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Christopher Gardner

Faculty Fellows
Rehnborg Farquhar Professor
For the past 20 years most of my research has been focused on investigating the potential health benefits of various dietary components or food patterns using randomized controlled trials. The interventions have involved vegetarian diets, soy, garlic, omega-3 fats/fish oil/flax oil, antioxidants, Ginkgo biloba, and popular weight loss diets. These trials have studied outcomes that include weight, blood lipids and lipoproteins, inflammatory markers, glucose, insulin, and body composition. Most of these trials have been NIH-funded. The most impactful of these is an NIH-funded weight loss diet study - DIETFITS (Diet Intervention Examining The Factors Interacting with Treatment Success) that involved randomizing 609 generally healthy, overweight/obese adults for one year to either Healthy Low-Fat or Healthy Low-Carb diet (JAMA, 2018).

In the past few years the interests of my research group have shifted to include three additional areas of inquiry. One of these is Stealth Nutrition. The central hypothesis driving this is that in order for more effective and impactful dietary improvements to be realized, health professionals need to consider adding non-health related approaches to their toolbox of strategies. Examples would be connections between food and 1) global warming and climate change, 2) animal rights and welfare, and 3) human labor abuses (e.g., slaughterhouses). An example is a summer Food and Farm Camp run in collaboration with the Santa Clara Unified School District since 2011. Every year ~125 kids 5-14 years of age come for a 1-week summer camp to tend, harvest, chop, cook, and eat vegetables...and play because it is summer camp! The objective is to study the factors influencing the behaviors and preferences that lead to maximizing vegetable consumption in kids.

A second area of interest and inquiry is institutional food. Universities, worksites, hospitals, and schools order and serve a lot of food, every day. If the choices offered are healthier, the consumption behaviors will be healthier. A key factor to success in institutional food is to make the food options "unapologetically delicious" a term I borrow from Greg Drescher, a colleague and friend at the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA). Chefs in institutional food settings can be part of the solution to improving eating behaviors. In 2015 I helped to initiate a Stanford-CIA collaboration that now involves ~70 universities that have agreed to use their dining halls as living laboratories to study ways to maximize the synergy of taste, health and environmental sustainability. If universities, worksites, hospitals and schools change the foods they order and serve, that kind of institutional demand can change agricultural practices - a systems-level approach to achieving healthier dietary behaviors.

The third area is diet and the microbiome. Our lab has now partnered with the world renowned lab of Drs. Justin and Erica Sonnenburg at Stanford to conduct multiple human nutrition intervention studies. The most impactful of these studies was the Fe-Fi-Fo study (Fermented and Fiber-rich Foods) study published in Cell in 2021. In that 10-week intervention, study participants consuming more fermented foods increased their microbial diversity and decreased blood levels of ~20 inflammatory markers. Our ongoing Maternal and Offspring Microbiome Study (MOMS) is examining the transfer of the maternal microbiome to the infant among 132 pregnant women randomized to increase fiber, or fermented food, or both, or neither for their 2nd and 3rd trimester; the infants will be tracked for 18 months.

My long-term vision in this area is to help create a world-class Stanford Food Systems Initiative and build on the idea that Stanford is uniquely positioned geographically, culturally, and academically, to address national and global crises in the areas of obesity and diabetes that are directly related to our broken food systems.


PhD, Univ Cal Berkeley, Nutrition Science (1993)
B.A., Colgate University, Philosophy (1981)