Buongiorno! My name is Stefano Vendrame and
I am here to introduce the science of nutrition to everyone who wishes to learn it. If you are willing to bear with my Italian
accent, I really hope to pass on some of my enthusiasm for this fascinating science, and
a lot of useful information that you will be able to apply in everyday life to improve
the quality of your diet, and your health in general. You don’t need any particular background
to follow this free introductory course in human nutrition, just an open mind and enough
motivation. But make no mistake: the goal of this course is not to give you a diet or
my personal “recipe” for what you should or shouldn’t eat. For that you can just
go to a bookstore and randomly pick any one book from the dieting shelf. Here we are going
to approach nutrition more seriously and comprehensively, we are going to learn the basics of the science
of nutrition, so we can make our own choices. Nutrition is the science that links the food
we eat to its effects on our body, how what we eat nourishes us but also how it can promote
our health and well-being, and prevent disease. There really is a lot to be gained from learning
and understanding nutrition. But the science of nutrition is not set in
stone. It is a relatively new discipline and it is a science in constant evolution. Many
are the things we already know, but many remain to be discovered. There’s a lot of research
going on about food and nutrition, and new fascinating knowledge is generated every day.
Sometimes we learn something new, some other times we are forced to reconsider our most
firmly-held beliefs. And often times we are faced with apparently conflicting information.
But in order to put new knowledge in the right perspective and make good use of what we’ll
discover in the future, first and foremost we need a good understanding of the basics
and of the path that led us to where we stand now. This is the goal of this course. A lot is said about food and nutrition, you
read about it in books and magazines, blogs and websites, you hear about it on television,
or from your family and friends… A lot of it is good science and useful information,
but a lot of it is misleading, confusing, conflicting, or dead wrong. There are a lot
of controversies and a lot of misconceptions about food and nutrition, a lot of fads, and
a lot of good science that unfortunately makes it to the media the wrong way, just adding
to the confusion. Are GMOs good or bad? Do low-fat weight loss
diet work better than low-carb? Are food additives dangerous? Should adults drink milk at all?
Should all of us take a multivitamin supplement? These are all interesting debates on which
scientists still haven’t reached a universal agreement.
The discussion of these as well as hundreds of other controversies and fads that populate
the world of nutrition will often go beyond the scope of this introductory course, in
which we are going to cover the basics of nutrition. But with the knowledge you acquire,
at the end of this course you will have all the necessary tools to critically evaluate
the information you’ll come across, and to make informed choices. I am always amazed at how much most people
want to learn about food and nutrition, they do want to make healthful changes to their
diet, they are willing to make serious commitments, but they are overwhelmed by the information
to which they are exposed. They end up thinking that eating a healthful diet is an exceedingly
complicated task, requiring major changes to their habits, a lot of time and effort,
and a lot of money too. Even worse, they are frustrated by the conflicting and contradictory
information presented by books, medias and so-called experts, to the point that they
are not even sure if the changes they are willing to make are actually worth it, or
useless, or maybe even detrimental. So many times I have read and heard reports
discussing concepts that could be so clear and simple with just a minimal knowledge of
basic nutrition, and yet they were presented in such a way that made them confusing and
contradictory, frustrating readers instead of encouraging them to make healthful changes
to their diets. Let me reassure you right now: nutrition is much easier and less controversial
than that. Food and nutrition is also one of those areas
in which many of us have strong feelings, firmly made-up minds and strong-held beliefs,
things we may have learned from our parents, from our teachers, from books or gurus we
trust, personal trainers, friends, and the like. When someone tries to confront us or
challenge such beliefs, we tend to get skeptical, defensive or even upset. We lose the ability
of being objective. We stubbornly cling onto our few certainties and we fight tooth and
nails if someone tries to challenge them. But in doing so, we abandon science and turn
our ideas into a faith, or worse, into extremism and fanaticism that are dangerous to our own
health. We selectively remember the evidence that
supports our ideas, and conveniently underestimate the evidence against. We trust persuasive
anecdotes over statistical facts. We distort reality to fit our preconceptions. We imagine
conspiracies to hide what we have decided to be the truth, where in reality there only
is our blind and stubborn prejudice. I’m not asking you to blindly believe everything
I say, but to listen with an open mind, respect for everybody’s ideas, and the willingness
to examine the evidence without prejudice, even when your mind is already made up. Like
a wise man once said, nobody learns what he thinks he already knows. In this course we will cover all the topics
of most introductory nutrition courses taught at colleges and universities. You will gain
a general understanding of the science of nutrition but also a perspective that will
easily allow you take it further, if you so wish, to more advanced studies such as sports
nutrition, weight loss nutrition, life cycle nutrition or clinical nutrition.
More importantly, you will be able to apply the knowledge you acquire in this course in
your everyday’s life, to help you make better choices and promote your health.
Although I will give you practical information and tips, do not expect me to tell you what
you should or shouldn’t eat or worse give you a list of foods to eat from Sunday to
Saturday. The goal of this journey is to learn nutrition, not to give you a diet! I’ll
do a lot better than that. I’ll give you the tools, all you need to know so that you
can make your own choices, and know why you are making them. You don’t need any particular knowledge
of biology, chemistry, biochemistry or physiology to follow this course, as I will keep any
reference to background knowledge to a minimum. I’m not going to show you chemical structures
or metabolic pathways, and the little maths we are going to use does not go beyond simple
operations of addition and multiplication. A basic understanding of the body’s anatomy
and physiology will help you better understand some concepts, but it’s not required, and
you will be able to follow me even without it.
I would recommend however to follow the videos in their order, as they are not independent
and new videos often build on knowledge from previous ones. For the same reason, I would
also recommend you not to skip videos even when you think you are already familiar with
a particular topic, as the title may be misleading and there may be more information inside that
video than the title suggests. This course is structured in ten different
sections, each section composed of 5 to 16 videos, each video ranging between 5 and 20
minutes. In the first section of the course, we will
introduce the science of nutrition and understand what it can do for us, we’ll start familiarizing
with foods and nutrients and look at them also from an evolutionary perspective.
In the second section, we are going to study eating behavior. What are hunger and satiety
and how do we regulate them, both biologically, psychologically and socially. What drives
our food choices. What eating behaviors are disordered. And how can we change eating behavior?
Section three deals with the important concept of energy balance. We will learn the components
of energy expenditure and how we can calculate energy requirements. What is a healthy weight?
Why do people become obese? What are the requisites of an effective weight loss diet.
In sections 4 through 6 we will explore the macronutrients. Section 4 deals with carbohydrates
and fiber, section 5 with lipids and section 6 with proteins. We will then move on to the
micronutrients. In section 7 we will study the vitamins, in section 8 the minerals. In
section 9 we will complete our study of nutritionally relevant food components by looking at water,
alcohol, plant phytochemicals and probiotics. We will also spend a few words on vegan diets.
Finally, section 10 deals specifically with the role of nutrition in preventing chronic
disease. We will discuss the relationship between diet, oxidative stress, inflammation,
cardiovascular disease and cancer. We will also look at two fascinating frontiers of
nutrition which are nutrigenomics and personalized nutrition, and finally we’ll try to frame
nutrition in a more general biopsychosocial approach to health and well being. Now that I’ve shown you the airplane view
of the path we will follow together, let’s fly back to where we took off, and start walking
through it step by step. I promise you, it’s going to be a fascinating journey. Are you
ready? Let’s go.