Update, November 2016
The new Evidence-based Glycemic Index Education Platform for Nutrition Educators is now online! The platform was developed by Dr. Shannan Grant in partnership with Dietitians of Canada and the Canadian Diabetes Association and is a valuable tool in helping translate information about glycemic index from practitioner to client.
Congratulations, Shannan, on this exciting milestone.
Original story published August 2016:
From ‘bench to bedside’
Dr. Shannan Grant is an Assistant Professor, Registered Dietitian, scientist, and innovator in the world of applied human nutrition. Interested in evaluating the use of the glycemic index (GI) in prevention and treatment of chronic disease, she is currently working with the Dietitians of Canada and the Canadian Diabetes Association to launch an evidence-based GI Education Platform. Shannan recently presented the results from a study she and her colleagues designed to evaluate these resources at the Dietitians of Canada National Conference in Winnipeg.
The term “glycemic index” (GI) first appeared in the literature in the early 1980s. It was proposed as a method to categorize carbohydrate (e.g. sugar, starch) foods according to their impact on blood sugar. Such foods are categorized according to low, medium and high GI. Diets rich in foods lower on the GI scale have been linked to reduced risk and improved management of certain chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
“As an educator and a scientist, I’m passionate about ensuring the public has access to the best evidence-based knowledge they can.”
— Dr. Shannan Grant, Assistant Professor of Applied Human Nutrition
From research to practice
Launching this fall, the GI Education Program, available through Dietitians of Canada Learning on Demand, will include multi-media resources for learners, like video demonstrations, handouts, audio recordings, online support, and more. This online program will also link directly to education materials Shannan has developed in partnership with Canadian Diabetes Association, developed to support educator-client conversations on GI — including a GI Food Guide. The main goal of this initiative is to provide Dietitians with resources to support them in deciding when and how to use GI in their practice, as well as how to educate others on GI.
Shannan is passionate about her research, and supporting nutrition professionals in taking GI knowledge from the laboratory to all Canadians – often referred to as a ‘bench to bedside’ approach. “In our work, we involve educators and patients to ensure our efforts are community-led,” said Shannan.
“As an educator and a scientist, I’m passionate about ensuring the public has access to the best evidence-based knowledge they can,” said Shannan. “We’re excited to finally share this new platform with educators and clients so that they can benefit from our research.”
The concept of GI and associated low-GI diet is no stranger to popular media and has been included in a number of popular diets. Shannan and her colleagues aim to teach Canadians to consume all media critically and refer to trusted sources of nutrition information (like dietitians and nutritional scientists) for assistance when unsure or confused. “There is a lot of information out there these days and just because a popular diet says it is low GI, does not mean that it is,” noted Shannan. Shannan’s work is an important reminder that it is important to consider the science behind the headlines, diets and dietary recommendations. She is a strong proponent of the need to communicate evidence-based nutrition information to the general public thoughtfully and holistically.
Hailing from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Shannan (pictured at right with Greg Sarney, Executive Director of the Canadian Foundation for Dietetic Research) has two undergraduate degrees in Biological Life Sciences at Cape Breton University and Human Nutrition at St Francis Xavier University, where she fell in love with the field of human nutrition. She also completed a Master’s degree and Doctor of Philosophy at the Department of Nutritional Science, University of Toronto.
During her graduate work, Shannan was given the opportunity to work with Dr. Thomas Wolever, one of the founders of GI. In fact, GI and its associated methodology was invented by Dr. Wolever (and his mentors and colleagues) while completing his PhD with Dr. David Jenkins.
A dedication to teaching and mentorship
The passion and drive Shannan has for her research are matched by a dedication to her students and community. “Education fuels research, and vice versa,” said Shannan. “I always had the plan to take what I learned in my studies and bring it back to my own community and to students in Nova Scotia.”
Students at the Mount have had the valuable opportunity to learn about and contribute to Shannan’s research, providing them hands-on experience and professional insight. “In my lab, or in affiliation with my lab, I have eight students working with me currently,” said Shannan. Shannan works with students at every level, from undergraduate honours to graduate research students. She is passionate about mentoring the next generation of nutritional scientists.
Shannan has been a fantastic addition to the Mount’s Department of Applied Human Nutrition (AHN), where she began teaching in 2015. Recognized across Canada and beyond, the department is also accredited by the Dietitians of Canada. The core faculty are actively involved in research and education development for the nutrition profession regionally, nationally and internationally. “What I love about the Mount is that it offers comprehensive programming that opens many doors for students,” Shannan said.
“I view my work as a service to my community.”
What’s to come?
In the months and years ahead, Shannan looks forward to continuing to examine GI utility in Atlantic provinces and is keen to work with local health professionals as they strive to support Nova Scotians in chronic disease management and treatment.
“I’m excited to test our education materials locally so that we can ensure that they are tailored to Atlantic Canadians. I view my work as a service to my community,” she said.
Shannan will also continue her research on other applied human nutrition projects. For example, she is currently a member of a Halifax-based Gastroenterology Research Collective that has recently started a clinical trial at the IWK Health Centre aiming to develop and test a novel dietary intervention for children living with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), like Crohn’s Disease. She has also, with a group of Halifax-based Clinicians, Scientists and community members, launched a Canadian Obesity Network Halifax Chapter.
“I believe we’re getting great information out to Canadians, but we need to continue developing and evaluating. I view education and intervention development as a constant work in progress – the work is never complete.”
“It’s a complex but exciting process.”
Shannan is thankful to supporters of her research (and education) over the past 12 years, including: Mount Saint Vincent University, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Canadian Foundation for Dietetic Research among others.