Headlines and Science: Oil and Water?

The Importance of the Salacious Headline

I am constantly bombarded with questions from patients and friends about the latest nutrition headlines.  I always appreciate the curiosity, and honestly, getting even the most obscure question makes me a better clinician because I make sure to go back and read the research to answer appropriately.  But sometimes I just don't want nutrition headlines to be sexy, I want them to be accurate.

Don't get me wrong, nutrition is a constantly evolving field that is very scientifically difficult to study.  You try to design a study free of confounding factors when you're trying to exrapolate meaningful and causative (versus correlative) relationships by controlling what thousands of people eat and has to take lifestyle factors into account.  I can't do that with my patients and they're paying to hear what I have to say.

I appreciate that nutrition is a constant in the news because it helps continue to drive the conversation about our health.  Most recently, there was a particularly negative article about the role of nutrition in cancer prevention in the New York Times.  The data has been all over the place over the years as cancer and nutrition is a difficult relationship to study, but sometimes pointing that out to the lay public and oversimplifying scientific data does more harm than good.  The average American is not going to take the extra step to read the research that derives this article or check out what the American Institute for Cancer Research has to say about it or even make sure they ask their health care team about it.

I guess all I can do is comment on these stories, stay on top of the good and the bad in the publishing world, and keep a research oriented focus so that I can give my patients the best possible advice.  Just be forewarned: even when it comes to the best news outlets, don't fall prey to the salacious headline and always stay open to all sides of the discussion.

3-D Printing Whhhaaaaat?

Just a fun tid-bit for the day!  Researchers in Germany are developing 3-D printed food specially designed to look and taste great while having the ability to melt in the mouth and slide down the throat for dysphagia patients.

While the technology isn't ready for market just yet, I was stunned at the concept of 3-D printers having the capability to create something that we ingest, has nutrients, and feeds our cells and muscles and bones and brains.  I guess with all of the food technology that exists in this world I shouldn't be so surprised!  I am glad however it is being designed with the aging population in mind as many conditions can cause dysphagia (strokes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, head and neck cancers, MS, among others).

Check out the article in Tech Crunch (link above).  What food technology do you envision happening in the next 5 or 10 years that is likely to blow our minds?!

Media Headline: Salacious New It Food and Fast Weight Loss

Media Pulling on Your Health Heartstrings?

I find that I am constantly getting questions about the "superfood of the month", or that latest and greatest diet pill that will make all your health worries fade to dust.  As a professional trained in the art of reading scientific research journals and from that discerning the real implications of the findings, I wince a little bit on the inside when I know that all of these questions and concerns stem from what is passed down to the average person from the media.  It's not your fault though!  It took my year of graduate school e to learn how to wrangle with these published studies!

Don't get me wrong, awareness is power, even if it's just a liiittle bit off.  That awareness often drives the person to look into it further, which is a positive.  I'm glad that the next logical step for my friends and family is to ask me about the reality behind what they've just read about.  But here are some tips for you to think about next time you're reading about new health findings in your local paper or online.  And of course you can always feel free to e-mail me with specific questions or concerns!

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Was the original research study published in a peer-reviewed journal?  This way you know it's been looked over by experts in its respective field.  This will also require that authors reveal any financial incentives or sources of funding that may have had conflicting interests.
  2. Was the target population similar to me?  There's a big difference between research done on a small agrarian group aged fifty plus in North Dakota and what it means for a thirty-something city dweller.  Think about what pieces could actually be translated in similarity to you.
  3. Is this totally ground-breaking and brand new?  Scientific literature is a world of amassing data so one study won't break the bank.  Once professionals and medical organizations start getting behind a theory you can know there is a sound body of evidence behind it.



A Little Story...

Hey everyone, lighthearted post this week!  I've been sifting through a lot of research recently for a couple of ongoing projects for my internship and I came across this little gem...  A report of a Joint FAO/WHO/UNU Expert Consultation [you can see the citation here].  Well the report was done in 1985 and outlines protein and energy requirements in adults.  It's a lot of tables and prediction equations, but the best and funniest part about it are a handful of tables I came across towards the end of the document.  

They outline energy requirements (number of calories required in a day) by STEREOTYPE.  I couldn't even believe it!  Apparently being a dietitian is as simple as that, judging your clients and grouping them.  I'm sorry, my sarcasm can't escape my typing fingers, I just thought that this was one of the funniest things I'd seen in a long time.  

Below is a summary of their results, and I promise I took everything from their report verbatim.

  • Energy requirement of a male office clerk (light activity work): 2580 kcal/day  Age 25 years, weight 65 kg, height 1.72 m, BMI 22
  • Energy requirement of a subsistence farmer (moderate activity work): 2780 kcal/day  Age 25 years, weight 58 kg, height 1.61 m, BMI 22.4
  • Energy requirement of a healthy, retired elderly man: 1960 kcal/day   Age 75 years, weight 60 kg, height 1.6 m, BMI 23.5
  • Energy requirement of a housewife in an affluent society: 1990 kcal/day   Age 25 years, weight 55 kg, 1.5 m, BMI 24
  • Energy requirement of a rural woman in a developing country: 2235 kcal/day   Age 35 years, weight 50 kg, height 1.6 m, BMI 19.5

Take Home Messages

Housewives are usually under five feet and should be consuming about the same amount of energy per day as a healthy, retired man.  Don't worry ladies, these fine consultants of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Health Organization, and United Nations University already took into account "the extra hour needed to spend on household tasks and remaining household activities - such as sewing or knitting, ironing, some parts of food preparation, etc." and "included it in maintenance".  

Office clerks are young and healthful men that require only a peanut butter and jelly sandwich more per day than the slightly older rural women that are low-normal weight for height.  

No matter what stereotype was cast, everyone got eight hours of sleep according to the calculations, which is a lot more than can be said for the average person in the workforce nowadays!  


Hopefully someone other than me finds this amusing, otherwise it's a sure sign of too much PubMed and Web of Science.  I promise for a more nutritionally relevant and hopefully enlightening post later in the week!

Diabetes Without the Finger Pricks?

The Diabetic Life

While many of you reading this may not be familiar with the life of a diabetic, it often includes many finger pricks a day to determine if blood sugar levels are in a normal range.  These often follow meals and snacks.  A not-so-pleasant daily habit in the name of this auto-immune disease.  Finger pricks draw just a dab of blood to test for blood sugar levels.  Even diabetics with pumps need to perform finger pricks from time to time to confirm their blood sugar levels.  Image courtesy of the American Diabetes Association.

Monitoring blood sugar levels in this disease is crucial to its management.  In a normal metabolism, the pancreas secretes insulin, a hormone, which enters the bloodstream and stimulates liver, muscle, and fat cells within our bodies to pick up the glucose from our blood stream.  Glucose provides energy to these organs/organ systems, among others.  For those with diabetes, the pancreas does not adequately create/supply insulin.  This causes glucose to build up in the blood instead of being distributed to the cells for energy.  

With the injection of insulin into the bloodstream this can be corrected, so diabetics must follow a strict regime of insulin therapy and counting carbohydrates in meals.  No need to get into all the types of insulin or dietary restrictions, but needless to say it is a lot to monitor.  Poorly managed blood glucose levels can lead to further health complications and diseases.

Emerging Research

An article I read a little while ago hi-lighted some new research regarding a tattoo with dyes in it to indicate blood sugar levels.  Injecting a dye into the skin that changes colors to reflect blood glucose levels sounds like an interesting and innovative option.  This would allow diabetics to simply look at a dot on their skin to determine glucose levels in the blood, no more pesky finger pricks!  At least not as often...  Testing is very promising in mice thus far.  Following another round of testing in diabetic mice, hopefully the results will be auspicious enough for scientists to move on to human subjects.  

Being the science nerd that I am, I love hearing about research that has the potential to make such a positive impact.  I hope this research project pans out!

Adolescent Eating Behaviors

Family Meals

Establishing a family meal is incredibly important to developing strong relationships with your family and learning about the day to day of what family members are dealing with.  It can also serve as a time for problem solving and picking up on any red flags before issues arise.  While these social and behavioral benefits have been known for awhile now, some research emerged recently indicating that adolescents have healthier diets with a greater frequency of family meals. 

This intuitively make sense.  One might imagine that with improved relationships within the family and a place to provide a nutrient dense meal that better diets will emerge among the teenagers that fall into this category of more "frequent family meals".

Photo courtesy of Improves Nutrition?

According to the study, parents that enforce family meals tend to have a more "authoritative" parenting style.  Interestingly, this authoritative role in the child's life (and improved nutrition!) showed a stronger role with opposite sex dyads (father with daughter, mother with son).  Although the methodology of the study could stand to be improved, I thought this was an interesting relationship to extrapolate.  

I think this shows the importance of sitting around the dinner table, with a well balanced meal atop, and having a conversation with your family.  It is a simple practice that can be overlooked in our overworked and over-scheduled society.  

Happy family dining everyone!