Hippocrates stated long ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” However, while people naturally turn to their doctor for healthy lifestyle advice, diet and how to prepare and cook the best foods for optimum health hasn’t typically been an area of focus in most medical school curriculums. Doctors only receive about 20-25 hours of nutrition training during their entire medical school career! A program that was launched in 2012 at Tulane University School of Medicine is aiming to help doctors-in-training learn more about cooking and food in the hopes that they can transmit their culinary studies and skills into actionable advice for their patients. Developed in conjunction with culinary school Johnson & Wales, the Tulane program of “culinary medicine” has now been licensed by sixteen medical schools, a residency program, and a nursing school with growing interest as its participants apply what they learn in the kitchen out in the real world.
First and second year medical students learn about food prep, the Mediterranean diet, and get hands-on specific experience preparing healthy foods. Armed with these culinary skills, the medical students then give their patients sound and helpful advice on certain foods and ways to prepare them, a crucial distinction considering that less than half of primary care doctors currently offer their patients specific guidance on lifestyle choices including diet and physical activity. With rising rates of obesity and diet- and lifestyle-related illnesses, doctors need to be on the nutritional frontlines and to have information and experience readily available to help their patients. The Tulane culinary medical program is currently developing more curriculum components that focus on specific diseases and their unique dietary challenges for third and fourth year medical students as well as creating continuing medical education programs for physicians who are already practicing. As far as effectiveness, this young program has shown benefits for both patients and doctors in two studies. The first, which focused on patients with Type 2 Diabetes, showed that those who participated in the program saw a big drop in total cholesterol compared to patients who did not participate in the program (who actually saw an increase in their levels). The second study exemplified that the medical students themselves were taking the advice to heart: the participating doctors-in-training were eating significantly more fruits and veggies by the second year of the program!
A program of this nature could have an immeasurable impact on the future health of today’s children. We hope in the not too distant future that one of the most important factors in health, what we feed our bodies, becomes a commonplace, illuminating, and transformative discussion that families can have with their pediatricians to set lifelong healthy habits for their kids.