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.

 

 

Food Label Fear Mongering and its “Toxic” Effects

by Megan Maisano

You know it’s hard out here for a processed food. These days, most consumers want to know what’s in their food and how it’s processed. While that may sound promising towards improving food choices and overall health, it also might be contributing to a culture of fear-mongering and food discrimination – none of which is helpful. This month, Megan Maisano investigates common marketing strategies employed by food manufacturers that result in unnecessary fear, doubt, and confusion in the minds of consumers.

Grocery supermarket

Source: pexels.com

Good news: over half of the U.S. population is paying attention to food labels. Bad news: it might be increasing consumer confusion and contributing to unintended health hysteria.

Whether it’s the latest Netflix documentary demonizing an entire food group, an Instagram feed promoting “clean” eating, or your mother’s cousin Carol pushing her latest detox agenda on Facebook, food fear mongering is real.

The problem is that many claims of “toxic” or “unclean” foods don’t come from health professionals or experts. On top of that, their messages are more accessible by the common consumer than, let’ say, the most recent edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

I’ll be the first to admit I read Michael Pollen’s Food Rules a few years ago. I loved it. It was simple, easy to understand, and seemed logical. Nutrition science, however, is not simple, not easy to understand, and evolves with advancing evidence-based research… and nutrition research is hard.

While the desire for food transparency is warranted and can lead to healthier decision-making, the marketing response by the food industry has taken advantage of consumers’ unwarranted fears. Instead of highlighting what’s good in the food we eat, product labels emphasize what’s not in our food, and it’s contributing to the chaos.

I decided to explore the research and science behind common food label claims. The results: practices that range from reasonable transparency to questionable marketing tactics that make us say C’mon Man.

 

Non-GMO Project

The Non-GMO Project, which started in two grocery stores in 2007, now has its iconic butterfly on more than 3,000 brands and 43,000 products. GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms, are plants, animals, microorganisms or other organisms whose DNA has been changed via genetic engineering or transgenic technology. The debate concerning GMO safety remains highly controversial. Without going into too much detail, cynics claim that GMOs have not been proven safe and that people have a right to know whether their food contains them. On the other side, folks like the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine claim GMOs have not been proven harmful to humans or the environment.

Regardless of the verdict, the Non-GMO butterfly is landing on more and more products that are naturally GMO-free, such as tomatoes, oranges, and milk. This trend leads to the misconception that tomatoes, oranges, and milk without said-butterfly DO have GMOs and are therefore less safe. This deceptive labeling practice not only hurts the consumer, but also competing brands and their farmers.

The Impact – a 2015 nonpartisan analysis reported that only 37 percent of those surveyed feel that GMOs are safe to eat and 57 percent considered them unsafe. Individuals with a higher education, on the other hand, were more likely to consider GMOs safe. Numerous studies also show that consumer knowledge of GMOs is low and that their information is mainly sourced by the media – insert cousin Carol’s shared Facebook article on GMOs’ toxic effects. The fear continues.

Paleonola grain free granola

Source: thrivemarket.com

Gluten Free and Grain Free

In his book Grain Brain, David Perlmutter writes, “Gluten sensitivity represents one of the greatest and most under-recognized health threats to humanity.” The well-known blogger, Wellness Mama, once wrote an article titled “How Grains are Killing You Slowly” (but has since changed the title). The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, on the other hand, list grains (specifically whole grains) as a part of a healthy eating pattern. How did this extreme divide on gluten and grains come about?

The 1990’s brought about increased awareness of celiac disease and the effectiveness of treatment following a gluten-free diet. This was a major win and relief for folks with gluten-related disorders. What followed was an increase in the amount of research on gluten and its potential effects on other chronic disorders – and that’s when hysteria hit. Books like Grain Brain and Wheat Belly, both which have been accused of literature cherry-picking and generalization, earned best-selling status and changed the way we looked at a baguette. This frenzy, combined with the highly popular low-carb Atkins Diet, created the recipe for a new villain – gluten and grains.

The food industry responded and so did the media. According to the research firm Packaged Facts, sales in gluten-free products came in around $973 million in 2014 and are expected to exceed $2 billion by 2019 – far exceeding what would be expected in marketing to the less than one percent of individuals with celiac disease. Oh, and these products are about 240% more expensive. Celebrity influences like Gwyneth Paltrow’s book and Miley Cyrus’ tweet, have made the gluten-free diet appear more mainstream, swaying consumer perception and decreasing the seriousness of disorders like celiac disease.

While research on non-celiac gluten sensitivity (affecting about six percent of the U.S.) is still mixed, many studies suggest that gluten may not necessarily be the underlying problem and symptoms may even be psychological. In his book, The Gluten Lie, Alan Levinovitz explains that the significant increase in negative responses to gluten may be due to a phenomenon called Mass Sociogenic Illness – where a physiological response is provoked by mass anxiety and negative expectations.

The Impact – a 2015 Hartman Group survey found that 35% of respondents adopted a gluten-free lifestyle for “no reason,” 26% followed it because they thought it was a “healthier option,” 19% followed it for “digestive health,” and only 8% followed it because of a “gluten sensitivity.”

There is a growing body of research that suggests there is no evidence to support gluten-free diets for the general population and that going gluten-free may even hinder health. Nevertheless, the damage may be done.

 

usda organic label

Source: usda.gov

Going Organic

The USDA Organic label identifies a product that meets federal guidelines for farming and processing. Guidelines include soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and the use of additives. As far as organic packaged foods, 95% of the product must be organic and free of artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors.

The organic movement is a step in the right direction towards encouraging more responsible agricultural practices. However, the social impact of the organic label has created unwarranted confusion and fear in “chemically-ridden” conventional foods that aren’t free of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. The fear is hurting small farmers and our wallets.

A common source of organic fear-mongering comes from the infamous Dirty Dozen published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). This list identifies twelve non-organic produce items that are reported to have the highest levels of pesticide residue. What the EWG fails to mention, however, is the type of pesticide and its relation to its chronic reference dose (i.e., safe maximum daily dose for life). A Journal of Toxicology study found that none of the dirty dozen products came even close to their reference dose and that EWG’s methodology lacked scientific credibility. While there is nothing wrong with being mindful of pesticide use, people should know organic farmers use pesticides too and their levels are not tested by the USDA.

From a nutrition perspective, research on organic food is mixed. Both organic and conventional practices offer nutritious produce with plenty of phytochemicals; however, organic produce may come out on top as far as levels of phosphorous, antioxidants and less pesticide residue.

From a health-outcome perspective however, there is no direct evidence that organic diets lead to improved health or lower the risk of disease and cancer. Pesticide residue risk, if a concern, can be reduced by simply washing fresh produce.

Lastly, organic farming, labeling, and products are expensive. If price is keeping consumers from purchasing organic produce and fear is keeping them from purchasing conventional produce, we have a problem.

In a country where less than twenty percent of adults eat their daily recommended fruits and vegetables, all produce should be promoted without adding unnecessary confusion or fear.

 

all natural health claim label

Source: topclassactions.com

“Natural” and “Free of …”

According to a 2014 global health survey, 43% of respondents rate “all-natural” foods very important in purchasing decisions. Therefore, having that green and neutral-colored label considerably influences consumer behavior. In regards to meat and poultry, the USDA defines “natural” as containing no artificial ingredients, added colors, and minimal processing. Unfortunately, there is no regulated definition of the use of “natural” for all other products – hence marketing exploitation and further confusion. Below are just a few assumptions that consumers make about natural products regarding what they’re free of, and whether or not that really matters:

Free of Preservatives: Preservatives in food help delay spoilage, improve quality, and decrease food waste. They decrease the risk of food-borne illness, lower oxidation in the body, and keep us from worrying about things like getting tuberculosis from our milk. Consumers often fear ingredients that have chemical-sounding names; however, lest we forget, we are made of chemical compounds!  Many preservatives are harmless and even nutritious like ascorbic acid (vitamin C), alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), calcium propionate, niacin (vitamin B3), lysozyme, and tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ). Some other preservatives, however, may have questionable effects on health when consumed in high doses, so more research is needed on their safety.

No Antibiotics Ever: This term’s tricky. For a long time, many farmers used antibiotics not just for the treatment of ill animals but also to facilitate growth. The FDA has since banned the use for growth and animal antibiotics sales have fallen considerably. However, sick animals do need treatment and not using antibiotics to treat them would be unethical and pose a risk to food safety. So, here’s the deal to understanding the label: Farm A has a sick chicken which they treat with antibiotics. The chicken is therefore removed from the antibiotic-free group for sale (and who knows what that means). Farm B has a sick chicken which they treat with antibiotics. The chicken then goes through a withdrawal period and is tested before it can be used for processing, often with the oversight of a licensed veterinarian. Only Farm A can have the “No Antibiotics Ever” label. Is Farm A healthier than Farm B? Probably not.

No Hormones Added: Fun fact: adding hormones or steroids to poultry and pork is illegal in the U.S. Just like tomatoes with a Non-GMO label, chicken and pork products with a “No Hormones Added” label are simply playing into consumer fears.

Free of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS):  Great! But keep in mind that sugar, molasses, agave nectar, cane juice, and honey are “natural” sources of added sugars too. HFCS is essentially a mix of fructose, glucose, and water. It varies from having either 42% fructose (often found in processed food) to 55% fructose (often found in soft drinks) – not too different from sugar with a 50:50 mix or your $10 organic agave nectar.

 

chicken breast no antibiotics non gmo organic

Source: target.com

Conclusion: Fear Mongering Isn’t Helping

When it comes to promoting healthy eating behaviors, fear tactics aren’t helping and may even be harmful. Unlike tobacco or drug use, two issues where fear campaigns were successfully used to impact behavior, we need to eat to live. Instilling unnecessary anxiety about foods that are not Non-GMO, gluten-free, certified organic, or “free from” whatever may keep us from consuming a nutritious, well-balanced diet.

Unfortunately, the U.S. hasn’t learned its lesson from the anti-fat and anti-cholesterol era because we continue to look for something simple to blame for health problems, and the media and food industry continues to take advantage of that desire. Moderation just isn’t sexy.

Whether it’s the latest one-dimensional diet, a food blogger’s recent witch hunt, or a misleading food label in an earthy color tone, fear-induced messages are not helping. They are harming consumer knowledge, self-efficacy, health, and ultimate trust in food industry and nutrition science. It’s time to stop the food fear mongering and encourage the good in foods that will lead to our “natural” wellbeing.

 

Megan Maisano is a second year NICBC student and an RD-to-be. She has a Wheat Belly and a Grain Brain, but is doing okay. She’s got no beef with Non-GMO, Gluten-free, or Organic products, only their use in scare-tactics that aren’t based in science.

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.

What is the SirtFood Diet?

by Erin Child

The Sirtfood Diet is popular in the United Kingdom, but hasn’t caught on in the United States (yet). The diet claims to activate sirtuins, so called “skinny genes,” that work in the body to reverse the effects of aging and help the dieter lose weight. To activate sirtuins, the dieter builds their meals out of “sirtfoods,” including red wine and dark chocolate, hence the diet’s popularity. Although the diet isn’t popular on this side of the pond, NICBC student Erin Child has decided to learn more about the diet (and its founders and followers), just in case we, as nutrition professionals, start getting questions.   

The Sirtfood Diet first came to my attention at a Sprout pitch meeting last semester. “Has anyone heard of the Sirtfood Diet?” someone asked. The room answered with a resounding, “No.” The idea of exploring a new diet that none of us at Friedman had heard of piqued my interest, and finally, a semester later, I started googling. As I researched, the main questions that I wanted answered were: Who started the diet? Who follows it? What is a sirtfood? What is the guiding science behind the diet? What does the diet entail? Here’s what I found.

The People behind the Sirtfood Diet

A few years ago, The Sirtfood Diet was popularized in the United Kingdom by Aidan Goggins and Glen Matten. Both men have their MS in Nutrition Medicine, and both seem to be health influencers with some celebrity status. Per their Instagram, Goggins is an athletic trainer, and Matten works with celebrities and makes media appearances. (Not being familiar with how famous they might be, I will not draw any comparisons with any infamous health celebrities in the United States.) In early 2017, Goggins and Matten published The Sirtfood Diet, an international bestseller, and based on the book’s cover, following the diet allows you to “eat your way to rapid weight loss and a longer life by triggering the magical powers of the Sirtfood Diet.” Magic, really?

Who follows the Sirtfood Diet?

The Sirtfood Diet rose in popularity after both Adele and Pippa Middleton (sister of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) endorsed the diet for their own weight loss. In early 2017 alongside the publication of the book, the Sirtfood Diet saw a lot of publicity across magazines, TV shows, and social media. Despite the coverage, the diet hasn’t captured a large audience in the States. The official @thesirtfooddiet Instagram has almost 14,000 followers, but most posts get only a couple of hundred likes. (Nonetheless, the diet is apparently becoming very popular in Italy.) It’s unclear why the Sirtfood Diet is not that popular here, but perhaps we will see an uptick in the coming months or year(s).

How does this diet work, and what on earth is a Sirtfood?

Sirtfoods are foods that are high in resveratrol and polyphenols, plant-based chemicals that are supposed to “switch on” sirtuin proteins in the body. According to The Sirtfood Diet, eating a diet high in sirtfoods is supposed to create a physiological reaction similar to fasting, in which the body will start to breakdown fat stores for fuel. The book states that sirtuins “are master metabolic regulators that control our ability to burn fat and stay healthy.” If the dieter follows a diet high in sirtfoods, they will activate the sirtuins and lose weight, and possibly live longer. Based on statements from the BBC and Good Housekeeping, the most common sirtfoods in the diet are red wine, dark chocolate (85% or more), kale, arugula, parsley, blueberries, citrus, apples, buckwheat, capers, olive oil, turmeric, and green tea.

It’s unclear from my research if the dieter can only eat sirtfoods or just eat a diet high in sirtfoods. The difference between these options would be a very restrictive diet versus a diet high in plant-based foods, which could be a positive thing. However, and this is a big however, the diet begins with caloric restriction: In the first three days the dieter consumes only 1000 calories per day, largely consisting of the sirtfood “green juice,” made up of apples, celery, kale, arugula, ginger, parsley, lemon, and matcha (green tea powder). Then the dieter can eat up to 1500 calories per day for the next four days. The extra 500 calories may seem better, but a 1500 calorie diet is still insufficient for most active adults. The diet plan claims that users can lose up to seven pounds in seven days. After that, the dieter follows a “maintenance phase” for two weeks, but it’s unclear what caloric parameters are required. Looking at the meals suggested for the diet, some sound quite delicious: “Asian shrimp stir-fry with buckwheat noodles” and “Miso-marinated baked cod with stir-fry greens and sesame.” Ideally, after this introductory period, the dieter will continue to follow a diet rich in sirtfoods to continue weight loss and live a long and healthy life. Because that’s how all diets work, right?

The Science behind Sirtuins

After reading about the supposed way that the diet works, I wanted to learn more about the actual science behind sirtuins. Sirtuins (SIR1-SIR7) are a class of enzymatic proteins that are thought to be involved in immunity, metabolism and longevity. To call them “skinny-genes” is misleading and fails to capture our evolving understanding of their role in the body. From animal studies, a 2010 paper found that SIRT1 is involved with the physiologic response to diet restriction. A more recent 2017 research paper, published in Biogerontology, indicated that there was some research supporting the connection between sirtuins and longevity, but the research was conducted in yeast and animal models. This paper specifically considered circumin, present in turmeric, as a possible activator of sirtuins, but the connection was still unclear. This same 2017 paper also stated that the “search for an activator of sirtuins is one of the most extensive and robust topic [sic] of research.” This statement clearly outlines what is most often the case in “science-backed” diets. There is research out there, but it is still on-going and not conclusive enough to point to one diet being the be-all/end-all solution for weight loss and longevity. In my research, I did not find any studies that clearly linked specific foods to upregulating sirtuins in the body.

The Takeaway

From the information available on the Sirtfood Diet, it comes across as the Mediterranean diet on steroids. In my book, any diet that focuses on restriction instead of moderation is cause for concern. If someone in your life expresses interest in the Sirtfood Diet, encourage their interest in a more plant-based diet by steering them towards the Mediterranean diet or the “everything in moderation” approach. As nutrition students, it’s important to be up on the current diet trends so we can pull what elements are positive from the diet (if any) and keep the conversation going. Knowing more about what diets are trending allows us to do more.  For now, I am still relieved that the Sirtfood Diet has not become popular in the United States, and hope it stays that way.

Erin Child is a second-semester NICBC student in the dual MS-DPD program and the social media editor for The Sprout. Erin is fascinated by the science (or lack thereof) behind fad diets, so if there’s a new trendy diet you want to learn more about—let her know. In the meantime, she will be coordinating logistics for the Student Research Conference. She looks forward to seeing you there on April 7!

Friedman Hosts the 2018 Global Food+ Symposium

by Sam Jones

The second annual Global Food+ Symposium was hosted at Tufts University’s Friedman School this year. Innovative research being conducted at Tufts, MIT, Boston University, and Harvard University in the realm of the global food system was presented in speed-dating style, with each speaker giving only a seven-minute talk. Only some of the takeaways are reported here; the entire event can be viewed online.

February 16, 2018 marked the second annual Global Food+ Symposium, hosted by Tufts University at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. This year, 23 researchers from Boston University, MIT, Harvard, and Tufts shared the findings of their work in seven-minute presentations on topics ranging from microbiology to nutrition to theology. I attended the conference in its entirety from 12:30 to 4:30 on a Friday afternoon because I wanted to learn about what other researching in our consortium of schools are investigating to gain insight into what the non-Friedman community has to say about the global food system.

Throughout the afternoon, speakers presented fascinating research that touched every corner of the food system. Several presenters from Harvard and MIT discussed how water affects our food system, covering everything from breeding crops to use less water, to developing more adaptable water conserving technologies, and the ramifications of developing a water market in which price reflects scarcity. These speakers together illustrated that whether in the Zambezi River Basin or in Melbourne, Australia, water use and availability affects our food system, but there are steps we can take right now to plan for uncertainty in the face of climate change.

Nutrition was, of course, the subject of several of the presentations. Tufts professor Will Masters discussed his findings on the nutritional quality of baby food. Spoiler alert: the global baby food supply is not actually that nutritious. Alison Brown, a post-doctoral fellow at Tufts presented the research from her dissertation comparing the diet quality and risk of hypertension in foreign-born non-Hispanic blacks to those of U.S.-born blacks. Her findings suggest that the former are better-off than the latter. While useful for developing culturally-appropriate nutrition strategies, it does not delve into the root causes of these differences. A more causal-based study would be useful if the intention were to narrow the gap in diet quality and health between these groups.

Most of the presenters at the symposium used or researched cutting-edge technology to answer some of the most vexing problems in our global food system. Karthish Manthiram from MIT, for example, presented his research on how electricity derived from solar panels can be used to create fertilizer. His research found that by using electric voltage in place of high temperatures, a low-footprint nitrogen fertilizer can be created and used by small-scale farmers in even the remotest parts of Africa.

Angela Rigden, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University, presented exciting research derived from new satellite data. These data showed that vapor pressure and root zone soil moisture actually explain significantly more variability in crop yields than does temperature alone. Both Jenny Aker from Tufts and Alicia Harley from Harvard separately explored the effects of having access to technology for poor farmers in Africa and India, respectively. They found that even where a technology exists, the targeted problems may not be solved in exactly the way they were intended. For example, Alicia Harley’s research found that poorer rice farmers were not adopting a system of rice intensification (SRI) that used less water because such a practice required control over one’s water source—a luxury most poor farmers do not have. As Jenny Aker put it, one specific technology is “not going to be a silver bullet.”

Water, technology, health, and sustainability were the overarching themes that wove the presentations together. But one researcher stood alone both in his discipline and in his ability to wow an audience of entirely dissimilar mindsets. Dan McKanan, a senior lecturer in Divinity at Harvard University, revealed that the foundations of organic agriculture, organic certification, WWOOFing, biodynamic agriculture, community supported agriculture, and the environmentalist movement all sprung out of a religion called Anthroposophy. In his words, this was a religion that acted as an antidote to the ideological monoculture system—an antidote to the “monocultures of the mind.”

What the innovative research presented at the Global Food+ Symposium made me realize is that there probably will never be a “silver bullet” that can solve the issues of water scarcity, food insecurity, malnutrition, or climate change. But the research that is being done in these interdisciplinary and diverse fields is worth pursuing, whether it aims to solve a big problem in a small place or a small problem on a global scale.

Sam Jones is a first-year AFE student with a passion for sharing others’ stories. She is currently an intern at Culture Magazine nd hopes to pursue a career in sustainable agricultural development and food journalism.

5 Breakfasts to Power Your Heart

by April Dupee

The month of February is all about the heart. Not only is it that time of year when stores are stocked with greeting cards, balloons, and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but also it marks American Heart Month to raise awareness about heart disease and prevention. With 1 in 3 deaths in the U.S. attributable to cardiovascular disease, American Heart Month serves as an important reminder to take care of our hearts and encourage our communities to support heart health initiatives.

In honor of American Heart Month and school back in full swing, I have rounded up my favorite, simple, make-ahead breakfast recipes full of heart healthy nutrients. Whether or not you have cardiovascular disease, a heart healthy diet is one we can all benefit from. Loading up your plate with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean poultry and fish will give you all the fiber and important nutrients you need to protect your heart. In addition, cutting back on sugar, sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats will reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors such as increased cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and weight.

Because these recipes can be made in advance, there is no need to compromise health for time when you are heading out the door in the morning. Give your breakfast a heart-healthy makeover that will power you through the day.

Breakfast Oatmeal Cupcakes To-Go

Baked oatmeal to-go, anyone? While many baked goods are filled with added sugar, refined flour, and saturated fats, these oatmeal cupcakes are loaded with fiber-rich oats to help keep cholesterol low. Make these even more delicious and nutritious with add-ins such as berries, flax seeds, and cinnamon. The best feature of this recipe is that it freezes well. Before you head out the door, pop one in the microwave and you will be ready to go!

Recipe and photo: Chocolate Covered Katie

Breakfast Oatmeal Cupcakes To-Go. Recipe and photo by Chocolate Covered Katie.

Chia Pudding

Don’t let their small size fool you—the chia seeds in this recipe are packed with nutrients including fiber, protein, and omega-3s. One ounce of chia seeds (about 2 tablespoons) has 10 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and about 6,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids! Low in sugar and saturated fats, this recipe is definitely a heart healthy alternative to your typical pudding.

Make this recipe the night before and get creative with flavor combinations and toppings. Some of my favorite add-ins and toppings include: Vanilla extract, cacao powder, cinnamon, bananas, berries, nut butters, coconut, and granola.

Recipe and photo: Nutrition Stripped

Chia Pudding. Recipe and photo by Nutrition Stripped.

Egg Muffins

Get your veggies in with this savory recipe! Vegetables are an important part of a heart-healthy diet by offering beneficial nutrients and fiber that keep calorie counts low and contribute to overall cardiovascular health. While the eggs in this recipe do contain cholesterol, current dietary guidelines indicate that dietary cholesterol does not affect blood cholesterol levels as much as we once thought. Rather, saturated fats are the main culprit. Nonetheless, these single serving cups will keep your portion sizes in check and your morning moving quickly as you head out the door.

Recipe and photo: hurrythefoodup

Egg Muffins. Recipe and photo by hurrythefoodup.

Overnight Oats

Wake up to a creamy bowl of oats that takes no more than 5 minutes to prep! No cooking required. If you like chia pudding but are looking for something a little heartier, overnight oats are a great option. The oats and chia seeds provide tons of fiber, which is thought to boost heart health by lowering cholesterol and helping with weight loss. In addition, the bananas used to sweeten and add a creamy texture keep this breakfast low in sugar and saturated fats.

Recipe and photo by OhSheGlows.

Overnight Oats. Recipe and photo by OhSheGlows.

2-Ingredient Pancakes

This recipe is as simple as it gets! Maybe not the traditional pancake you are used to, but with just bananas and eggs these pancakes are too easy not to try. With no sugar, oils, or processed flour that you often find in pancakes, this recipe is a quick heart healthy alternative. Plus, you can boost the nutrition with endless extras and toppings. I love to mix in nuts, berries, and cinnamon and top with nut butters. Make a batch and store the extras in the fridge or freezer when you need a quick breakfast.

Recipe and photo by The Kitchn.

2-Ingredient Pancakes. Recipe and photo by The Kitchn.

While we begin to gift our loved ones with flowers and chocolates this Valentine’s Day, let’s remember the greatest gift of all that we can give them—a long, healthy, and happy life. Use American Heart Month as motivation to take care of your heart and encourage your friends and family to do the same. With these simple and versatile recipes, you can start your day with a variety of heart-healthy fruits, veggies and whole grains. Make these recipes a part of your routine and trust that you are taking care of your heart as much as much as it takes care of you!

April Dupee is a first year in the NICBC program and future DPD student. With breakfast as her favorite meal of the day, she loves experimenting with healthy and delicious new recipes.

Friedman Goes to FNCE

by Hannah Meier, Sharmin Sampat and Anabelle Harari

Every year in October, dietitians from across America gather together at a convention for three days of learning, networking, and eating. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics organizes the national event, The Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (or FNCE® for short), bringing together registered dietitians (RDs), dietetic technicians, registered (DTRs), students, interns, researchers, physicians, policy makers and industry leaders to talk about current practices, care guidelines, controversies, innovation and entrepreneurship in nutrition. Three current students from Friedman, Hannah Meier, Anabelle Harari and Sharmin Sampat share their highlights.

October 21-24, 2017 marked the 100-year centennial anniversary of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ organized advocacy and support for the profession. Highlights include not only interesting educational sessions put together by seasoned experts (including Friedman’s own Dr. Tim Griffin in a talk about Sustainability and Dietary Guidelines), but booth after booth in the expo hall of health foods, supplements, schools 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 features special events like culinary demonstrations, book signings, and poster presentations of research conducted by dietitians across the country.

Photo: Hannah Meier

More details of the event and program can be found on the conference website: eatrightfnce.org.

Hannah Meier

Why did you choose to go to FNCE this year?

I knew I wanted to attend FNCE in Chicago after attending my first conference when it was in Boston last year. I learned so much at the sessions and enjoyed getting to know the people behind some of the popular and up-and-coming food and nutrition brands at the expo. This year, I was fortunate to be able to attend the conference on behalf of the food company I work with, 88 Acres. Instead of hosting an expo booth, we organized a get-together with two other New England brands, DrinkMaple and Biena, and were able to network with dietitians and media contacts more personally.

What was your favorite Education Session?

My favorite education session was actually a career panel about pursuing “hot” career paths in nutrition. We learned from dietitians who forged their way into roles that may not have existed previously, and it was inspiring to hear from them about how to balance confidence and work ethic while ensuring that you still love your career at the end of the day. Dawn Jackson-Blatner, the RD for the Chicago Cubs and one of the panelists has also been featured in top media outlets and on the reality show My Diet is Better than Your Diet (which she won!).

What was your favorite new product at the Expo?

As funny and unglamorous as this seems, my favorite product was from Starkist: Pouches of tuna with rice and beans in hot sauce. Since working with student athletes at Tufts in Medford, I’ve learned the importance of convenience when it comes to managing nutrition with a busy schedule, and it’s my goal to recommend whole foods as much as possible as opposed to convenient snack bars and shakes (though these can be great in a pinch and certainly better than nothing). The packs of tuna with rice and beans combine a high-quality source of protein with fiber-rich grains for carbohydrates, and make an excellent, portable post-workout or game snack—or something to bring with you during a busy day of back-to-back classes. The packs even contain a portable fork that can be reused!

Favorite quote of Anabelle, overheard at FNCE

Did you find any new food and nutrition trends that surprised you?

The rise of plant-based foods was prevalent on the expo floor, though it didn’t necessarily surprise me. The breadth of options featuring plant proteins from hemp seeds to pea protein included ice cream, milks, chips, and cereals. It is clear that there is a demand for more plant-focused alternatives to animal products and food companies are responding in creative ways!

What was the most controversial topic you saw?

I attended an educational session about weight bias in healthcare settings and felt an immediate divergence among RD’s in the audience about defining and treating obesity. The presenters reflected on the importance of ensuring that we do not use shameful, dehumanizing or assumptive approaches to treating and preventing obesity on the policy level, but argued that we cannot focus only on prevention and leave out those who still struggle with obesity as a disease. During the question and answer segment at the end of the talk, one dietitian presented the idea that obesity might not need to be approached as a disease and rather as a descriptor of size, and that we turn our focus away from managing “weight” and more to managing health behaviors. I have been personally interested in learning more about weight-neutral approaches to nutrition and adopting an evidence-based Health at Every Size framework for practice, looking at metabolic indicators as opposed to BMI as primary outcomes for health. As encouraging as it was to see medical professionals talking about reducing weight bias in health care, the debate goes on about the best way to “treat”, reduce, and prevent obesity in the long-term, and whether or not it should really be considered a disease whatsoever.

How has your understanding of food and nutrition changed since going to FNCE?

I am encouraged, yet a little overwhelmed with the potential we have as nutrition professionals to not only shape the health trajectory of our nation, but of the globe. I appreciated the wide array of niche areas in which dietitians across the country choose to specialize, and am reminded that this is a field that can benefit from all types of thinkers, movers and shakers. I think we are at a time where collaboration is critical, and changes need to be made both with small, individual steps on the ground and with large steps on the level of policy via food industry collaboration.

Hannah is a second-year Nutrition Communication student and registered dietitian. This was her second FNCE, and her first that she attended on behalf of 88 Acres. She enjoyed networking with other professionals and ironically ended up craving a lot of fruits and vegetables at the end of the conference after sampling protein bar after protein bar in the expo.

 

Favorite quote of Sharmin, overheard at FNCE

Anabelle Harari

Why did you choose to go to FNCE this year?

I was really interested in learning about the latest nutrition research, meet fellow nutrition students from around the country, and network with some brands that I love.

What was your favorite Education Session?

My favorite education session was a toss-up between a talk on Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and navigating different career paths in nutrition. There were so many interesting and inspiring sessions, it was really difficult to choose which to attend! Luckily, all of the sessions were recorded and can be watched later.

What was your favorite new product at the Expo?

Love the new Triple Cream Chocolate Siggi’s yogurt and the Vital Protein Matcha Collagen that comes out in a few months. Both really delicious.

Did you find any new food and nutrition trends that surprised you?

There were a lot of bars, but that did not really surprise me. I saw a bunch of companies using sprouts, grains, and of course countless protein shakes.

What was the most controversial topic you saw?

Weight Stigma in Healthcare, Communities and Policy—this session challenged people to be careful with public health messaging around obesity, stigmatizing patients with obesity, and being considerate of the language we use as professionals.

How has your understanding of food and nutrition changed since going to FNCE?

I think there is a lot of exciting changes in biotech that will influence the food and nutrition profession. There were several DNA and microbiome testing companies at the Expo as well as a fascinating session on nutrigenomics. I think as the science advances, we’re seeing more personalized nutrition, people wanting to know very specific information, and also tailoring nutrition recommendations to each person based on their unique genetic information.

Anabelle is in her third year completing the MS-DPD program with a concentration in Nutrition Communications and Behavior Change. When she’s not in class, you can find her in the kitchen creating delicious and healthy recipes for her blog, Local Belle. Check her out on Instagram for inspiring recipes and nutrition tips: @localbelle 

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Favorite quote heard by Sharmin, originally attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt

Sharmin Sampat

Why did you choose to go to FNCE this year?

This was my first FNCE conference. I am glad and grateful I got a chance to attend as a student host volunteer, a position I had applied for early on. As a volunteer, I was stationed at the Silent Auction area and helped with registering items for the auction. It was a excellent opportunity to network and connect with people with various backgrounds in nutrition. I had heard a lot about FNCE during my internship at EatingWell Magazine and how amazing it is to attend the best annual event in the nutrition field. I also wanted to take the opportunity to go to the student internship fair and gain insights about the programs I plan to apply to for my Dietetic Internship next year.

What was your favorite Education Session?

My favorite session was Sport Supplement: Facts, Noise and Wishful-thinking. It talked about how the sport nutrition market accounts for $30 billion U.S. dollars and rising—but unfortunately, it’s a market backed with little scientific evidence. It also shed light on how athletes consume ineffective supplementation to improve their health/stamina. I was surprised to find out that 1 out of 10 supplements that are purchased over the internet contain substances that fail a drug test. The Speaker also briefly gave some cues for reducing risks associated with supplements. In addition, I noticed how social media was also a big part of the sessions at FNCE. As Anabelle noted, I too had a hard time deciding which sessions to attend.

What was your favorite new product at the Expo?

I thoroughly enjoyed the KIND fruit bites, which are bite-size snacks made of real fruit. They claim to have no juice, concentrate, or preservatives—just real fruit. I must admit I found them tasty and interesting.

Did you find any new food and nutrition trends that surprised you?

Though not surprising, I found a lot of focus on fiber, functional foods: foods that have positive effects on the body other than basic nutrition; like a company named Beneo introduced chicory root fibers, a digestible fiber, in their products to improve gut health. There were also sessions that focused on gut health and gut microbiota.

Favorite quote of Hannah, overheard at FNCE

What was the most controversial topic you saw?

I attended a session on agriculture and its links to healthy eating patterns. One topic that was discussed at length in this session was Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The speaker addressed how different countries have varying viewpoints on GMOs, which influences their policy making. I think GMO, in general, is a very controversial topic and as noted by the speaker, Dr. John Erdman, an emotional one too!

How has your understanding of food and nutrition changed since going to FNCE?

I think FNCE has been a insightful experience and made me realise how nutrition and its related fields can make such a great impact, not only on an individual but also on governments and countries. There is immense and extensive research in the field of nutrition that is taking place right now. It was overwhelming and inspiring at the same time, and it makes me grateful to be a part of this field.

Sharmin is a 2nd year student at Friedman School of Nutrition, majoring in Nutrition Interventions, Communications, and Behavior Change. She is also completing her coursework at Simmons College to become a Registered Dietitian.