Georgia CTSA Clinical Research Centers’ Bionutrition Unit Lauded for Extraordinary Efforts by Study Participants

research staff with study participant

“I’ve lost over 32 pounds in six months, and I credit a lot of my success to the bionutrition staff at the Georgia CTSA Clinical Research Center. They have taught me essential skills, like the importance of portion control when eating. I now am mindful of portion sizes daily, whether I’m eating at a restaurant or at home,” says David Gleim, a 71-year-old male study participant.

Georgia CTSA Clinical Research Centers (GCRCs) Bionutrition Unit collaborates with the Legume Diet Study (LDS), led by Terry Hartman, PhD, MPH, RD, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and Health Sciences, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, and research colleagues, including the GCRC Co-Director Tom Ziegler, MD. This collaboration between LDS and the GCRC is another outstanding example of how Georgia CTSA assists its researchers in offering cutting-edge expertise and translational science that directly benefits clinical populations. 

LDS is designed to test whether a high-fiber diet that features legumes is beneficial for both weight loss and colon cancer prevention in a high-risk population. The Bionutrition Unit of the GCRC essentially manages the LDS, providing a full array of resources to all participants. Dr. Hartman notes, “All participants are seen at the GCRC, from their initial screening to all follow-up appointments with dieticians and with Dr. Ziegler. Participants receive all study-prepared entrées, education, and dietary counseling at the center.”

Staffing the Bionutrition Unit is a team of expert physicians, researchers, and dietitians. Their range of capabilities includes consultation on protocol development, nutrition-related study design, nutrition assessment and education for study participants, data collection and analyses, and research meal preparation for both inpatient and outpatient studies.

Being a natural fit for the Bionutrition Unit, LDS features pre-portioned, prepared entrees and ongoing nutritional counseling for participants, both designed to accomplish portion control and increase legumes in a healthy high-fiber diet. Currently, according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, 97% of men and 90% of women do not meet the recommended intake of dietary fiber. Increasing fiber intake from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is essential as the effect of poor diet quality may contribute to the onset and/or progression of diet-related chronic diseases.

“As a result of this study, our participants report incorporating more legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in their diets,” says Heather Zhou, RD, LD, Georgia CTSA Clinical Research Centers Bionutrition Research Dietitian, Emory University.

LDS has been enormously well-received by study participants who repeatedly express their appreciation for their involvement. In study feedback, David Gleim was excited about his successful weight loss. He remarked that the good flavor profile of the 14 control group entrées provided in the study was especially helpful. An added bonus of his study participation and weight loss was that his blood work significantly improved at his most recent visit.

Highlighting his interactions with Ms. Zhou of the GCRC Bionutrition Unit team, Gleim remarks, “Working with Heather was great. She was encouraging and helpful. Along with invaluable staff like Teneka who prepared meals in the kitchen, she was instrumental in changing my understanding and mindfulness of how what I eat daily, and my daily activity level, which combined to result in a measurable, positive impact on reducing my weight and improving my overall fitness.”

Ms. Zhou comments on her counseling with Mr. Gleim, “We focused on portion control, especially when he eats out at a restaurant.  He likes Mexican and Italian food, so now, for example, he normally eats half of a calzone and takes the rest home for the next day's lunch. This is a good general strategy – to put a portion of food in a to-go-to container if the meal consists of two or more servings. We also discussed reviewing an unfamiliar restaurant’s menu prior to going and looking for grilled options on a menu versus fried options. All these tools can continue to help him maintain his weight going forward.”

Another study participant, Mary Maurer, a 73-year-old female, lost 14 pounds over the length of the study, “It has been so rewarding and motivating to work with all the Georgia CTSA staff at the Clinical Research Center. I learned that smaller portions can still be satisfying, and that mindfulness when planning out meals and snacks is essential. I have exceeded my weight-loss goal, and I am determined to stay within one or two pounds of that goal!”

While many study participants have been successful with their weight loss goals, they often face another challenge in the critical maintenance phase. In his study comments Gleim reported, “We have been provided with an updated meal plan, including the recipes of the control group entrées, and can receive continued support at home to prepare appropriate meals. I also have experience now using the ADA Food Lists book to understand appropriate portion sizes. On the activity side, I try to get 8,000 steps each day. So, I feel like I can be successful in maintaining the 32 pounds I lost.”

Jordyn Kohn, LDS Clinical Research Coordinator, remarks that he has a positive outlook for Mr. Gleim’s success going forward, “He has noted that his fullness level has changed and eats less now than he did before the study. He only eats one study entrée a day, so he is maintaining weight now more on his own meal planning and preparation. Gleim also seems committed to increasing his daily physical activity goals.”

Overall, the nutrition science underlying this study has been critical to helping participants move towards their weight loss goals compounded by the value of the relationships between the Bionutrition Unit staff and the participants. GCRCs staff are clinicians and educators, flexible to meet varying needs, and genuinely care about the success of study participants. Their complete engagement in this study has been vital to its accomplishments.

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