Dr. Kimber Stanhope is an esteemed researcher at the University of California, Davis. She currently works for the Department of Molecular Biosciences in the School of Veterinary Medicine conducting research on the effects of sugar consumption. Dr. Stanhope earned her BS, MS and PhD in Nutrition all from UC Davis. She is also a Registered Dietitian. Dr. Stanhope has worked in all aspects of nutrition - dietetic counseling, public health, and research (current). Despite her busy schedule, Dr. Stanhope was able to speak with us to answer some questions about her career and current research, as well as affirm her support for our mission.
Dr. Stanhope’s reason for choosing nutrition dates back to her high school years. She shared that in her early teens, she was very lean and fit, but there were few athletic options for girls at her high school and PE classes were minimally active. She gained several pounds per year and hated it. In college, she took a PE class with an instructor who was an exercise enthusiast and coach at the track & field Olympics. She got her weight back down to an ideal level and committed to including exercise in her life. Eating healthy also grew over time, so it made sense to get a degree in dietetics. Dr. Stanhope states, “as I get older, I am even more committed to exercise and eating healthy than in my 20s. I am constantly amazed and even sometimes frustrated at how disciplined a woman my age has to be in order to not gain weight. Weight control is a constant battle.”
What changes have you seen in the food system throughout your career, either positive or negative?
“I was a nutrition counselor and firsthand witness during the ‘low fat’ period. The problem with this emphasis was that it got interpreted that sugar was safe because it was a carbohydrate and didn’t contain fat. Now we have many people believing fats are safe and all carbohydrates, even complex carbohydrates, should be avoided," said Dr. Stanhope.
She believes that there isn’t enough quality research for determining the ideal macronutrient distribution of the ad libitum diet. She eats a “low fat and low sugar diet”, even though there is little research to support this. The low fat and low carbohydrates diets have been compared in numerous studies as weight loss regimens, but seldom as ad libitum diets. There is one study from Denmark, however, that showed the ad libitum “low fat and low sugar diet” was optimal for weight control and for its effects on risk factors compared with a high fat or with a high sugar diet.
Another change she has seen that she thinks is very positive is the farm-to-fork movement. “My husband and I live on a 2-acre ranch with a huge garden. We sell our produce to a restaurant in downtown Sacramento. I love that restaurants are searching for and using local, fresh produce.”
What changes would you like to see in the food system?
- It has become her hobby to grow unique cherry tomatoes –she has developed a huge appreciation for how time-consuming, thus expensive, it is to produce hand-picked, fresh organic foods. She hopes in the future there will be a more economical method that would allow more people to have access to fresh produce picked at the peak of ripeness.
- Advertisements! While they are now directed less at children, Dr. Stanhope is still concerned. She cites as an example the mother who is thrilled that her children who wouldn’t eat breakfast are willing to eat toaster pastries.
- Dr. Stanhope’s hope is that 20 years from now that the American diet will contain far less processed, high sugar foods and far more fruit and vegetable rests on parents. She believes (or fervently hopes) that as the research results become stronger and more publicized, parents of young children will most definitely want to make the changes to ensure the health of their child.
How do you connect to the IRN and our mission, vision, and goals?
“Our efforts at nutrition and health education are going to have to be very proactive to have a chance against our palatable and inescapable food environment in which the cheapest and most available foods are high in sugar or fat or both.”
Dr. Stanhope says it is her goal to help generate the solid research that is needed to combat the influence that the deep pockets of Big Food can have on the policy makers. She explained that at times she has been discouraged because it is very hard to get nutrition studies funded.
She states, “it is a battle and the industry will always come out with opposing data.”
Please share one piece of nutrition advice:
“Let nature be your food processor/manufacturer”
Dr. Stanhope's Current Research:
Dr. Stanhope’s new study on HFCS will be published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in June. It is a diet intervention study showing a very clear, dose-dependent response: as the levels of high fructose corn syrup consumption increased, CVD risk factors increased correspondingly.
Dr. Stanhope's Educational Videos