Nutrition Meets Science in Culinary Medicine Curriculum

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The study of culinary medicine helps physicians fill gaps in knowledge about nutrition.
The study of culinary medicine helps physicians fill gaps in knowledge about nutrition.

Despite the important role diet plays in patient health, many physicians lack training in the area of nutrition. Culinary medicine, an emerging field in medical education, is looking to change that.

Culinary medicine is "a new evidence-based field in medicine that blends the art of food and cooking with the science of medicine."1,2 Put simply, culinary medicine aims to teach people how to cook while also teaching them about nutrition. As participants learn how to prepare food, they also learn how different foods affect the body.

For physicians, culinary medicine can help fill gaps in knowledge about nutrition. Many physicians never receive robust training in nutrition, which can make it difficult or impossible to answer patients' diet-related questions. Because many conditions have a significant dietary component, physicians with more nutrition knowledge can help better treat patients with conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

For patients, culinary medicine allows them to take control of their health through food. Food is person-specific: a diet that works for one person will not be the best diet for everyone. Through culinary medicine, both healthy patients and patients with chronic conditions can cook high-quality meals that can improve their well-being.

At this time, there are at least 10 culinary medicine programs in the United States that are backed by a hospital, medical school, or school of public health, reaching more than 2500 health professionals every year. Although the programs are not standardized, they all aim to teach physicians about cooking and nutrition as it applies to their field.

According to preliminary results from 2 of these programs, physicians have shown improvement in both personal and professional nutrition-related behaviors.3 Physicians also reported feeling more confident in advising patients with metabolic risk factors.3

Some may balk at the introduction of another clinical discipline, claiming that physicians already provide advice about food to patients. However, culinary medicine pushes back against that claim, highlighting the dearth of nutritional training that medical professionals undergo. Culinary medicine goes beyond simple dietary advice, delving into behavioral nutrition, pathophysiology, and more.

A number of culinary medicine conferences are being held throughout the United States for interested physicians, including Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives, organized by the Culinary Institute of America; the University of Arizona's Nutrition & Health Conference; and the Health Meets Food Culinary Medicine Conference, organized by the Golding Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University.

Combining the science of medicine with the art of cooking may not seem like an obvious match, but the field is on the rise. As more physicians and patients begin to take control of the food in their lives, there may just be fewer patients to treat.

References

  1. Kalaichandran A. The doctor is cooking. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/22/well/eat/doctors-kitchen-cooking-food-patients-nutrition.html. Published May 22, 2018. Accessed June 13, 2018.
  2. La Puma J. What is culinary medicine and what does it do? Popul Health Manag. 2016;19(1):1-3.
  3. Polak R, Philips EM, Nordren J, et al. Health-related culinary education: a summary of representative emerging programs for health professionals and patients. Glob Adv Health Med. 2016;5(1):61-68.

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