Nutrition in the News project

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The final project for the semester involves exploring a "hot" topic in the media and examining how scientific literature aligns with headlines and claims.   I choose 4-5 topics from the initial questions submitted by students during the first week of class when they were asked for one nutrition question they'd like addressed during the semester.   This semester questions about supplements, immunity, protein supplementation, GMOs, and intermittent fasting rose to the top as most asked about.   The final question in the project asks students to draft a mock expert consensus statement about the topic that begins with something like "Based on available evidence, it is the opinion of.....".   I've attached the worksheet I developed for the project - feel free to use or adapt!   Students that explore the same topic are then charged with developing a group consensus statement - provides insight into that process and that experts might not always agree.   🙂  Here are some of the student posed questions and group consensus statements from past semesters:

Intermittent Fasting

Questions posed:  Does intermittent fasting provide health benefits or aid in weight loss/control?

Based on current research findings, it our group’s consensus that intermittent fasting may provide health benefits such as lower blood pressure and lower risk of type 2 diabetes (by improving insulin sensitivity).  However, it may contribute to inflammation. Intermittent fasting for weight control, does not appear to be any more effective for weight loss or maintenance than other approaches.  When paired with healthy food choice, it does not appear to present significant health risk, however more research is warranted as data in humans is limited.

Red Meat

Question posed:  Do the “pros” of red meat consumption outweigh the “cons”?

Based on the informed opinion of this panel, the health benefits of red meat consumption only outweigh the risk when consumed in moderation.   There appears to be a dose-response relationship that indicates an increase in mortality (total and cause-specific) with high consumption of red meat.   Processed red meat, in particular, should be strictly limited.   Further research is warranted to determine safe and moderate intake levels of red meat.  

Question posed:  Is sugar addictive?

Based on current evidence, it is the consensus of this panel that results regarding addictive qualities of sugar consumption are inconsistent and inconclusive and that more research in humans is warranted.   However, in view of research reviewed by this panel, it appears that sugar is not addictive.   Some studies show “addictive” effects similar to caffeine, but not on the level of drugs like cocaine across studies reviewed.  

Diet sodas

Question posed:  What is the effect of diet soda consumption on health?

Based on the findings there was inconsistent evidence of correlation, but not causation, between regular diet soda consumption and increased risk of chronic disease.   Some evidence links diet soda consumption to glucose intolerance and increased abdominal fat.  Overall, while the choice of diet over regular soda is likely preferable in that it does not contribute empty/excess calories to the diet, it is the recommendation of this group to limit consumption of both diet and regular soda.   More research is warranted.


Question posed:  Can moderate amounts of coffee consumption be beneficial to health?

Based on current evidence, moderate coffee consumption (less than 4 cups) is likely beneficial to human health (exception is in pregnant women).   It reduces likelihood of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and reduces overall mortality.   Coffee does not appear to increase risk of cancer and may even have prostate-cancer protective effects.  

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About the Author
Jamie Pope, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Assistant Professor of Practice in Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University, has worked in the areas of obesity research, health promotion, heart disease prevention, and since 2000 teaching introductory nutrition. Beyond the classroom, she adapted portions of her nutrition courses to produce a Massive Open Online Course attracting more than 175,000 participants from around the world. This experience earned Jamie an Innovation in Teaching award from the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. She is the co-author of the textbook entitled Nutrition for a Changing World. Now in its second edition, the text is in use in over 140 universities across the U.S. and the recipient of a 2020 Textbook Excellence Award. Most recently she developed and produced an audio course for (Nutrition 101: Understanding the Science and Practice of Eating Well) that is also featured on platforms like Apple Books and Audible. Jamie holds a Master’s of Science degree in Nutrition and post graduate work in Health Psychology. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She has authored or contributed to numerous scientific and popular press publications. Jamie also held several corporate positions, serving as nutrition consultant and media representative.