cancer, atherosclerosis and neurodegenerative diseases, curcumin plays an important antioxidant role. So, if you feel yourself getting sick, dash a bit of turmeric in your soup!

Looking for natural ways to prevent disease and maximize health is an evident goal of nutrition. What’s even better is if it’s as accessible as cooking with a spice a little more often. Often times, consumers try to look for answers in the form of a supplement or pill (curcumin, in this case), which can contain a much higher dosage than the natural form (contained in turmeric) and yet not exceed the benefit of just using the turmeric spice, as cultures around the world do. Research continues to look for answers to show just how far curcumin’s anti-flammatory and antioxidant properties can go. In fact, it’s only a matter of time before turmeric becomes as trendy as coconut oil in the market and we begin to see turmeric water, turmeric-infused oils or turmeric hair care. Until then, embrace the power of yellow curry.

If you’re looking for a way to use turmeric, check out this recipe from Eating Well to get you started!

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