P.K. Newby, ScD, MPH, MS (“The Nutrition Doctor”) is a scientist, author, and entrepreneur with decades of experience researching diet-related diseases such as studying how people make food choices and their impact on the environment. She is an inspiring thought leader who speaks internationally about why, what we eat, matters — from farm to fork. In 2012, she started her own company to bring science to today’s critical food and nutrition conversations and challenges—and to fight junk-science in all the ways that she can.
PK, you are dedicated to improve communication around nutrition science. Why is this important for the planet's future?
We live in a world where the leading causes of death are preventable through nutrition, and diet is the single largest contributing risk factor; food choices are also at the heart of sustainability. With so much anti- and junk-science out there, it’s hard for people to know what’s true, which can lead to inaction or incorrect actions that compromise human health and the environment alike.
You are a nutrition scientist as well as a health and sustainability expert, you worked for 25 years in research and you have built your own company and brand, The Nutrition Doctor. How did you get there?
I always wanted to be a scientist and I knew early in life that I wanted to get a doctorate and become a professor. The world also needs more women in science: While women now earn more doctorates overall, men still receive the majority of PhDs in most STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields. I love research and teaching and am very much at home in the academy, where I worked full-time until 2012 on health promotion, disease prevention, and environmental nutrition. I’ll always be a scientist!
As my career moved forward, I started seeing today’s critical food and nutrition conversations being dominated by celebrities, junk-science bloggers and influencers, and others that were creating a culture of nutrition confusion and undermining science. We needed more experts – specifically with those graduate-level consult or more training in nutrition – to take charge of the conversation and help eaters learn the truth about what we eat and why it matters, farm to fork.
I left my Associate Professor position at Boston University to dedicate my career to science communication in best-undiscovered all the ways I could: blogging, books, television, speaking, etc. I also do consulting and still teach now and again at the university.
Why do you call yourself "The Nutrition Doctor"?
I began using the phrase “The Nutrition Doctor” to refer to myself to clarify that I am a PhD-level with two master’s degrees with expertise. This is critically important at a time when so many are trying to position themselves as nutrition experts yet have no scientific training whatsoever … yet nutrition is a science based in biochemistry and physiology studying how what we eat impacts our health, well-being, and disease.
What is nutrition?
Nutrition is the same thing for everyone since it’s a science: It is a field dedicated to understanding how what we eat impacts health, disease, and wellbeing. I was lucky to learn about “Nutrition Ecology” in the 1990s, which is a four-quadrant paradigm including health, environment, economy, and disease, and that’s the prism through which I think about what we eat and why it matters—even beyond our own bodies, the traditional scope of nutrition.
What are your most exciting projects?
My newest book is Food and Nutrition: What Everyone Needs to Know which is the culmination of my entire career. It’s 134 commonly asked Q & A about food and nutrition, health to the environment and beyond. It is a necessary reference for all eaters! Other published work include Superfoods, two e-books on employee health and wellness, and Foods for Health: Choose and Use the Very Best Foods for Your Family and Our Planet. I don’t do much blogging anymore – I prefer to write books at this point – though I do have hundreds of free recipes and articles on my blog Cooking & Eating the PK Way, where I also post free e-books about healthy, sustainable choices e.g., Creating a Healthy Diet: Change is Possible.
I couldn’t resist the opportunity to cook alongside the Domestic Goddess Nigella Lawson as one of the “best undiscovered cooks” on ABC’s The Taste (2014-15), where I created globally-inspired, plant-based cuisine. Being on reality television was … interesting to say the least. 2018-2019 I spent on a book tour and had a number of key talks around the world and I am now writing my next book and developing two television series. Stay tuned!
There seem to be so many "nutrition experts" - can you describe a few of the differences in education and training?
In the US, RDs (registered dietitians) are clinically trained and skilled in treating specific diseases; they often provide individual counseling, too. It is a certification program that does not require graduate school. In contrast, an MS, RD nutritionist has similar functions to an RD -- but has more advanced training due to their Master’s of Science degree. An MPH (Master's of Public Health) may be terrific in building food and nutrition programs in the community but does not have a scientific background in nutrition per se, which may not be needed for their job. There’s an enormous range of skills among those trained at the graduate level, from health communication programs to nutrition policy to counselling and beyond. Nutrition scientists—those with a doctorate in nutrition—are generally researchers and sometimes teachers, usually in academia or industry, and have the deepest knowledge of their field. Some are skilled at translating their research to the public—I hope I am!—while others prefer to stick to research and development.
In today's internet age, there are myriad programs online that provide nutrition counseling and coaching certifications with limited training hours and no educational requirements. While some of these folks may be great motivators, consumers need to be careful about taking dietary advice from people with no scientific training: In part, that's why so many people are confused these days about what to eat.
Do you have a role model and what is your opinion about mentors?
There are many I admire in my field, too many to name, but I would not characterize any as a “role model” as such. While I had a few standout classes and teachers during my eight years of graduate school, I did not have a true mentor and champion - rather the opposite, but that’s another story. It’s why I am so passionate about being a mentor and role model for others in the nutrition field. If I had to choose someone, I’d select Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and science communicator extraordinaire. He’s amazing!