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Choose your own adventure: Which scenario do you identify with?

  1. You wake up crabby and groggy each morning, reluctantly rolling out of bed after hitting ‘snooze’ three times at a minimum. You curse the morning as you shock your system with a splash of cold water- a cruel, yet necessary ritual. You grab strong coffee and a slightly stale bear claw pastry as an afterthought on the way out the door. This caffeine/sugar combination gives you life for a few hours until you succumb to intense hunger pangs at 11:30am. Take-out lunch quenches the stomach rumbling and dulls your throbbing temples, and you turbulently sail until the 3 o’clock hour, after which point productivity squeals to a halt. More coffee, a fistful of candy from the office jar (and some nuts and carrots in a half-hearted attempt to be healthy) offer a temporary solution. 5pm rolls around, and you leave work in a ravenous, foggy state of mind. You planned to hit the gym, but a date with microwave dinner and Vino are the way to your heart tonight. Once home, you sigh a great, empty sigh as you kick your gym bag to the corner of your room and fall face-first on the couch in one fell swoop.
  2. You wake up as early morning light streams through the cracks in your blinds, pleasantly surprised your alarm clock is set to ring in two minutes. You lie still for a moment, calmly preparing for the day ahead. You move through your morning routine that leaves ample time for breakfast, coffee, and reading the paper. Your philosophy hasn’t failed you yet: ‘Make it fast, eat it slow’: Today’s breakfast is a chopped apple, Greek yogurt, cinnamon, and steel-cut oatmeal topped with honey and slivered almonds. You grab your lunch from the fridge (a colorful salmon, farro, roasted veggie and garbanzo bean salad prepped the night before) on the way out the door. Around 11:30am, you hear a chorus of yawns around your open-layout office; Although wide awake, your stomach gently requests more fuel. Lunch powers you through a productive afternoon with a walking meeting (your preference) and impressive brainstorm session for an exciting new research study that integrates Nutrition, Psychology, and Neuroscience. At 4pm, you re-fuel body and mind with walnuts and blueberries for your planned strength training workout. Energized once more, you grab dinner out with friends- your favorite way to socialize! Roasted herb chicken, bread with olive oil, kalamata olives, and caramelized seasonal vegetables are the way to your heart tonight. Although it’s been a full day, you feel mentally and physically strong.

 

The above scenarios differ like night and day; Although each is dramatized for effect, be honest- most of us can identify with one situation more strongly than the other. Go ahead and select the category that resonates most with you, and let’s dive deeper with a brief brainstorm. What factors make the above scenarios glaringly different?

  1. Person A failed to plan, and Person B practically has a degree in Life-Skills 101
  2. Person A’s job is a drain, while Person B is energized by his/her work
  3. Person A might suffer from depression, while Person B likely does not

So far, so good: Each observation is a deeper reflection of the individuals’ moods. Person A is lethargic, fatigued, unmotivated, and ‘empty,’ while Person B is energized, mentally sharp, mindfully present, and fulfilled.

Excellent, let’s pursue this lead! Consider this: What deeper, underlying factor might account for these distinct moods? Consider one more glaring difference between scenario A and B, this time considering trends in the foods consumed:

  1. Simple carbohydrates, high sodium, and high saturated fat, with a modest sprinkling of vitamins, minerals, and fiber from primarily packaged-foods
  2. Whole grains, lean protein, ample produce, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, lots of fiber, probiotics, vitamins and minerals, and all primarily from whole-food sources

Credit: Easy Recipe Depot

Person A and B both know that their food choices influence their outward appearances- after all, you are what you eat! Digging deeper, however, we see that Person B still has an advantage: This person also understands that one’s food choices influence mental state and behavior! Whether intuitively or intentionally, this person knows a thing or two about an emerging research area called ‘Nutritional Psychiatry.’

Credit: Mind Brighton & Hove

Let’s briefly turn to the research to get the low-down on Nutritional Psychiatry:

If you begin your knowledge quest with a Google search of the term, you’ll find a variety of media reports and research foundations devoted to the topic. Case in point:

The Harvard Health blog published an article called “Food and Mood-Is there a connection?” This article articulates how certain dietary patterns may protect mental health. More specifically, a Mediterranean diet pattern rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, whole grains, and lean protein such as chicken and fish, and low in red meat and unhealthy fats may provide promising benefits. Important to note, however, is that one single dietary factor or lifestyle factor is unlikely to affect mental health independently.

The Conversation explains that although research is in early stages, “it is now known that many mental health conditions are caused by inflammation in the brain. This inflammatory response [may be] associated with a lack of nutrients…Recent research has shown that food supplements such as zinc, magnesium, omega 3, and vitamins B and D3 can help improve people’s mood, relieve anxiety and depression and improve the mental capacity of people with Alzheimer’s.

(Psst…see that hyperlink on ‘recent research?’ That’s a link to an original study! Click it, friends!)

-A research foundation called the International Society of Nutritional Psychiatry Research will direct you towards “high quality evidence for nutritional approaches to the prevention and treatment of mental disorders.”

Both sources are good places to start, but our search has just begun! You can either scour each article for links to official research studies written by the research teams themselves, and read such study (Rule of thumb: Media reports are for entertainment first, and comprehensive education second or third or fourth). Alternatively, you may turn to Pubmed and pull up a review article on ‘Nutritional Psychiatry.’ (What’s a review article? Aside from being my preferred, reader-friendly way to learn about science, here’s a description)

The fourth result in our original Google search is conveniently a link to a 2017 review paper called “Nutritional Psychiatry-Where to Next?” This article explains that “A consistent evidence base from the observational literature confirms that the quality of individuals’ diets is related to their risk for common mental disorders, such as depression.”

While promising so far, comprehensive research is still needed in this area, as articulately stated by the same authors: “Key challenges for the field are to…replicate, refine and scale up promising clinical and population level dietary strategies; identify a clear set of biological pathways and targets that mediate the identified associations; conduct scientifically rigorous nutraceutical and ‘psychobiotic’ interventions that also examine predictors of treatment response; conduct observational and experimental studies in psychosis focused on dietary and related risk factors and treatments; and continue to advocate for policy change to improve the food environment at the population level.”

Which consumer are you?

The astute academic or health professional: You have a degree (one or more) in nutrition, you have PubMed bookmarked on your internet browser, and you spend your days dispelling nutrition myths and/or researching the next nutrition breakthrough.

The health foodie. You scour wholesome recipes online, you already know the nutrition trends for 2019, you make detailed grocery lists like it’s your job, you’re a #mealprepsunday veteran, and always know where to find the best deals for natural/organic/raw/fresh eats.

The bachelor/broke student: Is it cheap? Edible? Delicious? Easy to prepare? If yes, it goes in the cart.

The athlete with phenomenal sport skills, and (developing) culinary know-how: You know that the foods you eat influence your athletic performance. You are game for eating better, under one condition: you need quick/easy foods that pack a nutritional punch.

The busy parent: There are lunches to make, picky eaters to feed, and you can’t remember the last time you enjoyed a calm, healthy mealtime at home. Grocery shopping is typically a stressful battle between your healthy intentions, and the little ones’ demands for sugary cereals and flashy marketing.

Photo Credit: Lifehacker

Whether you identify with one or multiple distinct categories listed here, each one is unified by a few common underlying themes:

We all eat.

We crave amazing flavors.

There are never enough hours in the day.

We really do have good intentions; We want to eat well.

Assuming we don’t grow/hunt/gather our own food, we cross paths with one another for a common purpose: Food Shopping! On that note, we’ve been exposed to the same rules of thumb for healthy grocery shopping:

-Shop the perimeter!

-Steer clear of the middle aisles!

The way I see it, there are two types of people in this world: Those who love the center aisles (but could use a little strategy for picking the best options), and those who openly shun those aisles (but are secretly curious to explore the forbidden foods within).

As a health professional, it’s my duty to pass along this tried-and-true advice. But as a real-life RD on a budget, I hear you: Those middle aisles are mighty tempting, so what’s a guy/girl to do?

Take a deep breath, direct that grocery cart towards those center aisles, keep your eye on the prize and walk with intention because you have a fool-proof plan. Healthy shoppers, unite! Today, you’ll conquer those middle aisles like the savvy consumer you are.

Photo Credit: The Sports Nutrition Coach

Your strategy: Divide and conquer by food group like so:

Whole grains, legumes, and pseudograins: Instant oatmeal, frozen brown rice or quinoa (that’s a pseudograin), ready-to-serve plain cooked rice, Grape Nuts (for impressive iron and fiber content), popcorn, Vaccuum packed pre-cooked lentils (that’s a legume), whole grain bread (can you find bread with 0-1g sugar per serving? Can you find fiber above 2g per serving?)

Fruits and vegetables: Frozen is your friend! These items are picked at peak ripeness and flash-frozen immediately afterwards. Canned items are fine as well (in light syrup or water). Can you get all colors of the rainbow?

Protein: Canned beans, canned tuna, canned chicken, canned salmon, frozen chicken strips (no breading), hummus

Dairy: single serve plain Greek yogurt (Ok, you’ll find this in the perishables, but this is too versatile not to include), string cheese

Fats: Olives, frozen Cool Whip, prepared guacamole

Snacks: Dark chocolate (Pro-tip: Pick one with single-digit grams sugar per serving), nuts (try pistachios, almonds, or walnuts), dried fruit, jerky, whole grain chips, hummus

Drinks: Chocolate milk

Spreads/flavorings: Sriracha, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, pesto

Photo credit: Smile Sandwich

 Once you return home from this über successful grocery trip, you’ll want to assemble some stellar meals using your new bounty. Try this one-day sample plan:

Breakfast: Yogurt cup topped with frozen fruit, Grape Nuts, nut butter (purchase single serve packets in a pinch!) Feeling extra hungry? Prepare a side of instant oatmeal

Lunch: Tuna sandwich (canned tuna mixed w/ mustard, Ezekiel bread). Side of green salad (found in deli section)

Snack: Handful of nuts, handful chips, and hummus

Post Workout: Classic PB&J, or chocolate milk

Dinner: Defrost that frozen rice, quinoa, or lentils, frozen veggies of choice, top w/ beans (and/or thawed ready-to-eat chicken), salsa, pre-made guacamole, and Sriracha

Dessert: 2-3 squares of dark chocolate, alongside frozen blueberries w/ a dollop of cream

Not everyone has a nutrition coach by their side, but you, ASN reader, have an edge. Use this guide to confidently navigate the previously forbidden center aisles. Print it, internalize it, share it. No nonsense, no gimmicks. Blasphemy? Hardly. Creative and backed in science? Absolutely.

Conversations about nutrition and health are now common in the media and in the lives of many consumers, as they become increasingly aware of and interested in the health benefits of certain foods and food components. However, not everyone understands how to evaluate the nutrition information they come across to determine which information is fact versus fiction. To help the public better understand and evaluate hot topics in nutrition science, the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) launched a video competition in 2018, Understanding Nutritional Science, inviting student and early-career members to submit short videos to illustrate nutrition fact versus fiction.

ASN is pleased to now announce the winning entry! Samuel Walker, Angela Tacinelli, and Aubree Worden Hawley, all graduate students at the University of Arkansas Department of Food Science, created the first-place video, “#Facts vs. Fiction”. You can view the video online here!

The under two-minute video encourages viewers to scientifically evaluate nutrition information and provides tips to help consumers determine if nutrition-related news is fact or fiction. Some of those tips include: Read beyond the title of a nutrition-related article, and make sure there are valid references; Trust nutrition information from licensed professionals, and Consider the domain where information is coming from, such as .edu or .gov. The winning students all received free registration to attend Nutrition 2018. Make plans to meet them during Nutrition 2018 and view their winning video in ASN Live! on Saturday, June 9th at 7:30PM.

 

Dr. Stover graduated from Saint Joseph’s University with a B.S. degree in Chemistry and was awarded the Molloy Chemistry Award at graduation. He received a Ph.D. degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from the Medical College of Virginia and performed his postdoctoral studies in Nutritional Sciences at the University of California at Berkeley. Patrick Stover was elected into the National Academy of Sciences in 2016. In 2014, he was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He also he received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities and the Osborne and Mendel Award for outstanding recent basic research accomplishments in nutrition from the American Society for Nutrition.

In 2012, he received a MERIT award from NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and in 1999, he received the E.R.L. Stokstad Award in Nutritional Biochemistry from the American Society for Nutritional Sciences. In 1996, Patrick Stover received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Clinton, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers, and he has been selected as an Outstanding Educator four times by Cornell Merrill Presidential Scholars. He also serves as Editor for the Annual Review of Nutrition.

How did you first get involved in nutritional biochemistry and research? What made you interested in the field of nutrition science?

I caught the research bug through an undergraduate research experience at Saint Joseph’s University. Dr. Nelson’s research group was funded by the Naval Air Development Center and focused on the design, synthesis and function of synthetic prostaglandin oligomers as anti-ischemic agents. Studying the role and biological function of small nutrients became my passion and drove my interest in metabolism and biochemistry. I then studied enzymology and folate metabolism for my doctoral research under the mentorship of Dr. Verne Schirch at the Medical College of Virginia. This experience naturally led to an interest in nutrition and my migration to the University of California at Berkeley, when I studied folate nutrition and metabolism in the research group of Dr. Barry Shane.

When and why did you first join ASN? What value does ASN continue to provide you?

I joined ASN much later than I should have. I had regularly attended Experimental Biology and participated in ASN programming since graduate school but was most active in ASBMB. I joined ASN in1999 shortly after I was tenured as an associate professor, initially due to my interest in graduate education. I joined the Graduate Nutrition Education Committee and rose to rank of chair when we published what I believe is still a very important resource for all nutrition graduate programs: J Nutr.2002 Apr;132(4):779-84. ASN became my academic and professional home over the years—where I see old and meet new colleagues and collaborators, where my students present their research findings, where I developed leadership skills, and where I give time and treasure back to the nutrition community.

What aspects of ASN membership have you found most useful, professionally for you, your faculty and students? What other aspects of your membership do you find useful as your career has progressed?

All science is now a “social” science—collaboration is critical to address most important research questions. No one can succeed in a vacuum. Understanding how to forge meaningful and constructive partnerships through collaboration is essential to success, and ASN offers numerous opportunities to bring scientists together in an environment that promotes the exchange of ideas. Importantly, ASN also actively promotes mentoring opportunities for students and junior scientists, which has been invaluable for my students.

What aspects of your research do you foresee being most important for ASN members?

My bias is that nutrition, in all its dimensions, behaves as a complex dynamic system, and system approaches are needed to provide solutions to the problems we seek to solve. Hence, many of my current collaborators are those expert in systems biology and computer science.

Can you tell us more about your new position and what you hope to accomplish?

Perhaps the greatest challenge of our time is harmonizing agriculture, food systems, human health and environmental health. This is essential to address skyrocketing diet-related health care costs, environmental deterioration, and to ensure sustainability of our agriculture systems. Texas, as a national leader in agricultural production, coupled with its Healthy Texas A&M AgriLife Extension initiative, will be a model for aligning healthy and profitable agriculture with healthy people and healthy environments. As Vice Chancellor and Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University and System, I have the privilege of working with the talented faculty, academic staff, students, state-wide agencies and stakeholders to be a national model for excellence in meeting the one-health challenge through research, teaching, Extension and service.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell ASN members, especially students and postdocs?

For the students and trainees, do what you love and you’ll love what you do! Strive to become a world-class expert in your field and enjoy as many colleagues as you can. Share your ideas with others, and they will share openly with you. Give back to the community that has given so much to you…perhaps through the ASN Foundation!

 

The Stover research group investigates the chemical, biochemical, genetic and epigenetic mechanisms that underlie the relationships between one-carbon metabolism and human pathologies including neural tube defects, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Specific interests include the regulation of folate-mediated one-carbon metabolism and genome expression and stability, the molecular basis of the fetal origins hypothesis, development of mouse models to elucidate mechanisms of folate-related pathologies, and translational control of gene expression.

 

how nutrition science should mature

Dennis Bier, MD, was this year’s W.O. Atwater Memorial Award Winner and Lecturer at ASN’s Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting on Tuesday, sponsored by USDA-ARS and ASN. His talk, titled “Traveling the Road From Precision to Imprecision- Have I Gone in the Wrong Direction?” was a broad critique on the state of nutrition science, contrasting his long research career using isotopics for precise kinetic measurements in humans to some of the more imprecise techniques being used in nutrition. Human nutrition today remains an immature science, says Dr. Bier, because it is so difficult to accurately measure what people eat.

Among his critique along this line, he noted that individual nutrient intake measurement methods are “validated” against other imprecise methods, and even these correlations are generally weak within the 0.2 to 0.5 range. Further, it generally takes between 5-15 24-hour diet recalls, sometimes many more, to achieve an adequate estimation of nutrient intakes in overweight and obese participants, which is never done in practice. Another problem is the seasonal variability of nutrients in foods, using vitamin C as an example, or variation from changes during processing and cooking. If such variation is considered in epidemiological studies associating foods with disease outcomes, it greatly reduces the power to detect a statistically significant result, or can change a result from a positive association to a neutral one.

Should we think about nutrition as a science in the same manner as other disciplines like physics? Bier thinks we should. The differences are obvious now. It is extremely difficult to do long-term experiments in people for many reasons of practicality and cost. But if we concede to this difficulty, our confidence in certain areas of nutrition science will remain stagnant. There are some examples where observational data seems to have led us astray, for example with vitamin E and a follow-up negative trial, and similarly with homocysteine reduction with folic acid and a follow-up negative trial. Dr. Bier noted that more than 15 randomized controlled trials have failed to support nutrient hypotheses generated from observational studies of food intake. There may be many reasons for this: differences in subjects, inclusion criteria, dose or duration, therapeutic window, etc., but we also must consider that the observational data may lead us astray. There are underappreciated interdependencies in observational variables that cannot all be statistically accounted for. Bier’s cautions on such data should be uncontroversial. Associations uncovered in observational studies are hypothesis, they cannot infer causality, and drawing conclusions from them are fine as long as their uncertainty is acknowledged where they are used. In practice, however, these rules are often not followed.

Bier concluded by talking about the many issues that plague science in general that make the literature less reliable. For instance, 95% of the biomedical literature contains a significant result, suggesting a severe publication bias in favor of positive results. Other issues arise with a large researcher degrees of freedom; that is, the number of choices the researcher makes when designing a study or analyzing the results. Asking a lot of questions, changing the primary endpoints, focusing on positive endpoints and discounting negative ones. In reporting of results, implying causality from associations is often done inappropriately, or inflating the effect of the finding by only reporting relative risk instead of absolute risk.

“Transparent science, like transparent government, means releasing your tax returns.” Dr. Bier wants the field to think more about reporting. Among a long list of ways that scientific integrity can be improved: require a priori registration of all studies and a data analysis plan, report all primary endpoints together, require perspective in reporting of the results (e.g. effect sizes, confidence intervals, absolute risks, NNT, etc.), mandatory use of reporting guidelines, report alternative analyses (e.g. alternative models that fit the data with equivalent statistical confidence), making the original data available for scrutiny, and improving the disclosure of conflicts of interest. Everyone has some form of conflicts, for example, money, grants, fame, etc., and Bier thinks that allegiance biases are at least as common as financial ones, so we need to come up with a universal conflict of interest system to make this standardized and fair.

While Dr. Bier’s views may be too idealistic for some, he promotes a necessary conversation about how we improve nutrition science and reduce our uncertainties. To that end, the field should continuously strive to enforce policies and practices that better our measurement techniques and limit bias.

By: Rebecca Scritchfield, RD, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist
ASN Blogger at EB 2010

If you’re a nutrition scientist, you know you need to get published. Well, I’ve got your crib sheet on how to boost your chances of seeing your name in print (or online).

Presenting… the top 5 tips for getting accepted into ASN Journals by none other than the editors themselves.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Make sure your work is right for AJCN or JN. About 25% of papers are returned simply because they aren’t a good fit for the publications. For example, a food science paper is not really going to get in a publication that is more clinical.

2. You have to be timely. You cannot afford to let your work get old. Do the work. Have something to say and get to writing. Old data is not newsworthy, and your chances of getting published are greatly diminished. Don’t let yourself procrastinate the writing. Get your rough ideas down in a rough flow. You may find that it is easier to get your tables and data down first because you can visualize the rest more easily.

3. Ask the right question. You have to have a strong research question. Be relevant and significant. The research question is the foundation of the study. You can’t possibly have a study worthy of publishing with a poor research question.

4. Be realistic in your inferences. No matter how much you love your work and believe in its potential, don’t make a “passionate” inference or even conclude something you really can’t justify. Avoid exuberance at all costs.

5. Admit when you aren’t perfect. You need to make sure you acknowledge flaws in the methodology. This is so important for readers to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your work. This information is crucial for development of future studies as well.

Good luck… and have fun!

Rebecca Scritchfield is a Washington, D.C. based registered dietitian in private practice specializing in healthy weight management. She is a member of ASN and is covering several events at EB 2010 through social media.