Food as Medicine: Cauliflower

Making the Case for Cauliflower

Cauliflower is a staple vegetable that is not only versatile in the kitchen, but it also packs a nutritious punch. It provides a good source of vitamins A, C, and K as well as folate, potassium, and magnesium.  A cruciferous vegetable, cauliflower runs in the same family as broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kale, radishes, collards, and watercress, among others. Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower contain phytochemicals that reduce inflammation and protect against cancer.

Sulfur-Containing Compounds and Cauliflower

Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates, the sulfur-containing compounds that cause the bitter flavor and strong aroma of cauliflower. When cruciferous vegetables are chopped or chewed, myrosinase plant enzymes catalyze the hydrolysis of glucosinolates and bioactive compounds are produced, including indoles and isothiocyanates. These hydrolysis products may protect against cancer by altering cell-signaling pathways, eliminating carcinogens before DNA damage occurs, and by affecting metabolism or hormone activity to impede hormone-sensitive cancers from developing.

Cruciferous Vegetables and Genetics

Genetic variants also may play a role in the effectiveness of cruciferous vegetables in cancer prevention. Some genetic polymorphisms have been identified that result in lower activity of glutathione S-transferase (GST) enzymes that eliminate isothiocyanates from the body.  Lower activity of these enzymes could result in isothiocyanates remaining in the body for longer periods of time.  In fact, research has shown inverse associations between intake of cruciferous vegetables that produce isothiocyanates and risk of colon and lung cancer in individuals with these genetic variants. GST enzymes are also important for the detoxification of carcinogens, so consuming cruciferous vegetables is even more critical for individuals with lower amounts of GSTs.

Cauliflower is Versatile in the Kitchen

Although cauliflower is a nutrient-dense vegetable with great benefits, it may not be at the top of your grocery list or those of your patients and clients.  As previously mentioned, cauliflower has a bitter flavor and strong aroma caused by sulfur-containing glucosinolates, potentially making it less appealing.  However, cauliflower can be prepared in a number of ways that make it a satisfying and tasty food.

Below are a few recipes to help you reap the benefits of cauliflower and enjoy a scrumptious meal:

Try this cauliflower rice recipe with a blend of kidney beans, diced bell peppers, and green onions as a flavorful and filling dish.

Serve cauliflower mashed potatoes as a side to your favorite entrée:

Create a nutritious, powerhouse dish with this roasted turmeric cauliflower recipe from The Endless Meal:

Swap beef, pork carnitas, or shredded chicken for cauliflower in this cauliflower bean burrito recipe:

Try this cauliflower pizza crust recipe and add your favorite toppings to create a filling, delicious meal that your whole family will enjoy:

You can also try cauliflower recipes to make bread, “steak,” soup, stir fry, “Alfredo sauce,” tacos and more! The possibilities are endless with this cancer-fighting, delicious veggie.



Kathleen Walters is a dietetic intern at Virginia Tech University.  She earned her BA in Political Science and Spanish from the University of Notre Dame in 2008 and BS in Food and Nutrition from the University of Alabama in 2015.  She is passionate about nutritional genomics, food policy, and nutrition education and promotion.  In her free time, she enjoys ballroom dancing, hiking, cooking, and traveling with her husband.


How to Store Produce to Reduce Food Waste

How to store produce properly to prevent food waste Do you find yourself reaching into your refrigerator for a much-anticipated fruit or veggie only to find it’s already gone bad? Or maybe you’ve become hesitant to buy fresh produce for fear of wasting your money by throwing it out before you’re ready to use it. While planning ahead for cooking is always helpful, utilizing a few produce storage strategies may help extend the life of your fruits and vegetables and prevent some extra frustration.

Not only will reducing food waste at home save you money, but the Environmental Protection Agency also recognizes other benefits of reducing food waste, such as the reduction of methane emissions from landfills and conservation of energy and resources.

How to Store Produce

Storing your produce properly will help maintain its integrity and flavor much longer. Generally, fruits and vegetables should be stored out of direct sunlight and away from any additional sources of heat if they’re stored on the countertop.

If storing food inside of the refrigerator, make sure the temperature is set below 40 degrees F. Some fruits and vegetables are best when left on the counter to ripen and then placed in the refrigerator to extend its peak ripeness. It’s best to store fruits and vegetables away from each other due to the ethylene that’s given off by some fruit (apples, especially). This ethylene is responsible for causing produce to spoil faster. On the other hand, if you’re looking to speed up the process of ripening, like for an avocado, you can take advantage of the ethylene properties of apples by storing your apples with the avocados.

How to store produce properly to prevent food waste

Tips to Prevent Food Waste

  • Wash berries only right before eating to prevent mold growth.
  • Cut the tops off of carrots and beets prior to storage.
  • Store produce you’ve had the longest toward the front of the refrigerator to encourage eating them first (this applies to leftovers too!).
  • If you want to prep fresh produce for easier cooking or snacking later, store them in clear storage containers in the refrigerator. Mason jars and glass containers are great, if using plastic choose BPA-free.
  • Store half-used salad fixins like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers in reusable storage containers for your next salad.
  • Take advantage of the freezer if you need long-term storage.

Speaking of the freezer, frozen fruits and vegetables are a great option for quick healthy meals. Frozen produce I always have on hand include: peas, corn, edamame, broccoli, cauliflower and mixed fruit for smoothies.

While on the topic of reducing food waste, consider investing in both reusable grocery bags and reusable produce bags to reduce plastic bag waste. Keep these bags near the front door or in the glovebox of your car will get you into the habit of automatically reaching for them when taking a trip to the grocery store. If you happen to forget, choose paper instead of plastic at the checkout line.

There are many more resources and tips online for more produce storage tips and tricks. For example, check out these storage tips from Washington’s Green Grocer for storing vegetables and fruits without plastic.

Anna Pashkova, ACSM EP-C is a medical dietetics student in the coordinated master’s degree program at The Ohio State University. Anna earned her bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science at Gardner-Webb University where she also played volleyball and found her passion for food and nutrition. Her interests include plant-based nutrition, using food as medicine, nutrigenomics and food sustainability. In her free time, Anna enjoys trying new recipes and local food restaurants, practicing yoga, playing volleyball and finding the best local coffee shops in every town.

Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

Fermented foods seem to be having a moment right now. Through a surge in the number of products available and increased media attention, they seem to be expanding from the natural food aisle and hitting the mainstream. This begs the question…

Are fermented foods worth the hype?

Consumption of these foods provide several health benefits to the consumer. Fermented foods are a source of probiotics, which help to populated the ‘good’ bacteria in our GI tract. Broadly, fermented foods contain high amounts of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium which help promote a healthy balance within the gut bacterial populations. Additionally, there is evidence that the fermentation process can improve bioavailability of various minerals and macronutrients. The act of fermentation through bacterial processing can improve the bioavailability of zinc, iron, and calcium in some foods, and can improve protein quality in some plant protein sources.

Finally, prospective studies looking at traditional dietary patterns that include regular consumption of fermented foods (in particular, fermented soy products) indicate there may be improved mental health overall, including a decrease in depressive symptoms.  Taken together, the evidence points to the benefits of fermented foods reaching beyond the immediate nutritional benefit.

Foods that contain these beneficial bacteria include fermented dairy (kefir, yogurt, and some cheeses), fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles), and fermented bean and soy products (miso and tempeh).

Not all fermented foods are created equally. Make sure you choose the most effective sources to ensure you’re getting the gut benefits of these products.

3 tips for choosing and preparing fermented foods:

  1. Choose fermented foods that are in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Shelf-stable versions of these foods have been heat treated to kill all bacteria within the foods, including the beneficial bacteria.
  2. Similarly, eat the fermented foods in their raw state. Applying heat to these foods will also kill the beneficial bacteria and decrease these health benefits.
  3. When choosing a product, look on the label for a description on the bacterial strains present. This will let you or your client know that those good bacterial strains are present.

7 Dietitian-approved recipes to get you started:

Tempeh Skillet Enchiladas 

Easy Vegan Kimchi

Fermented Carrot Pickles

Savory Yogurt Parfait

Miso Kale Caesar

Wild Blueberry Kefir Smoothie

Mushroom Miso Soup

Kimchi Fried Rice

Beth Golden is a Graduate Student and Dietetic Intern in the Medical Dietetics program at The Ohio State University. She received her Bachelors of Science in Molecular Biology from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and found her love of dietetics after spending time as a bench researcher. She is passionate about nutrition counseling, integrative medicine, and providing nutrition education to underrepresented populations. In her free time, she loves cooking, running and dabbling in urban beekeeping.

The Sweet Truth About Digestive Bitters

For millennia, traditional cultures around the world have endorsed the importance of balancing the five major flavors—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami–for optimum health. Of these, the power of digestive bitters has been harnessed most often in herbal and medicinal preparations for the effects it elicits on the digestive system.

For millennia, traditional cultures around the world have endorsed the importance of balancing the five major flavors—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami–for optimum health. Of these, the power of digestive bitters has been harnessed most often in herbal and medicinal preparations for the effects it elicits on the digestive system.

In this modern world where salty and sweet flavors dominate most palates and bitter compounds are systematically bred out of conventional crops, there is no denying most westerners’ over-reliance on pharmaceuticals to treat digestive disorders. In contrast, bitter foods are thought to stimulate appetite and digestive function by increasing the secretion of saliva, stomach acid, and digestive enzymes. Throughout history they have been prescribed by doctors and herbalists for disorders such as low hydrochloric acid production, indigestion, gas and bloating, and poor appetite.

Recent research reveals that bitter taste receptors are actually present throughout the body, including in thyroid, lung and bronchial tissue. Bitter receptor sites along the gastrointestinal tract are found not only in the oral cavity, but also the esophagus, stomach, and pancreas. Though in these locations they do not stimulate taste receptors in the brain, they are able to sense nutrients and activate metabolic processes including the release of hormones such as ghrelin, glucagon, and insulin that regulate appetite and blood sugar balance. Further studies are being conducted to determine how bitter agents may be useful in treating metabolic disorders such as type II diabetes and obesity.

To balance the deficiency of bitter foods in western diets, traditional medicine practitioners often prescribe supplemental bitters in the form of tonics, teas, and tinctures. These preparations usually contain one or more bitter herbs such as gentian, angelica, aloe, orange peel, chamomile, yarrow, milk thistle, and dandelion root. Similar formulas (often named “digestive bitters”) can often be found in the supplement section of most health food stores.

Food Sources of Digestive Bitters


Available in most Asian markets, bitter melon looks like a bumpy cucumber and can be used in soups and stir-fries.

Try this Asian Bitter Melon Stirfry, along with some preparation tips, from Serious Eats:


Found in abundance at springtime farmers markets, dandelion leaves can be used in salads, smoothies, soups, and juices.

Try this Dandelion Pumpkin Seed Pesto from TheKitchn:

Dark Chocolate

The higher the cacao content, the bitter better! Try these gorgeous dark chocolate treats:

Raddichio, Arugula, Endive & Watercress

Amp up salads with these colorful bitter digestive leaves. Not sure how to dress them? Check out these tips from Bon Appetit!


Turmeric can be used dried or fresh in soups, curries, smoothies, and juices, or sip on this traditional Ayurvedic brew.


Julia Pleasant, RDN, LD, is a registered dietitian in Honolulu, HI. She currently works as a clinical dietitian with the Native Hawaiian, Native Alaskan, and American Indian communities on Oahu and co-owns a wellness business, Tru Change, with her husband. Julia’s interests include whole-foods nutrition, mindfulness-based stress reduction, nutrition counseling, and sustainable agriculture.

Announcing! DIFM Research Fellow

In a follow-up to the 2015 publication, “Integrative Medicine: Education, Perceived Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practice among Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Members,” DIFM and DPBRN have teamed up again to study the critical thinking skills and processes that proficient and experienced Integrative Medicine (IM) RDNs use in providing patient care.

This collaborative project seeks to understand the practice roles, service delivery models, reimbursement, practice facilitators and challenges unique to integrative medicine RDNs. Together, we aim to produce a decision-making framework that could guide novice IM RDNs to help weigh evidence and provide the best patient care through shared decision-making, safety and risk management.

To assist in the completion of this project, DIFM has selected a one-year fellow, Emily Goodman MS, RD, LD, to work with DIFM workgroup members and the Director of DPBRN, Rosa Hand MS, RD, LD.

About Emily:

Emily’s passion for natural sciences brought her from her hometown New Hartford, NY to Emory University in Atlanta, GA where in 2012 she earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. While engaging in rare-disease research at Emory, Emily was astonished by the complete absence of nutrition as an element in any course of disease treatment, inspiring Emily to pursue a career in dietetics. In 2016, Emily graduated with honors from the Master’s degree Coordinated Program at Georgia State University. At Georgia State, she was a research assistant for Dr. Dan Benardot and worked with players from NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Georgia State University athletes. She developed a keen interest in functional foods and nutrients and their ability to improve athletic performance and overall well-being. Exploring this further, Emily completed her Master’s thesis, “The Relationship between Sun Exposure, Diet and Muscle Soreness in Collegiate Football Players.” Emily currently lives in Austin, TX, where she enjoys tacos, Longhorn football games, and the company of her cat, Fig.


Lower Sodium With No Salt Spice Blends

Lower Sodium With No-Salt Spice Blends

No salt spice blends are a great way to reduce your sodium intake, while still eating high flavor meals! In the recently published 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it’s recommended to reduce sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg/day.  If you are African American, have recently been diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, or chronic kidney disease, or if you are 51+years of age, your intake recs are even lower at 1500 mg/day.

Unfortunately, 90% of Americans are at or above sodium recommendations.  On average, most people consume over 3400 mg/day. To understand what that looks like, it’s equivalent to the amount of salt in 18 orders of medium-sized McDonald’s French fries PLUS 18 ketchup packets!

Benefits of Cutting Back On Salt

Why should you cut back?  The most compelling reason is that dies low in sodium may help prevent and treat hypertension and reduce cardiovascular disease and stroke risk.

Slashing Sodium Intakes: Salt-Free Seasoning Blends

One way to cut back on the extra salt is ditching the salt shaker and trying salt-free seasoning blends.  Commercial salt free blends typically have ingredients such as dried herbs, dried red bell pepper, citric acid, and dried, minced aromatics (i.e., shallots, garlic, etc.).  Having ready prepared salt-free spice blends on hand makes cooking at home easier, without the temptation of adding salt or salt-based seasonings during food preparation.  By making your own homemade salt-free seasonings, you can easily customize spice blends to you and your family’s personal tastes.

3 Salt Free Blends to Spice Up Dinner

Basic Spice Blend

With just 3 ingredients, this all-purpose seasoning is great for all kinds of meals!  I particularly like to put it on poached fish or oven roasted chicken.  For an additional flavor, try adding fresh lemon zest to the basic spice blend for homemade lemon pepper seasoning.


  • 1½ tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp. onion powder


Mix all ingredients together in a mason jar.  Label, date, and store.

Italian Seasoning Blend

Many store-bought versions of Italian seasoning have salt as the first or second ingredient.  This version can be sprinkled into pasta or pizza sauces, folded into homemade meatballs, or used to dress up sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.  I often use this seasoning to make an oil and vinegar dressing with ¼ cup olive oil, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of seasoning blend. NOTE: The fennel seed and crushed red pepper flakes are listed as optional.  I love this seasoning blend included with both, but I find most children prefer it when these ingredients are omitted.


  • 2 tbsp. oregano
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp dried basil
  • ¼ tsp onion powder
  • Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
  • Pinch fennel seed, optional


Mix all ingredients together in a mason jar.  Label, date, and store.

Tyrolean Seasoning Blend

Try this seasoning blend with grilled pork chops or as a sheet pan meal with chicken breasts and roasted vegetables.  Note: This seasoning blend includes bay leaves. For your safety, please remove the bay leaf after cooking!


  • 1 tbsp. brown mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp dried sage
  • 1 bay leaf


Mix all ingredients together in a mason jar.  Label, date, and store.


Mary White, MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian residing in Travelers Rest, SC.  She is currently a PRN clinical dietitian at Pelham Medical Center.  Mary studied Food Science at Clemson University and proceeded to complete her dietetic internship at Texas A&M-Kingsville University.  Passionate about nutrition counseling and children’s programming, she volunteers with community organizations to promote sustainable dietary changes and nutrition education activities. In her spare time, Mary enjoys yoga, cooking, kayaking, and cuddling with her dog, Maggie. 

New! Integrative & Functional Nutrition Training for Dietitians

DIFM has developed an Online Certificate of Training Program to provide Dietitians valuable training in Integrative & Functional Nutrition!

The future is ours, are YOU ready?

As a DIFM member and an Integrative RDN, you already have a distinct advantage when treating your patients and clients. You combine evidence-based research, practice-based evidence, your unique experience, valuable resources, and meaningful collaborations into your practice. You are making strides in the dietetics arena by applying Medical Nutrition Therapy in a dynamic and influential way with integrative and functional medicine at the helm (IFMNT).

But you want MORE. You want specific training, detailed resources, and practical examples of the application of IFMNT.

We hear you loud and clear!

DIFM has upped the ante to further your knowledge, expand your integrative toolbox, and broaden your skill set as the nutrition expert. We’ve been working hard to fulfill our vision and mission to optimize health and healing with integrative and functional nutrition and empower our members as leaders in the field.

Integrative and functional nutrition is an ever-evolving area in dietetics. From nutrigenomics to the microbiome, epigenetics to functional foods, it’s imperative that RDNs be at the forefront, leading this evolution.

We know many RDNs have not received the in-depth, advanced training that’s necessary to excel and may not understand how IFMNT can be applied to their own practice or how it can enhance outcomes and influence change.

This is why we’re so excited to announce this new training.

Together with the Academy’s Center for Lifelong Learning, DIFM has developed an Online Certificate of Training Program to provide valuable training for RDNs wishing to further their knowledge in integrative and functional nutrition.

We are honored to have top experts in the field of IFMNT (some with 30+ years of experience) contribute and develop these modules as a labor of love for DIFM. Expert contributors include Kathie Swift, Mary Beth Augustine, Kelly Morrow, Sheila Dean, Lisa Fischer, and Beth McDonald.

Who Should Take This Training?

This training is for any RDN who wishes to further their knowledge base in integrative and functional nutrition.

What’s Included in the Training?

The certification consists of five separate modules emphasizing the foundational pillars of IFMNT. Each module builds upon the next in application and depth.

Module 1: Introduction to Integrative and Functional Nutrition

This module is designed to provide an introduction to integrative and functional nutrition. In this module, we will examine the integrative healthcare landscape including the evolution of the current language and concepts used in this area; outline the guiding principles of both integrative and functional medicine; and provide a primer on how we apply the integrative and functional medicine constructs in practice. We will finish up by exploring some of the challenges and opportunities in this evolving area and outline some educational resources useful in practice.

Module 2: Digestive Health

This module provides a science-based whole systems approach to digestive health and integrative and functional nutrition therapy (IFMNT) for functional gastrointestinal (or GI) disorders, intestinal permeability, intestinal pathogens, and imbalances within the GI microbiome that impact human health and disease, including inflammation, motility, functional GI disorders, obesity, liver disease and cancer.

Module 3: Detoxification

This module provides a science-based, whole-systems approach to hepatic detoxification, biotransformation and elimination of endogenous and exogenous toxins. To accomplish this, diet and nutrition interventions utilize cofactor micronutrients, phytonutrients, amino acids and antioxidants to support Phase 1 and Phase 2 hepatic detoxification. Taken as a whole, the information provided in this module demonstrates that the proper diet for a specific patient can influence detoxification function in a clinically important manner.

Module 4: Inflammation

This module covers the integrative and functional nutrition approaches to managing systemic inflammation. The goal of this module is to review the antecedents, triggers, and mediators of acute and chronic inflammation and to provide dietetic professionals with science-based integrative approaches and practice-based recommendations for managing inflammation in chronic diseases.

Module 5: Dietary Supplements

This module will cover the prevalence of use of dietary supplements among Americans; FDA’s guidance documents and regulatory information; risk management; clinical and client decision making; and ethical, legal and scientific integrity considerations for nutrition and dietetics practitioners.

Academy members enjoy a reduced rate of $24 for each module ($120 total). Complete all five modules and earn 10 hours of CPEUs (CPE level 2) and Certificate of Completion. Click HERE to register for module 1 and get started today!

For more information and to register, visit

The future is ours, your future is NOW.

Tomatoes and Lycopene: a Review of the Science

Tomatoes are a versatile vegetable with an endless number of uses in the kitchen. They also offer an array health benefits that may aid in the prevention of disease.  Research suggests that consuming tomatoes (and tomato products) is associated with a decreased incidence of cardiovascular disease and reduced risk of prostate, lung, breast, and digestive cancers. These health benefits are derived mainly from the lycopene, vitamin C, and quercetin found in tomatoes.  Each of these bioactive food components has important mechanisms of action that make tomatoes a nutrition powerhouse, but lycopene is particularly touted for its powerful effects!

Lycopene and Cancer Prevention

Lycopene is a type of carotenoid that provides the taste and red color of tomatoes.  Among the family of carotenoid pigments, lycopene’s claim to fame is having the greatest antioxidant potential. Research using in vivo animal cancer models shows lycopene can inhibit prostate, breast, and lung cancer growth by demethylating promoter DNA tumor suppressor genes. By reducing the formation of DNA oxidation products, lycopene prevents the DNA damage and abnormal cell development associated with tumors. Lycopene may also interfere with the production of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a protein associated with cancer cell growth.

Lycopene also helps decrease prostate cancer progression. Prostate cancer patients who supplemented their diets with lycopene showed reduced IGF-1 plasma levels by almost 30%. Lycopene also helps maintain proper gap junction communications (GJC) between cells. Since tumor cells don’t have GJCs that function correctly, lycopene corrects the dysfunctional GJCs, reducing the risk of prostate cancer progression.

Lycopene: Protecting the Heart and Busting Fat

In addition to protecting against cancer, lycopene is important in preventing cardiovascular disease and obesity.  Lycopene is inversely associated with the thickness of blood vessel inner walls, calcified plaques in the abdominal aorta, and LDL oxidative damage, all of which are markers of atherosclerosis. Lycopene also suppresses visceral fat accumulation and increases brown adipose tissue (BAT) weight. Since BAT helps to increase thermogenesis and thereby increase oxidation of lipids as opposed to storing lipids, this can help to fight against obesity.

Bioavailability of Lycopene in Foods

The way in which tomatoes are processed affects the bioavailability of lycopene. Lycopene is easier to absorb when its compounds are in the cis configuration, due to the increased solubility of the cis-isomer in bile acid micelles. Food processing can increase the cis-isomer formation, making heating and cooking great options for food preparation. Tomato products with the highest amount of lycopene include tomato paste, ketchup, tomato sauce, and spaghetti sauce.

Although a specific amount of lycopene has not been recommended for daily consumption, recent research has shown that as little as 27 mg of lycopene per day may reduce inflammatory markers related to cardiovascular disease. Whether consumed as a tasty sauce with whole-grain spaghetti or diced and sautéed with a bowl of lentils, there are countless ways to obtain the great benefits of this important food component.



Kathleen Walters is a dietetic intern at Virginia Tech University. She earned her BA in Political Science and Spanish from the University of Notre Dame in 2008 and BS in Food and Nutrition from the University of Alabama in 2015. She is passionate about nutritional genomics, food policy, and nutrition education and promotion. In her free time, she enjoys ballroom dancing, hiking, cooking, and traveling with her husband.

What Will Replace Trans Fats?

palmfruitTrans fats may be out, but what will replace them?

In 2015 the FDA declared that partially hydrogenated trans fats are not a safe food ingredient, and must be phased out by 2018. Food companies had already begun phasing out partially hydrogenated oils in many foods, due to decades of concern about its link to increased heart disease. The question remains, what will replace trans fats?

Dietitians everywhere breathed a sigh of relief that this harmful ingredient would finally be removed from our food supply.  However, what we didn’t realize is that the ingredients that are replacing partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) have their own set of concerns, from health effects to human rights. These replacements include palm oil and interesterified fats, as well as a new biotechnology technique, CRISPR, which is poised to bring new genetically-altered fats into the marketplace.

Palm Oil

Palm oil is a common replacement for PHO because it has a similar texture and is shelf-stable. Its use has skyrocketed, and it is now found in about half of all packaged foods! However, as the Rainforest Action Network describes, palm oil production has a devastating impact in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

Palm oil plantations are one of the worst perpetrators of forced labor, child labor, and human trafficking.  The plantations lead to the destruction of the natural resources that people rely on for their livelihoods. In addition, habitat destruction is devastating for critically endangered animals such as orangutans.

As far as health goes, palm oil is not inherently harmful, like trans fats. Unrefined palm oil is even a source of antioxidants and nutrients such as vitamin E. However, palm oil is typically highly processed, fractionated, and often goes through a process called interesterification, which long-term effects are unknown.

Interesterified Fats

Triglycerides are composed of a glycerol backbone with three fatty acids attached. These three fatty acids are not necessarily the same, some may be saturated, some unsaturated. Food manufacturers use enzymes or chemicals to rearrange these fatty acids among triglycerides to create a fat with the characteristics they need. Like partial hydrogenation, this process creates novel fat molecules which are not found naturally.

Research is scarce, but some studies suggest the possibility of negative health outcomes if these fats replace trans fat in the food supply. A 2014 review study reported that the fats can have negative impacts on lipoprotein metabolism, glucose and insulin metabolism, immune function, and liver enzymes. A 2016 review study found that the science does not currently show health issues, but that gaps in the research mean we do not know the short and long-term impact on metabolism, inflammation, and other factors.

As interesterified fats increase in our food supply, another source of new fats is emerging; researchers are using new gene-editing technology such as CRISPR to modify crops in a variety of ways, including by changing their fatty acid content.


CRISPR is a method of genetically modifying crops. This biotechnology is capable of snipping out genes, rather than inserting genes from another organism, as other GM crops are made. Because the method is so new, it is not regulated, and the crops are developed and grown without oversight.

Researchers have used gene-editing to create soybeans with higher levels of monounsaturated fats and lower levels of polyunsaturated fats. This makes them more stable and extends their shelf-life, just like the partial hydrogenation process.

Proponents say that this method is more precise than older GM methods, and more acceptable to consumers. Critics say that there are still unknown consequences, and that there need to be safety assessments and regulations in place. A governmental committee is currently investigating new biotechnologies and how they should be regulated. Read on for information about how to stay informed on this topic!

Healthy-Fat Plan of Action

Consider avoiding products that contain refined palm oil and check ingredient labels for signs of interesterified fats.

These include:

  • Palm oil or palm kernel oil
  • Fully hydrogenated oil
  • Palm oil -or- fully hydrogenated oil, and another oil (such as soybean oil), listed together
  • Monoglycerides, diglycerides

Sign up for updates about upcoming changes to biotech regulations, or submit your input to the regulatory committee here:

We still have a lot to learn about the impacts of these fats and food technologies and what is the best way to replace trans fat in the diet. When the science is uncertain, my personal philosophy is that prioritizing whole foods (and fats!) over processed ones is the healthiest choice.


janie-jacobyJanie Jacoby is a graduate student in Nutrition and Dietetics at Colorado State University. She is passionate about functional and integrative medicine, and is founder and president of the CSU student organization Holistic Health Alliance. She also works for the CSU Extension Office, where she writes and develops nutrition education materials. When not working, Janie can often be found concocting something in the kitchen, practicing yoga, or hiking and camping in beautiful Colorado. Her sporadic blog posts can be found at

Academy Position Paper Update: Vegetarian and Vegan Diets


Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

Just last month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) released an updated position paper on vegetarian diets. The paper explores the nutrition of vegetarian and vegan diets, in various stages of life, in chronic disease, as well as some helpful information for RDNs and NDTRs for clinical practice. The Academy also noted an environmentally beneficial aspect of vegetarian diets.

The position statement of the Academy is as follows:

“It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage.”

Nutrient Highlights


As long as calorie needs are met, protein intake in a vegetarian diet is typically adequate and not a nutrient of concern. Additionally, a diet rich in a variety of foods will ensure that all of the essential amino acids are consumed. Legumes and soy products are good sources of protein and other essential nutrients for vegetarians.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

Dietary intakes of ALA are similar in vegetarians and non-vegetarians, while EPA and DHA intake is lower in vegetarians. The health effects of the lower intakes are not yet known, although vegetarian children have not shown any issues with vision or mental development and adults continue to have lower risks of cardiovascular disease. It may be a good idea for vegetarians to eat concentrated sources of ALA, which the body converts to EPA and DHA at a low rate, which include various seeds, walnuts and their oils.


The intake is similar between vegetarians and non-vegetarians, although iron stores are much lower in vegetarians. Although this may seem like a bad thing, it could actually be advantageous as higher levels have been “independently associated with a risk of developing metabolic syndrome.” Additionally, plant sources of non-heme iron are absorbed at a lower rate than animal sources, but research highlighted in the position paper shows that vegetarians can actually adapt to absorb non-heme iron more efficiently over time and lower iron losses.


Intake of zinc is similar between vegetarians and non-vegetarians and may be lower in some vegetarians. Serum zinc concentrations are also typically lower in vegetarians, but are still considered to be in the normal range. There haven’t been any noticeable effects of the lower zinc levels, which may be due to the body’s natural ability to adapt to the diet. Some good sources of zinc include legumes, soy products, grains, cheese, seeds and nuts.


Vegetarian diets may be slightly low in iodine, especially in vegan diets. Vegans are recommended to consume iodine-rich foods such as iodized salt or sea vegetables to avoid deficiency. Additionally, women who are vegan and are of child-bearing age are recommended to take supplements of 150 micrograms of iodine per day to avoid a deficiency.


Lacto-ovo-vegetarians generally get enough calcium in their diet, while vegans may vary and sometimes fall below the recommended amount. The bioavailability of calcium in some plant foods is a concern because it can be influenced by oxalate, phytate and fiber, which may reduce absorption of calcium. Several high oxalate foods include spinach, beet greens, and Swiss chard. Because of this, other high sources of calcium should be consumed as well such as low oxalate vegetables including kale, turnip greens, Chinese cabbage, and bok choy. Fortified milks, calcium-containing tofu, and foods such as white beans, almonds, tahini, figs and oranges also contain calcium but at a lower bioavailability.

Vitamin D:

Levels can vary greatly in vegetarians because of the individual variability in sun exposure, consumption of vitamin D fortified foods and supplement intake. Low vitamin D intakes and low 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood levels have been seen in vegetarians and vegans, more prominently in the winter and spring and also those who live at higher latitudes. Sources of vitamin D fortified food include cow’s milk, some nondairy milks, fruit juices, breakfast cereals. Eggs and mushrooms treated with UV light can also contain vitamin D. Depending on individual factors; it may be beneficial to supplement vitamin D.

Vitamin B12:

Of all nutrients, it may be most difficult to get vitamin B12 in a vegetarian diet because it is not in any plant foods. While there may be some B12 in fermented foods, nori, spirulina, chlorella algae and unfortified nutritional yeast, this may not be adequate. Some options of getting enough B12 include either consumption of B12 fortified foods or supplements. It is best to eat the fortified foods twice per day because of the absorption mechanisms involved. Some examples of fortified food include breakfast cereals, fortified milks, and fortified meat replacements.

For more information on vegetarian diets including the beneficial effects on overweight and obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis, as well as recommendations in various life stages and environmental impacts, you can check out the entire position paper article here.


annabio2Anna Pashkova, ACSM EP-C is a medical dietetics student in the coordinated master’s degree program at The Ohio State University. Anna earned her bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science at Gardner-Webb University where she also played volleyball and found her passion for food and nutrition. Her interests include plant-based nutrition, using food as medicine, nutrigenomics and food sustainability. In her free time, Anna enjoys trying new recipes and local food restaurants, practicing yoga, playing volleyball and finding the best local coffee shops in every town.