I just returned from Salt Lake City where the annual Today’s Dietitian Spring Symposium was held. Here’s a quick recap.

GLP-1 Meds and You

I attended a session about weight management and new concerns and considerations for those on GLP-1 medications. Dr. Su-Nui Escobar spoke about nutrition therapy for patients on GLP-1 meds. Many people who are on these drugs need some special attention regarding planning meals and snacks. Dr. Escobar emphasized the importance of planning meals to ensure a healthy meal pattern in these patients who often have a poor appetite.

Gen Z’s Perceptions About Food and Health

This session took a deep dive into some data collected about Gen Z. Dietitian Jaclyn London presented the data, and offered some insight into how to best communicate with this demographic and encourage healthy lifestyle habits. Interestingly, Gen Z ranks climate and planetary health very high on their priority list. However they do not always makes choices that align with that. In addition, their perceptions about food and nutrition are often different than what they practice. While they may “fall for” the latest diet trend, the good news: they are open to learning from health experts such as the registered dietitian. This is a generation that was essentially “born digital” yet want opportunities to get offline. Some of them are even embracing flip phones as a way to “connect less”.

Plants VS Animals

I’ve mentioned in the past that “plant-based” is hot, and it was on the agenda at this conference. Throughout the conference, there definitely was some buzz about how different industries go about collecting data related to food’s impact on the environment. One sessions shared thoughts about adopting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which can include small portions of meat and animal products (that is, there doesn’t have to be “an omnivore dilemma”). While two other sessions focused on shifting to a plant-based diet. A session presented by Sharon Palmer and Kate Geagan shared some global data about the environmental impacts of food production, including the carbon footprint of animal livestock. I personally believe that a sustainable food system can include both plants and animals. Other parts of the world can learn many sustainable practices from US farmers and ranchers, including regenerative farming operations.

One Hot Planet – It’s Complicated!

I just read that NOAA is predicting a severe hurricane season. I have always enjoyed my natural surroundings and I care deeply about the planet and our beautiful world. I’m aligned with much of Food+Planet’s mission. Yet here is my question: What if we were to eliminate animal agriculture (or at least cows) and switch to a plant-based diet? Since only 17% of US land is arable (and only 10% of the world’s), how can we provide enough food for all? It’s complicated!

I agree that overall, we must rely less on meat, and balance our plates. And in general, eat less food overall! I definitely encourage everyone to add more fruits and vegetables into their diets. However, I don’t think it’s realistic to think that everyone, in every culture is interested in becoming vegan (nor was that presented in this session). To note – the Dietary Guidelines for American recommend filling half of your plate with vegetables, and limiting red meat consumption, and limiting portions of all meats to about 5-7 ounces or less daily. If we were all to adhere to that, we would reduce demand.

From an environmental standpoint, Food is only one part of the larger climate and greenhouse gas issue. I have more questions than answers in terms of how data is collected and measured. There are other concerns and many ways to interpret the data. For instance, while data collection shows beef as a top consumer of resources and emit the most greenhouse gas of any food, does this data take into consideration all of the other industry byproducts created from the animal besides meat? What will be the environmental impact of replacing those ingredients? Food for thought!

Network of Friends

Of course the best part about heading to these conferences for my continuing education is that I get to see my friends. Working solo from home can get lonely and it’s always great to see people in person.

Finally, in addition to attending sessions, I had the opportunity to work at the Sugar Association Booth. Sugar? At a nutrition conference? Well yes, sugar is part of the food system. The Sugar Association represents farmers who grow sugar cane and sugar beets. I do some consulting with them on the education side, including the creation of science-based education materials, and spoke to attendees about these materials at the expo booth. In 2021, I was invited to tour a sugar beet farm, which was fantastic. I love meeting the farmers that bring our food supply to market. All in all, this was a great conference – and by the way, Downtown Salt Lake City is beautiful!