Clara has spent the better part of the past decade inside a research lab getting her PhD Degree and working as a Postdoctoral Fellow. The fact that she has kept fitness, specifically field hockey, a priority with her demanding academic schedule makes her “Our Inspiration.”
Occupation: Postdoctoral Fellow
Preferred Exercise: Hockey; or any competitive team sport
“Necessary Evil” Exercise: None really; but I find pull-ups insanely difficult
Favourite Hobby or Pass-time: Running
Ultimate Food Splurge: Homemade Mac and Cheese
Favourite Travel Spot: Sweden
Typical Friday Night: Hanging out with my husband; reading scientific articles or going out on the town 🙂
Biggest Life Accomplishment: Getting two tenure-track Assistant Professor positions with my husband
When you first meet Clara, her warm smile and outgoing personality immediately put you at ease. Balance is definitely key in her life – with an upcoming Tenure-Track Assistant Professorship at Utah State University, she has always tried to stay active and take part in as many extra curricular activities as possible.
Clara has always had a demanding academic schedule, and for that reason she has probably taken on more activities outside the lab to maintain her sanity. To name a few, she is a concert level cellist and plays at various events; she is a sought-after dog-sitter by friends and colleagues; and she has been playing on field hockey teams for almost fifteen years.
Clara admits that it is not always easy to keep a proper diet. During her BSc and PhD degrees at the University of Toronto, she often spent days and nights working in the lab, barely leaving to attend classes, let alone to exercise and eat properly. She recalls that her diet consisted mostly of canned tuna and cans of beans or soup. This is especially hard when you are studying nutritional sciences, like Clara! It should be noted that Clara is very well-recognized in her field of nutritional sciences and is frequently flown around the world to speak about her findings at invited conference sessions.
As her work progressed, her schedule only became more demanding and the challenges she faced to have a proper diet quickly became more difficult. When Clara moved from Toronto to Ithaca, New York to work as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University, she had to deal with stretching her budget, and with limited access to diverse foods in a small university town.
Perhaps it was her understanding of nutrition, but despite not always having a proper sleep schedule or her preferred diet of diverse ethnic foods, Clara maintained an otherwise healthy lifestyle. She made sure to have plenty of exercise including walking, snowboarding and playing field hockey. It is important to be as healthy as we can be, despite challenging schedules or menus that are thrown our way.
Here is what Our Inspiration, Clara Cho, had to say about balance, budget-friendly nutrition, and active living. Plus, she is giving away her secret recipes for CW readers!
1. CW: Briefly describe your studies for our readers. What are some of the most interesting results you have found? Have your findings encouraged you to lead a more active lifestyle?
CC: My research focuses on nutrients involved in one-carbon metabolism, such as folate, choline and other B-vitamins. Specifically, my work investigates determinants of chronic diseases using animal models and human studies from genetic, epigenetic, physiologic, metabolic and micro biome perspectives (i.e: what makes people sick).
One of the most interesting results I found is that brain feeding pathways can be modified by vitamin composition of the maternal and post-weaning diets. A high intake of vitamins involved in one-carbon metabolism (folate, vitamins B12 and B6) during pregnancy contributes to the obesogenic phenotype and epigenetically alter hypothalamic feeding pathways in the offspring (Cho CE et al, Mol Nutr Food Res 2015;59:476-89). Increasing the vitamin content of the pup diets (i.e., matching the vitamin content between the maternal and pup diets) prevented the obesogenic phenotype associated with high vitamin diets during pregnancy (Cho CE et al, Int J Obes 2013;37:1177-82; Cho CE et al, Epigenetics 2013;8:710-9).
Not only vitamins exposed in utero determine the risk of chronic diseases in the offspring, but also those in the pup diet can modulate the effect established in early life, highlighting that our brain may be modified throughout lifespan!
My findings focused on food intake regulation, rather than energy expenditure, and I hope to make connections between the two in my future research.
2. CW: It is fascinating to learn that what we eat and the nutrients we consume continues to affect our brains! That being said, eating healthfully can sometimes be a challenge. Do you have any tricks for people that find themselves trapped in difficult schedules or with limited budgets, and how they can maintain a healthy lifestyle?
CC: I find that cooking with other people and picnic-style swapping meals all helpful ways to eat nutritiously and affordably. Similarly, partaking in team sports is a great way to make friends and maintain a healthy lifestyle, all of which are win-win situations.
Aim for a balanced intake of nutrients.
3. CW: What are some of the best budget-friendly and nutritionally dense options for people at the grocery store?
CC: The best approach is to aim for a balanced intake of nutrients. No one food is going to provide a single solution to good health. With that in mind, a good choice would be beans (pulses), which are nutritious, delicious and affordable, and can be incorporated into meals in various ways.
4. CW: We know that you love to cook and bake. What is your favourite “healthy” dish to prepare, and what is your favourite “splurge” dish? Feel free to add a recipe (unless it is a secret!)
CC: I have so many dishes I absolutely enjoy, but one of my favourite “healthy” dishes is lentil salad. It is easy to make, which is always a plus. Recipe:http://allrecipes.com/recipe/14260/mediterranean-lentil-salad/
My favourite “splurge” dish is gourmet mac and cheese. Recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/11679/homemade-mac-and-cheese/
5. CW: How has fitness helped you in your personal and/or professional life?
CC: Fitness is integral to my personal and professional life. It allows me to clear my head and feel great about myself. Both of those things allow you to be more productive and happy overall.
6. CW: Do you have any words of wisdom for people looking for inspiration to start their fitness journey?
CC: I am not an expert in fitness, but as someone who loves team sports, I would say that finding your niche/community, whether it is a school team or pickup-sport at the park, is a great first-step to your fitness journey.
7. CW: What is your next fitness goal and what are you doing to achieve it?
CC: My next fitness goal is to explore mountain-related exercise opportunities in Utah. It is very beautiful there. My husband and I will be living right by the mountains, so we hope to get out there regularly for hiking, snowboarding and mountain biking.
8. CM: Anything else you would like to add?
CC: There are many dietary/lifestyle recommendations by non-scientists subsequently leading to public confusion. I think it is important to critically evaluate research findings and make recommendations using evidence-based approaches.
It is important to critically evaluate research findings and make recommendations using evidence-based approaches.