A Dietitian's Perspective: Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo Recap

10/26/2016 11:12 am ET Updated Oct 26, 2016

A couple weeks ago, over 10,000 dietitians gathered at this year’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (#FNCE) a.k.a “Super Bowl of Nutrition.” Unfortunately, I was unable to attend. As always, I followed up with my dietitian friends who attended to obtain the latest and greatest research, trends, and topics of interest over the three-day period.

As a dietitian, it’s not only our job to make science translatable and digestible for the public, but also to shine light on the key takeaways and how to implement them into your daily life. So much of what we hear can be daunting and overwhelming for most – partly because the information provided does not always provide actionable elements.

Lucky for us, I connected with the following dietitian superstars to provide insight on the most coveted topics presented at this year’s FNCE and the key takeaways for you to absorb and consider as you’re wrapping up the holiday season and moving into the New Year. While we’re hoping to provide clarity to the general public, we’re also sharing the wealth with fellow dietitians who were unable to attend and may want to further educate themselves.

**Note: If the overview seems too lengthy, skip to the RD takeaway because it simplifies the point.

Topic #1: Diet and Exercise Manipulations in Diabetes: New Solutions For Old Problems

Who Presented: John Hawley, PhD

Overview: The primary research focus of Prof. Hawley’s lab is the interaction of exercise and diet on the regulation of fat and carbohydrate metabolism in skeletal muscle; the molecular basis of exercise training adaptation; and the cellular bases underlying exercise-induced improvements in insulin action.

So what does this mean? The physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week just aren't working - even healthy populations have a difficult time reaching those goals. In chronic disease populations, like those with Type 2 Diabetes, those goals are even more challenging to reach. Why do we continue to beat a dead horse? Dr. Hawley's research supports the idea that we can see reduced elevated blood sugar levels, reduced fat mass, PAIRED WITH lean muscle retention through HIIT (high-intensity interval training) in doses of just minutes per week. Yes, the idea of exercising at higher heart rate levels for a shorter period of time does have a positive impact. This concept of "exercise snacking" is a more effective way for us to help the most metabolically diseased populations.

Brought to you by Katie Andrews, MS RD

Topic #2: Going Coconut Over Saturated Fat? Why So Much Confusion?

Who Presented: Dr. Alice H Lichtenstein and Carol Kirkpatrick PhD, RDN, LDN, CLS, FNLA

Overview: Coconut oil is a source of saturated fat, but is touted as beneficial for heart-health due to its composition of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). The type of fat, whether it’s long-chain saturated fatty acids or medium-chain triglycerides, makes all the difference in the oil’s impact on cardiovascular health. There’s strong evidence showing an increase in total and LDL cholesterol with a diet high in long-chain saturated fatty acids, but where the confusion arises is with the MCTs in coconut oil. Not only is coconut oil not made up of 100% MCT, but the MCTs found in coconut oil are primarily lauric acid, an MCT that actually acts more like a long-chain saturated fatty acid. In fact, only 58% of the fatty acids in coconut oil are MCTs and therefore, research on the benefits of MCT cannot be translated to that of coconut oil.

So what does this mean? Replace foods high in saturated fats with those high in polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats. Do not replace saturated fats with refined carbohydrates. The dietary pattern as a whole is where the focus should be, not on specific nutrients. And finally, the age-old message of a diet rich in plants (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds) and omega-3 fatty acids such as that found in fish, continues to ring true in the fight for optimal cardiovascular health.

Topic #3: The Reductive Mindset: Achieving Optimal Results Using the Tools of White Space

Who Presented: Juliet Funt

Overview: In an era where an instant response is the norm, there is an expectation to be available 24/7, and companies are trying to do more for less, many employees are on the fast train to burnout land where productivity can actually be lost. As a driven group of professionals, dietitians aren't immune to this and we are often trying to do it all. Whether working in a hospital, in private practice, or for a large corporation, learning to become more effective while avoiding burnout is essential to our business.

So what does this mean? Busyness doesn't equal effectiveness. Being available 24/7 and working around the clock can actually backfire and isn't a sustainable way to work. Simple tactics like creating a priority email system with your team, taking 30 seconds (or more) to think before you respond to a challenging situation, or scheduling time between meetings to reflect on your upcoming presentation can make you a more effective and successful employee or leader. Mental health does have an impact on physical health so it’s important to channel this facet of your life.

Topic #4: FODMAPs: The Next Gluten-Free

Overview: FODMAP (Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides And Polyols) is an acronym for highly fermentable carbs that are commonly poorly absorbed and can trigger digestive symptoms like abdominal pain, gas and bloating. There were multiple educational sessions that discussed the 30+ studies supporting the efficacy of the low FODMAP Diet, a short-term elimination diet that helps to customize a long-term well-balanced eating plan that removes individual FODMAP triggers.

So what does this mean? In an era of eliminating gluten to help alleviate GI related issues, the low FODMAP diet has arrived in a timely fashion. It’s not about a trend but rather an evidence-based nutrition therapy for people with digestive sensitivities. FODMAPs are found in a wide variety of foods – from onions to wheat to milk to apples – so it’s essential to work with a registered dietitian who is well versed in the low FODMAP diet to help navigate this dietary approach. To note, people should be reassured that just as gluten is not inherently bad, there is nothing wrong with foods high in FODMAPs other than they may cause digestive symptoms in some people.

Topic #5: Orthorexia Comes of Age: Perspectives on the “Healthy” Eating Disorder

Overview: “Orthorexia” is an evolving term and diagnosis that implies the condition of being obsessed with eating the “right” or “healthy” food. The origin of this term falls back to the early 1980s when diet trends and theories arose and took the healthcare scene by storm. Dr. Bratman, the physician who coined the term “orthorexia” in 1997, believes that the condition is not inherently an eating disorder; rather, orthorexia can develop into an eating disorder for susceptible individuals who meet specific criteria and risk factors. The defining characteristic of orthorexia versus normal healthy eating is that of choice becoming compulsion, according to Bratman. Marci Evans has found several counseling strategies to be effective in treating this disorder, including motivational interviewing, acceptance and commitment theory, mindfulness, and self-compassion. But as Jessica Setnick noted, treatment for orthorexia should ideally be highly individualized as many factors may be at play including personal choice, anxiety, the presence of other eating disorders, and mental illness.

So what does this mean? Defining orthorexia is a slippery slope in terms of deciding what is the point at which the strict adherence or obsession with healthy eating becomes excessive. There is also the issue of “healthy” being a very subjective term in our society, making it challenging to develop firm criteria for when an individual’s eating habits have crossed the line to compulsion and obsession. One intervention suggestion includes less time on social media platforms and reading less fitness blogs. Ultimately, you have to do what’s best for you and your body.

Brought to you by Georgia Rounder, RD

If you’re interested in learning more or have additional questions on any of these topics - whether it is pertinent to your life or that of someone you know — contact an RD to help guide you. We want to help you make smart, informed decisions, rather than just going on assumption. It’s our job to ensure an individualized approach is the best way to develop a long-term healthy lifestyle.

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