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Setting a Course for Food as Medicine

(from the June 2018 ACP Internist)

Culinary medicine is a growing, evidence-based movement that brings the “food is medicine” philosophy to medical education and beyond.

By Mollie Durkin

Even the ancients knew good food could work like medicine, but modern medical training has often neglected to nurture nutritional knowledge beyond basic biochemistry.

For many reasons, there isn't much of a focus on disease prevention in medical school, said ACP Member Michelle Hauser, MD, MS, MPA, a California-based primary care physician. During her own training, she said she was told, “Don't waste a lot of time on counseling people on lifestyle changes because they're not going to do them.”

But Dr. Hauser knew this wasn't always the case. Before becoming a physician, she taught college and community cooking classes as a chef certified by Le Cordon Bleu. During this time, she saw the connection between people's cooking skills and their health as they discontinued their hypertension medications, antidepressants, and diabetes medications.

“This was a formative experience that showed me that when I did choose a medical focus later on, I could use what I'd learned teaching these cooking classes and seeing people become healthier through dietary changes driven by healthy, delicious food to influence the way doctors approach trying to help their patients, and themselves, eat better,” said Dr. Hauser.

This attitude captures the spirit of culinary medicine, a growing evidence-based movement that brings the “food is medicine” philosophy to medical education and beyond. Physician-chefs and educators explained how they incorporate culinary teachings in both medical education and their busy practices.

Med school in the kitchen

The first culinary medicine elective in the country for medical students was taught in 2003 at the State University of New York–Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, according to an article published in 2016 by Population Health Management. Only 12 students signed up in the first year, but 73 students joined in the course's second year, said author John La Puma, MD, FACP, a trained chef who co-taught the class.

“It was an indicator that young people were really thirsty for this kind of training and this kind of systematic, clearheaded approach to how to blend the art of cooking with the science of medicine to create restaurant-quality meals that help to prevent and treat disease,” he said.

While the public has shown interest in culinary medicine for at least 10 years, “Medicine is just catching up” by devoting more attention to the field over the past five years, said Dr. La Puma, who now lectures around the country and sees patients once a week at his California-based practice.

In 2013, Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans opened the first culinary medicine center at a U.S. medical school. “It is the first and, in many ways, the only kitchen that is dedicated to teaching medical students, residents, health care professionals, and the community,” said Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, a certified culinary medicine specialist and executive director of the school's Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine.

Read the full article in ACP Internist.

ACP Internist provides news and information for internists about the practice of medicine and reports on the policies, products, and activities of ACP.

Back to the August 2018 issue of ACP IMpact