CHADRON – Although she doesn’t follow the diet herself, Chadron State College Psychological Sciences Professor Dr. Mary Jo Carnot has become part of a research team studying the beneficial health effects of eating primarily plant-based foods that are high in nutrient density.
In the last four years, Carnot has been listed as co-author on nine articles by the Northern Arizona University-based PRANDIAL Lab that have appeared in various peer-reviewed scientific publications, including the Journal of Food and Nutrition and the International Journal of Food Science, Nutrition and Dietetics.
Former CSC Family and Consumer Science instructor Jay Sutliffe directs the PRANDIAL Lab. The 10-member team includes celebrity doctor and author Joel Fuhrman, whose dietary advice book “Eat to Live” was a New York Times best seller, as well as educators, clinicians, researchers and students.
Carnot said her work with the group’s research, which she does on her own time mostly in summer, includes statistical analysis, and some aspects of experimental design.
“I take the data … determine what the most appropriate statistical analysis is and then summarize the results,” she said.
PRANDIAL is an acronym for Plant Rich and Nutrient Dense Interventions for Active Lifestyles. The lab’s published studies cover topics such as how a modified vegan (plant-based) diet might affect cardio-vascular health, employee wellness, or athletic performance.
“The idea is that diet can have beneficial effects in terms of preventing disease and maintaining health,” Carnot said.
Carnot first worked with Sutliffe on an article that appeared in the journal Family and Consumer Sciences in 2011, when he was on the CSC faculty. That association continued after he moved to NAU, where he is now an Associate Professor of Nutrition and Foods.
“He continues to call me as a consultant for statistics and research design,” Carnot said.
Having the PRANDIAL Lab research published in peer-reviewed journals indicates that it meets scientific standards, said Carnot, who is also a reviewer for the journal Current Psychology.
“It doesn’t get published until five people, or at least three, say it’s sound,” she said. “Credibility is the issue. The journal editors send it out to researchers who know that area and they can critique it for both the design and the results.”
The PRANDIAL research, particularly the longer-term studies of the diet’s effect on worksite wellness, have been well received by reviewers, according to Carnot.
“People that reviewed the articles have been very impressed that these are well designed and track changes over time,” she said.
While the research indicates multiple benefits from the diet, which is based on consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits, seeds and some whole grains, with little or no dairy or meat, it also seems to require a major change in lifestyle for many participants, said Carnot.
“People have trouble maintaining it over time,” she said. “People want to eat those carbohydrates. They want to eat those grains.”
As a native of Wisconsin, Carnot said her love of cheese is one reason she hasn’t adopted the diet herself. But the research has made her more conscious of her food choices.
She also sees applications of the research to psychology.
“Physical wellness and mental wellness are very closely related,” she said. “More and more they are finding connections between diet and mental health.”
And Carnot said her experience as co-author of published research on a topic not related to her primary field of study may help encourage CSC psychology students to consider a career in science.
“One of the things we try to tell our students is that part of being a psychologist is being a scientist, doing research, thinking about experimental design,” she said. “That skill can take you anywhere and in a lot of different directions.”