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by Wei Perng, PhD

In Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, he laid out 12 Commandments for Serious Eaters. The first commandment is “Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” This makes sense, given evidence that processed, hard-to-digest, chemical-ridden foods are a large contributor to our expanding waistlines and declining health. I’ve always thought that this was a good rule to follow. After all, it’s hard to argue with the fact that my grandmother, who eats lots of steamed veggies, fruits, and wild poultry, would likely not identify Cheetos, Hot Pockets, Power Bars, or Lunchables as food. As it turns out, there is yet another reason why we should eat what our grandparents eat: evolution!

 
 
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A recent poll conducted by Truven Health Analytics and National Public Radio got press coverage for its finding that the majority of surveyed Americans characterized their eating habits as “good, very good or excellent”. This was surprising given that more objective measures of our diets are generally pretty poor - the average Healthy Eating Index (HEI) score for Americans 2 years and older is 59, out of a possible 100 points! That’s not great, and certainly not consistent with the way these survey respondents viewed their eating habits. What did not make the headlines, but is perhaps of greater interest to the nutrition science community, were poll responses that suggest that many Americans completely missed some of the major changes in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), despite the media hubbub that surrounded their publication.


 
 
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by Amy Louer, EdM


I recently bought a hand-sewn bridesmaids dress online, created to my specifications to fit my body. Yet, like many aspects of a wedding, reality did not meet expectations. In fact, it ended with my bust, waist and hip measurements posted online for the world to see….but that’s a different post for a very different blog. I was sent three sets of instructions for obtaining the same body measurements. One told me to measure my waist circumference at my belly button, another identified my waist as the smallest portion of my torso, while the third indicated that waist measurements should be taken at the top of my hipbone. I don’t know about you, but my belly button is not located on my hipbones, nor is that the smallest part of my torso.

Considering that the company was providing very different instructions for measuring the same thing, I should NOT have been surprised when my dress came back 6 inches too short and two sizes too big. Two hundred dollars in alterations (and a visit to the Better Business Bureau) later, I was left wondering, if differences in measurement instructions can affect my apparel this dramatically, what is it doing to the quality of our research?

 
 
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A friend recently told me that she gained 30 pounds during the first trimester of her pregnancy. Because I work in obesity research, she asked me if that sounded like too much. I suggested that she talk to her doctor, and she said “Well, if it was a problem, wouldn’t my doctor bring it up with me?”

 
 
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If you ever dare to venture into the comments section of any article about weight, weight loss, obesity, exercise or health, eventually you’ll find someone who says some version of the following: “All people have to do is eat less and exercise more, and they’ll lose weight.”  In a broad sense, this is true; calories are energy, and our bodies use that energy to fuel our basic bodily functions, like circulation, respiration, digestion, and physical activity.  Excess calories are stored by the body as fat.  Yet it also grossly oversimplifies the complexity of our metabolisms.

 
 
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In our traffic-light food labeling study at Harvard dining halls, recently published in the American Journal of Public Health, I used several nutrition criteria to label foods as “green”, or most nutrient rich; “yellow”, or nutrient neutral; and “red", or least nutrient rich. The most challenging criteria to assess were “Whole Grain” vs. “Refined Starch,” and with the public’s general fear of all things carbohydrate, it’s important to know the difference between types of carbs. But since whole grains account for only 10-15% of grains available for sale in supermarkets, how do we find them? After labeling hundreds of foods and beverages, here’s what I learned.

 
 
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by Wei Perng, PhD


Last week, I met with a prospective Master’s student wrapping up her B.S. in Nutritional Sciences. She told me about her background in nutrition, her laboratory training, and her desire to conduct nutrition-related research in human populations. I asked her whether there was a particular focus area that piqued her interest and she said, “I feel as though there isn’t a lot known regarding what a healthy diet is supposed to look like for normal people. I’d like to look into that.”

 
 
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by Marie-France Hivert, MD, MMSc


Diabetes that appears for the first time in pregnancy is called gestational diabetes, and affects 5 to 20% of pregnant women. High blood sugar – also known as hyperglycemia – in pregnancy is associated with adverse outcomes for both mother and child, including higher rates of pre-eclampsia, caesarian section, babies born large for their gestational age and shoulder dystocia, and hypoglycemia in newborns. We also know that treatment of gestational diabetes decreases the risk of these complications.

 
 
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Harvard Medical School has removed nutrition education from its curriculum.

Last summer, I taught a section of the week-long HMS nutrition course for second year medical students, and there were rumblings of this possibility then. But at least to me, it still seemed likely that with nutrition-related diseases being of such overwhelming concern to the general public, HMS leadership would change its mind.



 
 
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by Jason Block, MD, MPH


Several months ago, I got into a twitter spat. In response to a blog post that decried how inadequately doctors were treating patients with obesity, I wrote in a series of tweets: “When will we stop blaming doctors for what they fail to do about obesity and accept that they cannot reverse the epidemic? Primary care docs have a role but not enough support or time to spend on obesity while treating myriad other issues. Reversing obesity is more of a policy and societal challenge than a health care matter. Surgery and drugs can only do so much.”  In response, the author of the original blog post wrote another piece, quoting me anonymously, lamenting that I thought there was nothing that doctors could do to treat obesity.