Graduate student explores complexities of nutrition and health from cradle to grave

Originally from New Orleans, Erin Bannister, lab instructor and dietetic intern at Northern Illinois University, says that food is tied to her identity.  Bannister was ten when she first learned to make a roux. Those early skills prepared her for her later work as a chef, which she describes as a kind of manual labor with long, hot hours. 

Bannister shares with a laugh, that she started to wonder how she could work with food and continue to nourish people with weekends and holidays off. Eventually, she discovered the field of dietetics.

Photo by ja ma on Unsplash

Currently in the thick of her Master’s thesis, Bannister is exploring the metabolic energy needs in adults and determining whether the default equations we use are accurate in the populations they’re used in. 

For instance, it is widely accepted that an average allowance for a roughly 170 pound man is  2,300 kcal/day; for women, it is 1,900 kcal/day. We expect that pregnant and lactating people will have higher metabolic energy needs. 

As Bannister spends a swath of her days compiling and extracting data, she says she’s discovering that some of the accepted equations need to be delineated. 

“The real root of my thesis and the root of most of my studies and the goals that I have, is to use accurate evidence-based interventions in the populations that they are meant to be used in and to not remove ourselves from that evidence,” Bannister begins. “… Often times, things are taught and then they are believed because the person that taught it is an expert and the evidence gets lost on the way; don’t forget to review the evidence.” 

As Bannister continues to pursue this idea that we can do better than sludging through the status quo, she sought out the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC). Although Bannister has great interest in the complexities of nutrition and health from cradle to grave, she says that there is a solid argument that the health of a population is highly correlated with the health of its mothers. 

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC)

“[I want] to be as helpful and effective as possible… to have the knowledge to be able to contribute meaningfully, and the certification adds credibility,” she explains. “The training was quite eye-opening, almost embarrassing to say how little I knew about breastfeeding.” 

Bannister goes on that ultimately, she would like to work with nutrition intervention in low and middle income countries where the burden of improper nutrition is most severe. Currently, many countries worldwide face the double burden of malnutrition – characterized by the coexistence of undernutrition along with overweight, obesity or diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). In fact, nearly one in three people globally suffers from at least one form of malnutrition: wasting, stunting, vitamin and mineral deficiency, overweight or obesity and diet-related NCDs. (WHO 2017)

As Bannister buckles down at the end of the semester, she says, “I want to make sure I am utilizing all the forks I’ve got in the fire.” 

You can learn more about Bannister’s work by exploring the various topics she has presented on, ranging from potatoes to prison to poop. Connect with Bannister on Linkedin and Instagram @calibrating_palates.

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