David J. A. Jenkins

David JenkinsProfessor, Nutritional Sciences

In 2015, the Globe and Mail referred to David J. A. Jenkins as a scientist who “has had a profound influence on how and what we eat.” Over the duration of his esteemed career, the Canada Research Chair in Nutrition and Metabolism and professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences has introduced such important nutrition concepts as the glycemic index and the portfolio diet, as well as helped shape various dietary guidelines through his involvement in international organizations and governments’ committees on nutrition and health.

While a large part of Jenkins’ research has focused on the potential of diet to prevent and treat chronic conditions, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes, in adults; his team is also currently investigating the effects of various diets over the entire life cycle to benefit both young and old people alike.

Jenkins explains that his work around diabetes prevention has a particular relevance to children’s health today. “More children are now diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which was previously only associated with adults and mainly caused by physical inactivity and excess calorie intake. That’s a major problem,” says Jenkins. “We're exploring the impacts of different types of foods and diets, such as nuts, beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils and legumes, all of which are healthy for children, and are part of the low glycemic index diet, which helps to prevent disease.”

Additionally, Jenkins’ team explores ways to lower cholesterol levels using dietary means instead of drugs. “We’ve developed what we call a dietary portfolio, which is good at lowering cholesterol using foods you can buy at a supermarket,” explains Jenkins. “That is very important for children with higher cholesterol levels because we want to limit their reliance on drugs.”

At the core of Jenkins’ work lies the philosophy of “healthy humans, healthy planet.” The motivation of his research is not only saving human lives through encouraging healthy eating behaviors, but preventing human activities that result in species loss through promoting diets that also ensure sustainability of the environment. This is why he also promotes sustainable food practices that emphase eating a wide variety of plant foods and plant protein sources together with locally grown fresh produce.

Presently, Jenkins is attempting to set up a new chronic disease and clinical trials centre at the Department of Nutritional Sciences. “The clinical trials are going to be very important for testing the effects of diets on chronic disease throughout the life cycle with obvious relevance to The Joannah & Brian Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition [Lawson Centre],” he says. “It would mean that the Lawson Centre researchers will have a clinical trials apparatus in place to test the concepts and theories they are generating in the area of child health. This centre will help to bridge health research in young and older populations. Major chronic diseases either start or have their roots in childhood and before.”

Jenkins says that he is excited about the new opportunities for collaboration with the government agencies, NGOs, food industry and other partners through The Joannah & Brian Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition. “In our work, we already collaborate with government and industry partners and other academic and clinical institutions. Partnerships are tremendously important, and we will all benefit from new connections.”

At a glance:

David J. A. Jenkins, MD, PhD, DSc

Research Interests

  • Carbohydrate and fibre metabolism
  • Diabetes and cardiovascular disease
  • Food intake regulation and obesity
  • Functional foods and nutriceuticals
  • Lipid metabolism

In the Media

Appointments

  • Professor, Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Toronto
  • Canada Research Chair in Nutrition and Metabolism
  • Scientist, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael's Hospital
  • Director, Risk Factor Modification Centre, St. Michael's Hospital

Contact

Visit David’s profile on the Department of Nutritional Sciences website for more information.

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