Paleo diets, Atkins diets, the soup diet, the cabbage diet – in the era of the superfoods, kale smoothies and cleansing rituals, it’s difficult to tease apart fact from pseudoscience. We are surrounded by self-proclaimed wellness gurus and any amount of information on how to manage health through food. Food has suddenly become medicine. We’re only just learning about the significance of the gut’s own nervous system and the roles of a healthy microbiome. But what makes a good diet? What is good nutrition? Can food control our health? It’s time to talk to a nutrition researcher to find out what makes good nutrition science. Our next curator is PhD student Emma Beckett (@synapse101), who studies molecular nutrition, the interaction between our genes and the nutrients we take in. Emma is based at the University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia. Starting out as a research assistant and lab manager in Immunology and Microbiology before embarking on a PhD in gene-nutrient interactions, Emma has a passion for science communication, particularly busting nutrition myths. Here’s Emma’s story.
I think I was always going to be a scientist. I was always asking questions, arguing and collecting facts as a kid. For me the question never would I go into science, but which type of science was I going to do!
My family is what inspired me into my current research. I am an identical twin from a huge family (I have 5 brothers & 4 sisters) so this made me think about genetics before I even really knew what genetics was. I have been a vegetarian for the last 16 or so years, and I often wondered what this meant for me vs. my non-vegetarian identical sister. I started reading about gene-nutrient interactions and epigenetics, and I realised I had more passion for this area than lung disease, which was my previous field. I love the whole idea of figuring out what makes us what we are, biologically and medically speaking. Working in Nutrition and Genetics is a great combination, because we all have genes and we all eat food!
I study gene nutrient interactions. Often chronic or later life diseases are the result of genes and lifestyle exposures, but its not just how these factors add up, but how they interact that matters. I look at nutrition as the lifestyle exposure in my work because nutrition is an unavoidable, but modifiable exposure for everyone. Nutrients can be involved in switching genes on and off, and the genes you inherit can influence the way you taste, the way you process food and the way nutritional factors are received in the body. I am particularly interested in folate and vitamin D, as these are very genetically active nutrients, and they both have suggested health benefits.
We all have genes and we all eat food! The interaction between the two is an important part in understanding our risk of diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and more. Understanding the current research in nutrition is also important in protecting the general public from misinformation and dietary fads and scams.
I play field hockey and am an avid support of the Newcastle Jets (A-league Soccer). I am a regular panellist on the Jetstream, a fan run podcast dedicated to the the Newcastle Jets. I like baking much more than someone in nutrition should. I volunteer for the Missing Persons Advocacy Network.
Ideal Day off? Sleep in, eggs and hash browns for breakfast with cold press coffee. Time with a good book, time with friends and wine. And there would definitely be cake.
Please welcome Emma to Real Scientists!