Nutrizine is produced by graduate students within the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent that of the Department of Nutritional Sciences or the University of Toronto.


In our last issue, we reflected on the theme of “The Future and Food Security”. We explored some contributors to food insecurity on a global and local level, considered the important role of food banks, and featured sustainable recipes for your weekly meal plans. Discussions on these themes led us to explore the role of nutrition in all facets of our lifestyle – inspiring the theme of this current issue!

In this issue, our writers explore how nutrition intersects with three primary lifestyle facets – oral health, microbiome and sleep hygiene. Similar to our last issue, Chef and graduate student Amy Symington shares delicious recipes to support your oral health, sleep and cognitive functions. We also welcome Dr. Kozeta Miliku on our Welcome Wall, who has joined the DNS over the summer months. As always, you will also find coverage of the activities that took place in the Department over the semester, ranging from Nutrition Month festivities, Journal Clubs and presentations that occurred at CNS! 

Many thanks to all of our contributors, without whom this edition of Nutrizine would not be possible, and to our readership for their continued support of a graduate student-led publication!

Your Nutrizine Editors, 
Arin Deveci, Katherine Pullella and Tara Zeitoun


MEET THE TEAM


EVENTS

The Nutritional Sciences Graduate Students’ Association (NSGSA) aims to represent the Department of Nutritional Sciences (DNS) graduate students body by supporting and engaging students, both at the university and community level. These are some of the events that happened in the DNS this semester:

Keep an eye out for future events on the NSGSA website!



The bidirectional relationship between nutrition and sleep

By: Rebecca Simonian

Good quality sleep is as essential for life as the food we eat and interestingly, the food we eat can influence the quality of sleep and vice versa. In the following article, we dive into the complex relationship between nutrition and sleep, the association with metabolic disease risk, and offer some tips and tricks to ensure you have a good night’s sleep!

The average adult is recommended to sleep for at least 7 hours each night.1 But as busy academics (and potentially procrastinators) with experiments to finish, grants to submit, and lives to live, we know that this is not always possible. Current research suggests that there exists a bidirectional relationship between sleep and nutrition, whereby they have the potential to influence each other. For instance, poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation are directly associated with adverse health risks and poor eating habits can adversely affect sleep outcomes. Given our investment in understanding how nutrition affects the body, let’s begin exploring the bidirectional relationship between sleep and nutrition in the way that we know best, by reviewing the science!

Sleep: The Why and How?

We sleep because we are tired. In the simplest of explanations, this is true. Sleep offers relaxation, restoration, and rejuvenation to the physical body and all physiologic systems that regulate it every 24 hours.2 Sleep is important for physical health, mental and emotional well-being, cognitive function, daytime performance, and survival.3,4 Good quality sleep can be characterized by several factors including appropriate timing, adequate duration, satisfaction, and degree of alertness during waking hours.5

The dynamic process of sleep is driven by 2 main factors: the body’s circadian rhythm and the sleep homeostat or sleep drive. The cyclic nature of sleep and wake is sustained by the 24-hour circadian rhythm which is the feedback loop that synchronizes the body’s physiology with environmental cues. The most well-cited environmental cue is the withdrawal of light coupled with the onset of darkness which promotes the release of melatonin, a hormone which induces feelings of sleepiness.2 Conversely, in the morning, cortisol and serotonin are released stimulating humans to wake with an upbeat mood. In addition to our internal clock, the homeostatic sleep drive is the pressure or urge to sleep that develops throughout waking hours. It is evident that our sleep is regulated by the cyclic release of hormones and neurotransmitters and as such, anything that disrupts this cycle has the potential to disrupt our well-being.

Nutrition influences sleep: Chrononutrition

It has been suggested that changes in the nature and timing of food intake can alter our body’s internal clock. This intersection between diet and circadian biology is referred to as chrononutrition. As our sleep is largely regulated by the timely release of neurotransmitters, dietary precursors that act on these neurotransmitters, altering their rate of synthesis and function, can positively or negatively impact sleep.3 Epidemiological studies generally report associations between macronutrient intakes and sleep quality. For instance, strong links have been drawn between high fat diets and reduced sleep quality.6 In contrast, following a Mediterranean diet associates with less symptoms of insomnia.7 Notably, the link between carbohydrates and sleep is more conflicted. A carbohydrate rich diet can increase levels of tryptophan, which is required for the synthesis of both serotonin and melatonin. While there is some evidence to suggest that diets rich in carbohydrates associate with reduced sleep latency and better sleep quality, carbohydrate quality and quantity seem to be important factors.3,6,8 It is important to note that epidemiological studies are limited in their ability to establish causation or the direction of the relation between two variables of interest and therefore, intervention studies, which are more elucidative, are required. Experimental studies have shown foods such as milk, fish, and certain fruits like kiwis and tart cherries promote sleep.6 While the mechanisms remain unclear and further studies investigating the long-term effects are required to provide more firm conclusions, several potential explanations have been put forward including the antioxidant capacity and levels of vitamins, hormones, and neurotransmitters produced by consuming these foods . Nevertheless, in line with current healthy eating guidelines and current knowledge on diet and sleep, we should focus on consuming fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and using vegetable oils that are low in saturated fat to promote an overall healthy lifestyle. 

Sleep influences nutrition

Over the last few decades, there have been trends in declining sleep duration coupled with a rise in rates of obesity.8 Is this a surprise? I think not! Sleep plays a key role in modulating metabolic functioning including appetite, glucose regulation, and energy balance and naturally, disruptions to this pattern can alter energy homeostasis.

Poor sleep may be a risk factor for obesity as it has been associated with increased energy intake and weight gain.9,10 This may be due to the fact that being awake longer simply brings a greater awareness of the time since our last meal. It is therefore not surprising that an increased prevalence of late-night snacking and food intake has been observed among clinically sleep deprived individuals.11,12 This awareness may also be coupled with our body’s physiological response. Sleep deprivation may cause a disruption in the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin. A lack of sleep can cause levels of ghrelin to rise and leptin to drop, inducing feelings of hunger and reduced satisfaction when eating. Interestingly, poor sleep has been shown to increase cravings for calorie-dense foods rich in fat and carbohydrates which may begin to explain the energy imbalance often associated with sleep deprivation.11,13 Thus, it is clear that both sleep and nutrition are important modifiable risk factors for the development of chronic non-communicable diseases such as obesity.

Tips to optimize sleep quality

Similar to eating a healthy, balanced diet, getting a good night’s rest should be a top priority. Here are some tips to help optimize sleep quality:

  1. Set a night-time routine:  

o   Go to sleep at the same time each night to ensure you are getting the same amount of sleep per night.

o   Set an ambiance that promotes sleep by turning off the lights and limiting noise.

o   Limit screen time in the evenings. Put screens away an hour or more before sleep. 

o   Meditate to help clear your mind

  1. Choose a dietary pattern that fits your sleep schedule:

o   Avoid eating 2-3 hours before bedtime.

o   Avoid unnecessary caffeine, especially in the evenings

  1. Limit naps throughout the waking hours.

o   Naps between 10-30 minutes can enhance performance and promote wakefulness

o   Avoid frequent, long (30+ minute) naps throughout the day

Wishing you all a restful night’s sleep! Sweet dreams!


References:
1. Watson NF, Badr MS, Belenky G, Bliwise DL, Buxton OM, Buysse D, et al. Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: a joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Sleep 2015;38(6):843–844.
2. Ohlmann KK, O’Sullivan MI. The costs of short sleep. AAOHN J. 2009 Sep;57(9):381-5.
3. Doherty R, Madigan S, Warrington G, Ellis J. Sleep and Nutrition Interactions: Implications for Athletes. Nutrients. 2019 Apr 11;11(4):822.
4. Golem DL, Martin-Biggers JT, Koenings MM, Davis KF, Byrd-Bredbenner C. An integrative review of sleep for nutrition professionals. Adv Nutr. 2014 Nov 14;5(6):742-59.
5. Buysse, D.J. Sleep health: Can we define it? Does it matter? Sleep 2014;37:9–17.
6. St-Onge, M-P, Mikic, A & Pietrolungo, CE (2016) Effects of diet on sleep quality. Adv Nutr. 2016;7:938–949.
7. Jaussent I, Dauvilliers Y, Ancelin ML, Dartigues JF, Tavernier B, Touchon J, Ritchie K, Besset A.Insomnia symptoms in older adults: associated factors and gender differences. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 2011;19:88–97.
8. Pot GK. Sleep and dietary habits in the urban environment: the role of chrono-nutrition. Proc Nutr Soc. 2018 Aug;77(3):189-198.
9. Al Khatib, HK, Harding, SV, Darzi, J et al. The effects of partial sleep deprivation on energy balance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2017;71:614–624.
10. Patel SR, Malhotra A, White DP, Gottlieb DJ, Hu FB. Association between reduced sleep and weight gain in women. American journal of epidemiology. 2006 Nov 15;164(10):947-54.
11. Cooper CB, Neufeld EV, Dolezal BA, Martin JL. Sleep deprivation and obesity in adults: a brief narrative review. BMJ open sport & exercise medicine. 2018 Oct 1;4(1).
12. Reutrakul S, Van Cauter E. Sleep influences on obesity, insulin resistance, and risk of type 2 diabetes. Metabolism. 2018 Jul 1;84:56-66.
13. Koren D, Dumin M, Gozal D. Role of sleep quality in the metabolic syndrome. Diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity: targets and therapy. 2016;9:281.

Rebecca Simonian is a 2nd year MSc student in the lab of Dr. G. Harvey Anderson.

Connecting Nutrition to Oral Health

By: Adrianna Greco

We know that eating well is beneficial to our overall health and quality of life, but less is known about its importance for oral health and the intrinsic relationship between the two.

Throughout most of modern physiology, the mouth has been considered to be separate from the rest of the body. Within the last few decades, researchers have come to appreciate the inextricable connection between our oral and overall health, and the impact it has on our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. The relationship between nutrition and oral health is also considered to be bidirectional, as nutrition is a key component to maintaining good oral health.

The relationship between physical and oral health

Before we can understand the relationship between nutrition and oral health, it is important to uncover the impact of our overall health on oral health- and vice versa. A prominent example is gum disease, a common chronic inflammatory condition. Ongoing inflammation in the mouth can allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream, and potentially lead to more inflammation in other parts of the body.1 Gum disease has been linked to a wide array of conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature birth. As well, our overall health (and especially nutrition) can help prevent poor oral health. So maintaining our health, especially when managing a chronic disease, is very beneficial for the health of our mouth and teeth. For example, for those with diabetes, when blood glucose levels are well maintained, periodontal health is better.1 Managing chronic conditions, including those that face cardiovascular and autoimmune disease, will also help promote good oral health. Overall health includes adequate oral health and further emphasis, in both the scientific community and nutrition field, needs to be placed on the role of dental health as health-promoting.

Foods for (and against) oral health

Unsurprisingly, many of the foods that are beneficial for our overall health also support our oral health! In order to support dental health, it’s important to eat foods that will strengthen the teeth and enamel, and remove any harmful bacteria from our mouths. Foods high in calcium and phosphorus will strengthen teeth and help to re-mineralize or fill in any holes that may exist in tooth enamel. Common sources of these nutrients include milk, cheese, nuts, and meat, and for those following a plant-based diet, vegetables such as broccoli and spinach are also high in calcium. Consuming firm and crunchy foods, including fruits, vegetables and nut products will help create more saliva, which helps to wash away food particles in your mouth that can stick to your teeth and cause caries. They are also high in water content, which helps to dilute any sugars that, when combined with the bacteria in our mouth, can turn into acid that is damaging for the teeth and its enamel.

Foods that contain sugar or are highly acidic can cause dental caries and other oral health concerns like  canker sores. These include sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods, as well as vinegars, tomatoes, and citrus fruits. Fruits do not cause caries- although they contain carbohydrates, their high water content helps to dilute their sugars and their fiber content helps clean the teeth. This is not true of dried fruits, as they can contain large amounts of sugar, and tend to be sticky and adhere to the teeth. 

Other nutritional considerations beyond the consumption (and removal) of certain foods from the diet can also have an impact on our dental health. For example, the length of time the food (especially carbohydrate-containing food) remains in our oral cavity should be decreased, as this creates acid that can potentially lead to tooth decay. Additionally,  the forms of foods we consume can impact our oral health. Liquids are less likely to cause caries than solid and sticky foods, due to how they expose the teeth to acidic activity. Liquids are quickly swallowed and are less likely to adhere to the teeth, making it easier to remove via brushing than solid or sticky particles of food that stick to the teeth. Our salivary flow decreases at night, so foods we consume in the evening or close to when we sleep are less likely to be washed away by our saliva. Thus, maintaining good oral hygiene practices, especially after eating and before bed, is essential.

Dental caries

The most common oral health problem caused by our diet are dental caries (or cavities). Dental caries are caused by a number of factors, including the bacteria in our mouths, the foods we eat, and our dental hygiene practices (i.e., regular cleaning). If caries are not properly treated, they can lead to tooth decay, which may impact food intake and possibly spur malnutrition. Tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease, and untreated dental caries are the most prevalent health condition worldwide. Luckily, they are entirely preventable through maintaining good oral health practices- such as reducing sugar intake, brushing teeth twice a day with fluoride-enriched toothpaste, and flossing.

Changes in oral health throughout the lifespan

Our oral health changes throughout our life, and can be impacted by a number of life stages. During pregnancy, women are more susceptible to developing gingivitis, or gum disease, due to changes in their hormone levels. Additionally, a woman’s diet during pregnancy can impact the tooth development of her infant. At birth, 83% of a child’s tooth enamel has already formed, highlighting the importance of adequate maternal nutrition during pregnancy.2 

Later in life, adults over the age of 65 have a high rate of untreated dental disease. Some of these individuals have no natural teeth, and are more likely to experience chronic disease and take medications, both of which may have negative effects on oral health. They also experience physiological changes such as mouth dryness due to lack of saliva, which can predispose them to tooth decay. This group is also at an increased risk for malnutrition and nutrient deficiency, which may be exacerbated by eating adaptations caused by dental changes, such as dentures and tooth loss. It is clear that more attention needs to be paid to diet and dental care in our later years, in order to improve quality of life.

Nutrition-related considerations and their impact on oral health

There is a strong relationship between diet and oral health, as nutrition has a role in preventing tooth decay and gum disease, while the health of our teeth and gums can determine what types of foods we can eat. Perhaps the strongest link is the impact of vitamin and mineral deficiencies on oral health. When one or more nutrients in the diet is missing, the first symptoms of deficiency often manifest in the mouth. Mineral deficiencies affect the hard structures in the mouth (teeth and bones), while vitamin deficiencies affect soft tissues.3 For example, vitamin A deficiency is associated with very low-fat diets and liver problems, and affects the skin in the mouth. Vitamin B12 deficiencies (which may be caused by restrictive diets including vegetarian and veganism without proper supplementation), can lead to painful sores on the side of the mouth and lips, swelling of the tongue, and inflamed gums. Vitamin D deficiency, which is common in Canada, affects calcification and the strength of the teeth and bones. To further exacerbate these issues, soreness in the oral cavity (which is often a result of these vitamin and mineral deficiencies) leads to poor oral intake, which then worsens the underlying cause.

Eating disorders also have a strong impact on oral health. Anorexia nervosa, characterized by the continuous deprivation of food and minimal nutritional intake, can lead to nutritional deficiencies known to impact oral health. Bulimia nervosa (binging and purging), can cause erosion to tooth enamel when stomach acid is regurgitated back into the mouth from purging. And mental health can also affect oral health. Poor oral health can decrease an individual’s quality of life or exacerbate mental health issues. Conversely, mental health can impact oral health, as those under continued stress or experiencing depression may ignore their dental health.

Athletes often have worse oral health than their non-athletic counterparts. Recent work out of Germany found that competitive triathletes (compared to an amateur triathlete group) had worse gingival inflammation.4 This has been hypothesized to be caused by the increased number of high-sugar energy products they consume, but recent research has instead focused on the increased number of training hours they put in. During intense training, the amount of saliva produced decreases, which can have an impact on oral health overall.

Lastly, stress and external contributors can also impact our dental health. For example, food security can be a major contributor to oral health. Gum disease, tooth decay, and dental caries have all been associated with poor socioeconomic outcomes. Recent work from the United States has shown that pregnant women who experience food insecurity exhibit worse oral health and lack access to proper care.5 And emerging research has suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic was bad for oral health. Since our mouth harbors bacteria and other microorganisms that interact with our body, having an infection can change our oral microbiome. Work published in Nature Medicine has highlighted that the coronavirus can infect cells in the mouth and salivary glands, and even be transmitted by saliva.6 Stress and dietary changes, both of which were prominent during the COVID-19 pandemic, can alter the oral microbiome as well.

Choosing what we eat is important to maintain not only our physical health, but our oral health as well. It is clear that there is an intrinsic relationship between our oral health and overall health. As well, oral health is impacted by different conditions and exposures, both physical and mental, and changes across the lifespan. Thus, it is an important factor that should not be overlooked, as when we maintain oral health, we also maintain our overall health. It is important to make small dietary changes, improve our physical health, and reduce stress to ensure that we are doing all we can to maintain our oral health, and our overall health will be sure to follow. 


References:
2. Global Issues- Food. Retrieved From: ‘https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/food’ [Online Source]
3. The basics of food security. Retrieved from: ‘https://www.worldvision.ca/stories/food/the-basics-of-food-security'%5BOnline Resource].
4. Merle CL, Richter L, Challakh N, et al. Orofacial conditions and oral health behavior of young athletes: A comparison of amateur and competitive sports. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2022;32(5):903-912. doi:10.1111/sms.14143
5. Testa A, Ganson KT, Jackson DB, Bojorquez-Ramirez P, Weiser SD, Nagata JM. Food insecurity and oral health care experiences during pregnancy: Findings from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System. J Am Dent Assoc. 2022;153(6):503-510. doi:10.1016/j.adaj.2021.12.010
6. Huang N, Pérez P, Kato T, et al. SARS-CoV-2 infection of the oral cavity and saliva. Nat Med. 2021;27(5):892-903. doi:10.1038/s41591-021-01296-8

Adrianna Greco is a 2nd year MSc student in the lab of Dr. Deborah O’Connor.

Gut Microbiome and Mental Health

By: Kira Lai and Zahra Shahabi Nezhad

Have you ever had a gut instinct? Well… our guts play a fundamental role in physiological homeostasis and have a significant influence on our mental health and cognition as well. A balanced diet consisting of probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, and fibre can create a healthy gut environment which can potentially reduce the chances of developing mental health disorders and support optimum cognitive function.

The human gut harbours a complex microbial ecosystem, including bacteria, archaea, and viruses. A recent estimate of the human gut bacteria showed that bacteria outnumber the total human cells, with an estimate of 3.8*10^13 bacteria in the gut.1 In this article, we will explore the connection between the gut microbiome, nutrition, and mental and cognitive health.

The gut microbiota plays a vital role in maintaining overall health by serving as part of the intestinal barrier, which is important for nutrient processing, energy homeostasis, and regulating immunity.2 In addition, the gut microbiome interacts with the nervous system in what is commonly referred to as the “gut-brain axis”. This axis connects the enteric system to the central nervous system (CNS), which links the cognitive and emotional centers of the brain to the intestinal functions.3

Additionally, high levels of cortisol and inflammatory mediators in the CNS can lead to increased intestinal permeability, which can, in turn, contribute to the development of CNS disorders, including depressive and anxiety disorders.4  A recent epidemiological study has shown that distinct faecal bacterial genera are depleted in individuals with depression, and that the composition of the microbiome is significantly associated with quality of life.5 Taken together, this suggests that taking care of your gut can go a long way toward maintaining a healthy brain environment.

Our gut microbiota composition is affected by both modifiable and non-modifiable determinants, including genetics, age, diet, exercise, environment, and the use of antibiotics. Provided that diet is one of the strongest modifiable determinants of the gut microbiome, it opens up promising avenues to improve gut health through nutrition for better cognitive and emotional functioning.

Prebiotics are indigestible fibers, namely, fructo-oligosaccharides, galacto-oligosaccharides, and resistant starch, that are selectively utilized by gut microorganisms as the primary nutrition source for conferral of health benefits.6 Commonly found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and human milk, prebiotics have the advantage of modulating the gut microbiota and metabolite profile. Recent work in this area has shown that higher-fiber diets promote diversity of the gut microbiota and a higher abundance of  microbes that play neuroprotective roles and enhance neuron plasticity through enhancing butyrate production.2 Conversely, reductions in dietary fiber significantly decrease the levels of beneficial bacteria that may help support digestive health and the immune system.2 Taken together, diets rich in prebiotics and fiber can contribute to better immune and cognitive health.

In addition to the consumption of foods that nurture the gut microbiota, probiotics have also been shown to impact mental health. In a recent meta-analysis of human interventional studies, results showed that consumption of probiotics, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, improved depressive symptoms among populations with and without depression.7 However, considerable heterogeneity was observed in the study designs, including the strain of probiotics used and the tools used to measure mental health states, highlighting the need for better quality research in the field of microbiome and neuroscience.

Finally, consuming neuroprotective fats such as omega-3 fatty acids, may also influence psychomotor and cognitive development through modification to the gut microbiome. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are the most bioactive forms of omega-3 fatty acids and are important for healthy brain development and maintaining neuroplasticity. A decrease in DHA levels is correlated with mood and behavioral disorders such as anxiety and depression, and supplementation with DHA has been shown to improve symptoms of these disorders. In addition, some studies have shown the beneficial effects of long-term administration of EPA and DHA on the restoration of gut microbiota following environmental stress.8 This suggests supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids, especially ones high in DHA, will contribute to enhanced gut and mental health. 

Overall, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and managing stress levels are ways in which you can improve the health of your gut. Be sure to add plenty of fiber to your diet, and where possible, add a pre and probiotic supplement to improve your diet. This will provide a thriving environment for your gut bacteria which will lead to enhanced cognitive and mental health.

References:
1. Sender, R., Fuchs, S, & Milo, R. Revised estimates for the number of human and bacteria cells in the body. PLoS Biol. 14, e100253 (2016).
2. Liu, L., Huh, J. R. & Shah, K. Microbiota and the gut-brain-axis: Implications for new therapeutic design in the CNS. EBioMedicine. 77, 103908 (2022).
3. Carabotti, M. et al. The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Ann Gastroenterol 28, 203–209 (2015).
4. Simpson, C. A. et al. The gut microbiota in anxiety and depression – A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 101943 (2020).
5. Valles-Colomer, M. et al. The neuroactive potential of the human gut microbiota in quality of life and depression. Nat Microbiol 4, 623–632 (2019).
6. Gibson, G. R. et al., Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on the definition and scope of prebiotics. Nat. Rev. Gastroenterol. Hepatol. 14, 491-5022017 (2017).
7. Hofmeister, M. et al. The effect of interventions targeting gut microbiota on depressive symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis. CMAJ Open. 9, E1195–E1204 (2021).
8. Costantini, L., Molinari, R., Farinon, B., & Merendino, N. (2017). Impact of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on the Gut Microbiota. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 18(12), 2645. doi:10.3390/ijms18122645

Kira Lai is a 2nd year MSc student in the lab of Dr. Anthony Hanley. Zahra Shahabi Nezhad is a 2nd year MSc student in the lab of Dr.  Jacqueline Beaudry.

RECIPES

Keeping with the theme of nutrition in everyday life, Chef Amy Symington has shared a few recipes to help improve your oral health, cognition and sleep! We hope these delicious and nutritious recipes shake up your weekly meal prep and provide an additional boost!

Spicy Almond Noodle Salad

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Watermelon, Mint, Feta & Arugula Salad

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Matcha Mint Chocolate Chip Shake

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If you would like to try out other delicious and nutritious recipes from Chef Amy, you can purchase her cookbook, The Long Table Cookbook: Plant-based Recipes for Optimal Health, here. All author proceeds go to support the social, emotional and nutritional programming at Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto.

Amy Symington is a 1st year PhD student in the lab of Dr. Richard Bazinet.

Welcome Wall

By: Katherine Pullella

Over the summer, the Department of Nutritional Sciences has grown! We welcome Dr. Kozeta Miliku who has joined the faculty as an Assistant Professor. Learn more about her journey to academia and fascinating research below!

Dr. Kozeta Miliku

Dr. Kozeta Miliku joined the Department of Nutritional Sciences in May 2022, as an Assistant Professor. Prior to joining the DNS, Dr. Miliku completed her MD at the Medical University of Tirana, Albania and a Masters of Health Sciences at Erasmus University of Rotterdam in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Dr. Miliku obtained her PhD in Clinical Epidemiology from Erasmus University of Rotterdam and completed her post-doctoral training in Epidemiology and Pediatrics at the University of Manitoba and McMaster University. Her research interests include lifecycle nutrition & developmental origins of health and disease.

The Miliku lab is located on the 5th floor of the Medical Sciences Building, within the Department of Nutritional Sciences.

  1. Could you give us a broad overview of your research?

As a trained clinician scientist, my ultimate goal is to prevent chronic disease through evidence-informed interventions during critical periods of development. My research is focused on lifecycle nutrition and the developmental origins of health and disease. Currently, my research agenda focuses on the role of preconception father’s health and diet, in child’s cardiovascular health.

  1. How did you know you wanted to pursue a career in academic research? When did your true passion for research appear? 

In the final year of my medical studies, I had my first research experience and grew an interest in scientific research. Without hesitation, that year (2012-2013), I applied for an MSc scholarship. I was lucky to be accepted from the Netherlands Institute for Health Research, Erasmus University Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, to pursue an MSc in Health Sciences (Pediatrics and Epidemiology). During my MSc in the Generation R Study in the Netherlands, I first heard about the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease or DOHaD. DOHaD is fascinating (if you have not, please read about it), especially from the preventive aspect of chronic disease. To top that up, the results of my MSc project were very compelling and deserved further investigation. For example, in my first MSc. project, I found that: “Breastfed children had a better kidney function compared to those there were not breastfed” – Why? How? Does this effect continue in adulthood? – I still had so many questions to answer. So, I was utterly grasped into the research world, and since then, I have continued my Ph.D. and postdoctoral studies, and I am now a DOHaD researcher.

  1. What advice would you give to graduate trainees during this stage of their academic career?

There are three pieces of advice I would have appreciated getting as a trainee:  
1. Do not get disappointed by failures, mistakes, or rejections, but embrace them and do not give up. Your research pathway will have ups and downs, so be prepared for those. 

2. The period of your grad studies/postdoc is the time for you to read and learn as much as possible. Take courses, and attend talks and seminars, even outside your field of study. 

3. Identify mentors (within and/or outside your field of study) and meet regularly with them. Share with them your interests and career goals. 

  1. What skills are the most crucial to succeeding in this career? What type of person do you need to be?

Be persistent and resilient – I can’t emphasize these words enough if you want to pursue an academic career; be receptive to constructive criticism. At this stage, I would also advise building leadership skills and developing your professional network. Networking is essential for your professional development, therefore, do not hesitate to make acquaintances e.g., in scientific meetings.  

  1. What are you most excited about for your new faculty position at UofT?

I am excited about many things. First, I have my lab and can build my research program from the design/conception. Second, I love teaching, so I look forward to next winter as I will teach Undergrad students. Most importantly, I am super excited about our department’s and my lab outstanding students. It is an absolute pleasure to share my knowledge with them and supervise and mentor them.  

  1. What are some ways you maintain your health outside of traditional diet and exercise? 

Hmm – I am not the best person to answer this question. As a new mom, I am very much dependent on my little one schedule; therefore, any sleep that I get is a retreat. 
I can not say that being a new faculty does not have stress – It has a lot! But, as I advised earlier, I also have my mentors, which are extremely helpful.

Katherine Pullella is a 5th year Ph.D. candidate in the lab of Dr. Joanne Kotsopoulos.

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