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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

Lara Hyde expands access to nutrition and wellness education

The double Jumbo, now a faculty member at the Friedman School of Nutrition, strives to educate on healthy relationships with nutrition.

Lara Hyde

Tufts University is home to many different schools enacting change in the world. One of these is the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, which originally brought adjunct instructor Lara Hyde to Tufts as a master’s and doctoral student in biochemical and molecular nutrition at the school.

“I feel so grateful for having the opportunity to continue to build on the relationships I started when I was a student at Tufts,” Hyde said. “Tufts is such a special time in your life to build relationships, and it’s just amazing to see where they can take you.”

Hailing from Calgary, Canada, Hyde studied physiology during her undergraduate years at McGill University, where she worked in a nutrition research lab. Hyde had wanted to become a physician, but her experiences working with patients in an emergency room while in college shifted her interests toward nutrition.

“There were a lot of patients coming in for kind of band-aid fixes that were really related to chronic diseases that are impacted by lifestyle,” Hyde said. “That shifted me to really want to work more on that lifestyle piece of which nutrition is such a big component. … It really coalesced a lot of the interests I had of looking at both the big picture — how does lifestyle impact your health — while also having the opportunity to study it at that very molecular level.”

Hyde is part of a teaching team for a civic biology course this semester. She also teaches a nutrition certificate program course in the spring through the Friedman School that focuses on deciphering nutritional evidence in the public and media.

Hyde works as a nutritional biochemist and science communicator. She aims to take her research and translate it for public access. Hyde has been sharing this knowledge through her nutrition science YouTube channel “Nourishable” since 2017.

“I make YouTube videos about nutrition and am really trying to translate the research behind many of the nutrition fads that get to be pretty popular on social media that may or may not be backed by science,” Hyde said. “I am really trying to help that translation process so that consumers can make evidence-based decisions for themselves about how to eat and what matters most for their health.”

Hyde’s interest in creating a YouTube channel came from her desire to expand access to nutrition education. Beyond her YouTube channel, she has taught at Dartmouth College, Tufts University and community colleges. She finds it rewarding to learn about the changes in nutrition and lifestyle that her students make after taking her classes but hopes to expand this educational access to the greater public.

“When you’re teaching in a classroom, you only have the opportunity to impact the people in your classroom, so it’s a smaller number and there’s a certain level of access that you have to have in order to be able to be in that classroom to begin with,” Hyde said. “I really wanted to expand my audience size and expand access to this nutritional information.”

Aside from expanding access to nutrition education, making videos for her YouTube channel has also been an outlet for creative expression.

“I’m a dancer so I really love to perform, so making videos and stimulating that creative side of my brain and that storytelling side of my brain was also something I really want my career to satisfy,” Hyde said.

Hyde feels there are many benefits to studying nutrition, as a healthy diet can be important for preventative health.

“Many of the noncommunicable chronic diseases that are really prevalent around the U.S. can be prevented through healthy diets,” Hyde said. “Nutrition can make an enormous difference in the quality of your life, but it gets complicated as there are many issues with access to nutrition.”

Given the prevalence of social media as a platform for the rapid spread of information, Hyde also feels studying nutrition can make navigating the misinformation about nutrition presented in mass media easier.

“Social media is driven by algorithms and what pops up the most in algorithms is controversy,” Hyde said. “Controversy is not necessarily evidence-based so what ends up getting promoted in the algorithms when it comes to nutrition and wellness is often a lot of misinformation, and that can steer people down the wrong direction when it comes to what is actually healthy for you.”

Luckily, there are ways to look out for evidence-based voices in social media about nutrition and wellness. Hyde suggests that viewers should focus on the type of evidence being used as well as the motivations behind a content creator and whether they are trying to sell a product.

Hyde also feels the language being used online can also determine the validity of the nutritional information.

“There’s certain terminology that I feel like you can watch out for. Nutrition scientists are really careful about using things like the word ‘cause,’ or saying that one food or one nutrient or one diet is the cure for everything,” Hyde said. “I think if you can train yourself to really listen to some of the very extrapolated language, that is one piece, like there’s never going to be one supplement or one nutrient or one celery juice that is going to cure everything.”

On social media, there has also been great emphasis on tracking food and exercise choices, which Hyde feels can be detrimental to someone seeking to develop a healthier lifestyle. Instead, Hyde suggests tracking the diversity of plant foods in an individual’s diet, including nuts, seeds, fruits, beans, vegetables and whole grains.

“I think that tracking things like your food and exercise can be enlightening for a short period of time but also can have the tendency to really manipulate and degrade your relationship with food,” Hyde said. “Something I have moved towards as something that is a bit easier to track and always going to lead to a healthier diet, is to try to increase the diversity of different plants in your diet.”

Hyde also believes that other ways that people can strive to improve their lifestyles include  feeling energized by and maintaining a healthy relationship with food and exercise. Overall, Hyde stresses developing flexible goals in order to effectively pursue adaptable and healthy lifestyles.

“Often people will feel that they need to follow this very restrictive diet or this very prescriptive exercise plan and if they don’t follow it perfectly, they failed, and that’s not the case,” Hyde said. “Incorporating any amount of movement into your day is going to be healthier for you. Shifting towards more diverse plant foods in your diet is going to be healthier for you. So I think it’s great to identify some goals but also give yourself some grace in how you get there.”