December 2014 Issue

The Best Highlights of FNCE®
By Densie Webb, PhD, RD
Today's Dietitian
Vol. 16 No. 12 P. 10

From October 18 to 21, more than 9,000 nutrition professionals gathered at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) in Atlanta, located directly across the street from the CNN global headquarters, for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' (the Academy) Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE®), to listen to hundreds of experts share their wealth of knowledge on the latest in nutrition and dietetics; sample new foods and nutrition products; watch chefs whip up healthful, mouth-watering dishes; and network with others in their field. The weather was spectacular, and the conference happened to coincide with a zombie convention (yes, you read that right); nutrition professionals encountered several "zombies" milling around Centennial Park on their way to the GWCC.

Attending Sessions
With more than 140 sessions to choose from during the three-day event, selection was tough, but Today's Dietitian attended several that were most informative. For starters, a session on how to nutritionally prepare patients for surgery was eye opening. David Evans, MD, from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and Refaat Hegazi, MD, PhD, MPH, MS, drove home the point that not enough attention is paid to surgical patients' nutrition status before being wheeled into the operating room. Yet, malnourished surgical patients are at increased risk of postsurgical complications, including infections, poor wound healing, pressure ulcers, and longer hospital stays. The presenters said older patients particularly are at risk and discussed dietary changes, supplements, and the importance of early postoperative nutrition. "Surgery is a sport, and we are the trainer," Evans said. "If you're not well trained, ie, if you're not ready for surgery, you're not going to do well."

The message delivered at a session on the gut microbiome was that bacteria can help prevent obesity and disease. This was presented to a packed ballroom of people eager to hear the latest on the topic. While the focus of the presentations was on the link between bacteria in the gut and weight gain, Gerard Mullin, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut is associated with increased risk of a wide range of diseases and conditions, including gallstones, colorectal cancer, asthma, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, mood disorders, and Parkinson's disease.

Attendees learned that diet has a huge impact on the makeup of the gut microbiome, that artificial sweeteners may negatively affect the balance of bacteria in the gut, and that high-fat Western diets may be to blame for much of the microbiome imbalance. "There's an ocean of data showing that the gut really seems to run the body, and the microbiome is the engineer," Mullin said. When the microbiome is spun out of balance, he said, obesity and disease can result.

A session on the last day of the conference gave a fresh perspective on the RD's role in oral health, especially when it comes to recognizing oral manifestations of undiagnosed type 2 diabetes. Evanthia Lalla, DDS, MS, from Columbia University, and Riva Touger-Decker, PhD, RD, CDN, FADA, from Rutgers School of Health Related Professions, said that the risk of periodontal disease in people with diabetes is three times that of patients without diabetes, so it can be an early sign of problems ahead. They emphasized that dietitians can and should be a part of the oral health team. "The dental setting offers a contact point within the health care system, where hyperglycemia can be detected," Lalla said. Touger-Decker emphasized that RDs should be recognizing and reporting signs of poor oral health to patients' physicians as active members of the health care team.

Today's Dietitian couldn't be everywhere, but other intriguing sessions dealt with vitamin D and health, the role of diet in brain development and function, the role of environmental pollutants in obesity, and fasting and the ketogenic diet as therapies for cancer.

"I thought the sessions were well organized and provided great information," said Fran Alloway, MA, RD, LDN, a senior educator with Penn State Extension and past chair of the Nutrition Education for the Public Dietetic Practice Group, who attended the conference. "I really enjoyed Atlanta, and I'm planning on going to Nashville next year."

Healthful Tips and Facts
Attendees heard chefs share their culinary tips for making delicious, reduced-sodium and reduced-fat dishes using a variety of herbs and spices, as well as rich-tasting, gluten-free dishes using tofu. A take-home rule of thumb from Executive Chef Kevan Vetter, director of culinary development at McCormick & Company: Use 3 tsp of dried herbs/spices per 2 lbs of meat; for sauces, use 1 tsp for each cup of sauce. Chef Jody Denton, executive research chef with PepsiCo Frito-Lay, offered this tip for creating creamy sauces without using heavy cream: Substitute silky tofu (only silky will do) and use 11/2 times as much tofu as you would heavy cream.

Fun facts heard along the way: There's more bacteria in your gut than you have cells in your entire body; the feed for cows can be manipulated to extend the shelf life of milk, and 75% of a cow's diet is food that isn't consumable by humans; adults taught to flavor food with spices and herbs can cut their daily sodium intake by almost 1,000 mg; and in Europe there's a campaign dubbed "Eat Ugly" to encourage consumers to eat less-than-perfect produce to cut down on the enormous waste that exists (52% of all fruits and vegetables in the United States is wasted, according to the National Resources Defense Council).

Latest Products
In addition to educational sessions and thought-provoking facts, the exhibit hall offered a look at several new nutrition products. The overall theme could be summarized in three terms: high-protein, gluten-free, and natural. While there were too many new products to mention, some of the standouts included Cheerios Protein cereal (made from lentils, soy protein, and oats) with 11 g of protein per serving with milk; Edy's (or Dryer's, depending on where you live within the United States) Outshine Fruit & Veggie Bars, frozen desserts with 25% real fruit and vegetables and sweetened with fruit purée in flavors such as tangerine carrot, peach mango, and apple and greens; Oscar Mayer's Portable Protein Pack (P3) with lean beef or chicken, reduced-fat cheese, and nuts, each containing 13 to 14 g of protein; Ronzoni Smart Taste Rotini, which has swapped synthetic fiber for a natural fiber source; and Better Bean, offering a fresh, refrigerated alternative to canned beans.

The vegan, gluten-free, low-sodium beans are seasoned and treated with apple cider vinegar to break down some of the indigestible carbohydrates that can cause gas.

Of special interest to clinical dietitians was Functional Formularies, the only company currently offering a shelf-stable, organic, whole-foods feeding tube formula, dubbed Liquid Hope. It's dairy-, soy-, corn-, and gluten-free. Bolthouse Farms Kids introduced a line of smoothies, fruit tubes, and veggie snacks, all made with real fruit and vegetables, with no added sugar, no artificial flavors, no preservatives, and no high-fructose corn syrup. Other new products for healthy snacking for kids came from Earth Balance's vegan macaroni and cheese and vegan cheddar flavor squares. For the adult snacker, Nourish Snacks introduced a line of 18 single-serving, natural snacks with flavors that include Cowboy Crunch, Holy Habanero, Granny's Apple Pie, and Cashew Colada.

"I'm picking up everything and eating everything," said Vanessa Hunt, RD, of the Emory Dialysis Center in Atlanta. Hunt hadn't attended a FNCE® conference in 20 years and was excited about it being so close to home. "At FNCE®, nutrition comes together under one roof. It's easy to make connections and rejuvenate your way of thinking."

"I found there was a lot of interest in nutrition education and food insecurity," said Angie Frost, RD, CD, a nutrition educator with Crawfordsville Community Schools in Indiana. "It's been a great educational experience. I would have checked three or four sessions at the same time, but I had to choose. It's an educational experience, and I really think it should be mandatory for dietetic interns to attend FNCE®."

The Kids Eat Right Gala, the premier social event of the conference, was held at the Omni Hotel at the CNN Center and offered guests a gourmet dinner, rousing entertainment, and an awards program that acknowledged the accomplishments of the Academy's most active members. After dinner was served and the awards were presented, attendees kicked up their heels (a few kicked off their shoes) and danced the night away. Each year, proceeds from the gala support the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation by providing scholarships, research grants, awards, and support for public education.

FNCE® 2015 will be in Nashville.

— Densie Webb, PhD, RD, is a freelance writer, editor, and industry consultant based in Austin, Texas.