4 Takeaways about the Future of Nutrition Research from the Experimental Biology Conference

Last week, part of the FoodInsight team ventured up to Boston (where, yes, it’s still winter) for the Experimental Biology conference. There, we got to nerd out about everything from anatomy and physiology to biochemistry. Getting so many scientists and registered dietitians in one place has a few results: great food nerd puns, and amazing insights into where science is heading. A few of our team members share their takeaways on what’s coming in nutrition science and research:


Scientists and the Rest of Us: Closing the Gap

It’s no secret that there’s a pretty big gap between scientists and the rest of us. Hopefully, that won’t be the case for long. Scientists are beginning to urge one another to get more “social” with their science and engage the public. The risk is that, if scientists don’t take an active role in translating their own research, then somebody else will do so inaccurately. Many of the scientists present had seen this happen before, to the detriment of public understanding of science, in most cases. We hope to see these efforts grow in the coming year, with more scientists communicating directly with the public and increasing the public understanding of science. –Kris Sollid, RD


Figuring out Fats

There is no aspect to nutrition more complicated than dietary fats. Just when nutrition experts thought we knew everything there is to know, the script flips. Recently, some experts have questioned the existing dietary guidance that we should limit saturated fat intake. Is saturated fat really as bad for health as once thought? Most experts agree that the science says we should limit saturated fat to less than 10% of our calorie intake. But others argue that the source of saturated fat is more critical to consider. We expect to see more research in this area in 2015 and 2016.

Other experts have raised questions regarding partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs). The FDA has proposed removing PHO completely from the food supply. Some experts assert PHO removal would save millions of lives and healthcare dollars, based on the relationship between PHOs and the risk of cardiovascular disease. But how much do you need to consume to have a risk of cardiovascular disease? If there is a confirmed amount, are Americans currently consuming this much? If PHOs are taken out of food, what will they be replaced with, and will those replacements improve public health? Stay tuned, the FDA will be ruling on the proposal later this year.  –Kris Sollid, RD


Will the benchmarks change?

Scientists use a lot of “constants” in nutrition science to help benchmark our diets. One popular constant is that cutting 3500 calories results in 1 lb. of weight loss. Another is that losing 5% of your body weight is associated with positive health outcomes. Emerging science shows us that many “constants” may need to be re-evaluated. Does a deficit of 3500 calories ALWAYS result in someone losing 1 lb.? It may not be so simple. Current research hypothesizes that this may depend on the individual. Some people may need a larger calorie deficit to lose a pound. Some may need a smaller deficit. We anticipate seeing more research on individualized approaches to weight loss in the coming year. –Sarah Romotsky, RD


Protein: Quality or quantity?

Protein is usually talked about in the context of bodybuilders and exercisers. But, in fact, protein serves incredibly important health purposes for all of us. Protein quality is important to consider when evaluating protein needs and inadequacy, both here and in developing countries. In developing countries, infections play a huge role in increasing protein needs. If your body has an infection, it may not be fully processing the nutrients it’s taking in. Nutrition experts are seeing this impact more and considering how to help vulnerable populations get high-quality protein. Bottom line: many people are not meeting protein needs in the world. It is up to all of us working in nutrition to help solve the problem of protein inadequacy. Expect to see more research and pilots focused on this problem, with more cross-sector collaboration. –Sarah Romotsky, RD