Back in the day, I got my master’s degree in human nutrition from Columbia University. It was an intense, interesting, and rewarding experience: one that left me hungry (no pun intended) to learn more about the field. A pivotal experience, my MS in human nutrition instilled an insatiable scientific curiosity in me, and is probably why I’m on the path I am on today.
I chose to study nutrition because I was always fascinated in how the foods we use to fuel our body have the power to impact our health. For many, many, years, however, I wanted to be a doctor. However, when I was shadowing physicians, I realized many lacked nutrition education and training.
Which totally is not their fault – most medical schools have minimal time/curriculum devoted to nutrition. But when I learned about this reality, I wanted to ensure I’d have a solid foundation of nutrition (outside the nutrition minor I got while at NYU) in addition to a medical degree. And so, I enrolled at Columbia prior to going to med school.
Obviously, I’ve gone a none-medical route since, but since I’ve studied the topic, I occasionally get asked questions about nutrition, specific ingredients, my diet, and how I think others should eat.
So I thought it may be interested to list out how I’ve changed my diet since studying nutrition. Below are 12 ways studying nutrition morphed how I eat and how I think about food and health in general.
1. I am less concerned about “getting enough protein”.
Yup. You read that right. As a longtime vegetarian and vegan, I was always overly concerned about protein protein protein. I made sure to add some to every meal in a decent amount.
This is probably because we live in a protein-obsessed culture. Literally everything these days – from granola bars to cereals to even water – has a Protein-supplemented version. And of course, all the advertisements and trendy media outlets go on and on about how important protein is to be healthy, stay fit, build muscle, burn fat, etc etc etc.
The reality is most Americans over-consume protein.
Now, I’m by no means saying eating protein at every meal is bad (protein is really important), but after learning how much you actually need (your body weight in kilograms * 0.8 = approximately the amount of grams you need per day) and doing dietary tracking and analysis of macro and micronutrients for classes, I realized I was consuming more than double of what my body actually needed.
So I decided to chill a bit on ensuring I get a huge amount of protein at every meal. The more I learned about foods in general, the more I realized protein from grains, breads, nut butters, beans, and even produce, all adds up.
Basically, I stopped my over-the-top concern about getting enough protein. I know I get enough without making sure I have an out-right, primarily-protein source at every meal and snack. I know over the course of most days I get plenty. And if I’m concerned about how much I got that day (like if my appetite is off or I haven’t had great food choices all day), I might make a protein shake or eat a bar, knowing that I’ll be fine and will probably make up for it the next day.
2. I eat more carbs.
All hail carbohydrates.
As mentioned above, I used to be all about that protein life. Once I loosened my obsession with protein, I had more room on my plate/stomach for carbs. Which I realized are nothing to be afraid of, despite what the diet-obsessed internet may tell you!
In fact, glucose is your brain’s preferred source of energy, so embrace the bread basket!
3. I still eat a lot of produce.
Okay. So, this isn’t a change. But I’ve always been a produce monger, and after continuously reading about how good plant foods are for you, I keep on truckin’ with my genuine love for fruits, veggies, nuts, and beans.
I just can’t get enough! So many flavors and textures.
4. I feel more confident in my choice to be plant-based.
We learned time and time again that plant-based diets could be nutritionally complete, and are often filled with fiber and micronutrients. We also learned that they tend to be more sustainable than meat-heavy diets.
Hearing this from so many professors was reassuring that what I was doing was, in fact, not harming my body. After growing up in a place where being vegetarian wasn’t really the norm/understood at the time, I had many people tell me I was destined for a life of meak malnourishment and demise.
So hearing that being plant-based can certainly be helpful and in some cases beneficial was comforting.
I’m not the type of person to push the idea that you have to be vegan to be healthy. I know you can be a very unhealthy vegan or a very healthy non-vegan. It’s all about what you eat and the kind of lifestyle you lead. But still, it sort of reaffirmed my choice to be and stay plant-based.
5. …But I watch my B12 intake.
I used to not keep track of my B12 intake. I was convinced, as many young people are, that I was invincible.
But learning about nutrition reminded me that I’m not. And that B12 is actually really important. You can read more about this here.
Now, I don’t take a mega supplement every day, but I do strive to eat fortified cereal and plenty of nutritional yeast regularly, and take a B12 supplement when I feel I may be falling short.
6. I listen less to external cues and more to my body.
I used to be really affected by what others around me were eating, and even self-conscious about what other people thought about what I ate. I was also far more susceptible to what was trendy and cool and a la moment in the health or food world.
Now, I’m much more about listening to my internal cravings, hunger and fullness cues, and doing what works for me.
Sometimes I eat sushi for breakfast. Sometimes I eat lunch at 10:45am. I’m fine ordering pasta when everyone around me is cutting carbs and talking about their diets. I place orders based on what sounds yummy and not what will look hype on Insta. And I take my iced coffee with almond milk over collagen-and-potion-riddled-lattes because that’s what I want. I do what works for me, and I’d highly suggest you do the same.
7. The world of pop journalism distorts nutrition information heavily, and I’ve become a super skeptic media consumer.
If you know me personally, you probably know this is my biggest pet peeve.
I literally cringe and have to restrain myself every freakin’ time I see a headline that screams SPLENDA CAUSES CANCER or WHAT TO EAT BASED ON YOUR BLOOD TYPE, etc etc.
A lot of the time these headlines are hyperbolized versions of a single study, which may or may not be well-conducted, have external validity, have an ample sample size to make generalized statements, and/or may be funded by a company that may have some bias. And a lot of the times the author who wrote the headline probably has not read the actual scientific study itself to even try to figure out how scientifically relevant it is or not.
Heck, they might not even be trained to read and decipher scientific journals – I admittedly, wasn’t amply trained until my MS program.
And then, of course, there are all those nutrition and wellness “influencers” on Instagram that give out advice right and left about what you should eat.
Guess what, my friends? Nutrition is biochemistry. It’s very complicated and highly individualized. It’s not responsible or ethical in my opinion, to give out dietary or nutrition advice when: 1) you have no education in it 2) you haven’t carefully researched the topic 3) you haven’t had a clinical interview with a specific individual and 4) you are being sponsored by a company to promote an unproven product or supplement.
Unfortunately, most pop-news food publications and Instagram “wellness gurus” seem to value clicks and affiliate commissions over scientific responsibility. Which makes me very sad.
The point? Learning the delicate science of nutrition was a wake up call for me. It’s so complex! And I know I have so much to learn about this ever-changing field. I’m much more careful in my own journalism endeavors than I used to be, and try to be as responsible as possible with advice and info.
Okay I’m rambling, but my point is, stay skeptical about sexy science articles with poppy, provoking headlines from meh publications, and if you have an individual nutrition concern or question, ask someone with an actual degree or clinical certification! *sips tea*
8. I’m less rigid and worry less about individual choices, and think more big-picture.
In my program, I read a lot of scientific literature and nutrition textbooks, and went to a lot of lectures with brilliant professors and world-expert guest speakers spanning a variety of nutrition topics, and a theme that continuously emerged was:
When it comes to diet impacting your health, it’s far less about your short-term choices or incidence behaviors, and moreso about your overall, long-term dietary patterns. That’s what makes the difference.
That means it’s not going to make a difference if you eat greasy pizza at 2am sometimes, occasionally enjoy an artificially-flavored-and-colored soda, or drink 4 coffees in a day once in a while. It’s more about your overall, longterm habits. So I don’t sweat the small stuff and freak out if due to limited availability, celebrations, or travel circumstances I don’t eat “healthy” for a day or a meal.
Having fun and an ample degree of flexibility around food is as important as a ‘healthy’ diet, in my humble opinion.
9. I’m thankful for everything I have.
Throughout my education, I was continuously made conscious about how fortunate I was to even have food, and the ability to digest it. There are so many people suffering from malnutrition due to financial restraints, medical complications, or issues related to conflict.
I am now so thankful each and every day to eat and to be able to use my food for energy! #Gratitude
10. I’ve become a food safety freak.
Nutrition at NYU required a course in food science, which had a large component devoted to food safety. This intensely sparked my interest in how food can make you sick. I find this super fascinating, because we all must eat, but there are also so many ways food can make you sick.
Like, so many I’m honestly shocked we aren’t all sick from our food all the time. Hate on incidences here and there (like the Chipotle thing), but when you realize all the risks, I’m amazed at our ability to minimize risk as much as we do.
To feed this strange fascination, last winter I got FDA FSMA certified as a food safety Quality Assurance and Preventive Controls Qualified Individual. I know. So cool (TBH I really actually did think it was cool and got super stoked to get my certificate).
Anyways, I think food safety is intensely important and interesting, and am pretty tidy about how I store and wash my food and leftovers. If you’d like more info on this, let me know; I’d love to write a whole essay about it! I just haven’t since I’m not sure if people are as fascinated as I am.
11. …And a minimal-food-waste freak.
In addition to being “woke” about food safety, I became “woke” (better trendy word to describe the actual emotion: SHOOK) to learn about the food waste crisis in our country/in the world.
You’ve probably heard by now, but in case you haven’t, up to 40% of food produced in the US goes in the trash, while millions around the country and globe are food insecure.
This really was a wake up call for me. I used to be a lot more wasteful with food, ordering at restaurants, and eating leftovers, but this information caused me to strive to waste as little as possible.
It’s a delicate balance being as food-safe and waste-free as possible, but I’ve worked out a lot of methodology to do my best with both. Thanks, school!
12. I don’t hate on people for being gluten-free ‘for no reason’.
I actually want to do a whole post on this, but long story short, I used to roll my eyes at people who were gluten-free unless they had celiac’s or a wheat allergy, under the impression that gluten-sensitivity was imagined or silly.
Well, science proved me wrong. Gluten actually can be harder for some people to digest compared to many other proteins, and some people may truly have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Furthermore, I learned all about FODMAPs in grad school, and realized that seeing as wheat is high in certain FODMAPs, some people may have a difficult or uncomfortable time digesting it, hence leading to their association of gluten with bloat/discomfort.
I still think there’s still much to be learned about gluten sensitivities and FODMAPs. But this was another concrete example of being humbled by science, a conscious decision to change an opinion based on available scientific information, and yet another example of learning the importance of doing what works for you.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering – I have no issue with gluten and eat a lot of it. 🙂
Thanks for reading how learning about nutrition changed how I eat and how I think about food! Hope you found that interesting. Please feel free to drop nutrition-related blog post topics below, or hit me up on Insta!
Have a good week!