My nutrition studies: awesomeness and facepalms (plus cat pics)

skeptic cat

This is me every day in nutrition class. My face looks exactly like that. Just ask my nutrition TA.

This marks one month of my official nutrition studies at UNC, and it’s been surprisingly enjoyable! I absolutely feel like I’m in the right major, and I never had that feeling with Public Policy. (I do still have to be admitted to the School of Public Health though, so fingers crossed I get in!) There have been plenty of ‘facepalm’ moments, but I’ve also been impressed by some of the readings we’ve been assigned, and the overall scientific focus of the class.

First, the highlight of this week: one of our assigned readings for discussion today was by Gary Taubes.


I know. I was shocked too. The article was The Soft Science of Dietary Fat, and even if you know the fat story like the back of your hand, it’s worth a read!

Unfortunately, it didn’t pummel my classmates with waves of perspective and realization like I’d hoped it would. And the only point my TA made about the article was that Taubes is a journalist and not a scientist, so he doesn’t have much credibility. (It’s true that Taubes isn’t a scientist, but his article focuses mainly on the evolution of the dietary guidelines for fat, with very little scientific interpretation, if any. I think Taubes stayed well within his realm of expertise.)

So, we left discussion today with sat fat still sporting its devil horns, and PUFA’s halo firmly attached. Sigh. It’s a start though, right?

An assigned reading for last week was Fructose in Perspective, which is also worth a read. The authors’ stance on fructose is that it’s extremely difficult to separate the effects of fructose specifically from the effects of carbohydrates in general, and that while there’s significant evidence supporting the use of a low-carb diet to treat obesity and diabetes, there is little evidence specifically condemning fructose.

Also, did you know that HFCS has an approximately 1:1 ratio of glucose to fructose? I feel like most people automatically assume it’s much higher. Really, the only difference between HFCS and sucrose (table sugar) is that in HFCS, the glucose and fructose molecules are not bonded with each other. Being the digestively-oriented person I am, I wonder whether that makes HFCS easier to digest and therefore more beneficial than sucrose for people with gut issues. Any thoughts?

Here’s a highlight from a couple weeks ago: In anatomy lab, I HELD A HUMAN BRAIN. And I didn’t get a picture of it, so that’s a major bummer. But it was very cool, and actually a significant milestone for me. One of my biggest reservations about pursuing a career in medicine has always been that I wouldn’t be able to make it through gross anatomy in med school. I know it seems like a silly thing to get hung up on, but I’ve always had a problem with getting queasy and lightheaded around blood and other bodily components that are not normally visible. Being able to hold the brain made me feel much more confident that I’ll actually be able to get over this dumb reaction someday!

My third science class this semester is organic chemistry, which is actually my favorite class.


Weird, I know. But are you ready for a facepalm moment? 


Yep, that’s right. Even my organic chemistry textbook cannot possibly discuss the structure of cholesterol without blaming it for heart disease. Sigh.

Overall, it’s been a really amazing first month of school. I’ve definitely learned some things I didn’t know before (for instance, fats are designated ‘omega-3’ or ‘omega-6′ based on how far away the first double bond is from the methyl/’omega’ group), and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the semester!

Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without a nugget of wisdom from my nutrition textbook:

“The amounts and sources of the fats in the typical American diet have changed over the last few decades. In the 1960s most fat came from high-fat cuts of beef, eggs, whole milk, butter, and cheese. But beginning in the 1970s, when Americans were told fat was making them fat and increasing their risk of heart disease and cancer, they replaced beef with chicken, ate fewer eggs, switched to lower fat milk, and put less butter on their toast…But the incidence of heart disease and cancer in the population didn’t change very much and rather than getting thinner, the number of obese people doubled.”

*c’mon textbook, make the connection…you can do it…you got this, textbook*

“Avoiding butter and bacon wasn’t a magic bullet to solve our public health problems, but maybe it was a start…Many of the high-fat foods that Americans have cut back on, like red meat and high-fat dairy products are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. That is a first step toward improving our health.”

Face. Palm.


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