Why Doctors In Training Are Taking 'Culinary Medicine' A Lot More Seriously


By Shiv Sudhakar 

Doctors aren't the only ones who wear white coats.

But one physician is trying to show that the traditional white doctor's garb can do extra duty in the kitchen.

As Americans strive to eat more healthfully, one Stanford University physician, Dr. Michelle Hauser, is inspiring medical students early on to learn how to eat better by teaching them how to cook with a medical school curriculum that’s now featured in over 100 countries, according to a press release.

"Nutrition education represents a critical missed opportunity in medical education in the United States and in many countries around the world," said Hauser, who is board-certified in internal medicine and lifestyle medicine.

"The field of CM [culinary medicine] arose to fill a void between nutrition as it is taught (or not taught) in most health professional training programs," she added.

She said there is a "need to gain knowledge and skills to effectively partner with patients to help change their dietary habits in order to achieve their health goals and improve longevity, wellness and performance."

Hauser, who trained at the famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., is obesity medicine director of the Medical Weight Loss Program in the Stanford Lifestyle and Weight Management Center.

The curriculum is "not meant to replace traditional health care but, rather, to be one of the tools for health care professionals to draw on," Hauser noted in a recent press release.

"In the U.S., the recommendation is that 0.6% of the total average hours of instruction in medical school be focused on nutrition-related topics — and most schools still come up short," she said.

But only 25% of medical schools have a dedicated nutrition course.

"This is despite diet being the single most important risk factor for morbidity and mortality in the U.S.," she said. It is "associated with 11 million deaths around the world annually."

Hauser also noted that most of the nutrition lessons that do exist focus on things that are unlikely to change eating behaviors.

"I've found that, as a doctor, simply telling patients to eat healthier as a way to treat or prevent disease isn't super effective," said Hauser in a press release.

"But it's easy to get people to change eating habits when you're talking about the deliciousness of something — maybe you're highlighting a new recipe or restaurant and how good it tastes."

She’s now been teaching the course at Stanford for the last five years after she was inspired to start this journey during her college years.

"When I was an undergrad pursuing my pre-med studies, I had already been trained as a chef and needed to work full time to put myself through school," she said in a press release.

"I ended up running a cooking school."

When people in class began asking her how they could eat differently to improve their health — such as get their cholesterol down or help their significant other better control the person's diabetes — she started "to learn more about nutrition and implement it in my cooking classes."

So she started a healthy cooking class.

Culinary medicine, she said, "addresses the aspect of nutrition education with more relevance to the average person making decisions about what to eat on a daily basis," she said.

Initially, some people were skeptical.

So she showed her students that she practiced what she taught — eating the recipes that she taught at home so "they knew I wouldn't eat something if it wasn't good."

"If it's terrible, we're not going to sign up for another healthy cooking class," she said her students told her.

But as word of mouth spread — the class soon had a waitlist. She then took these experiences with her to medical school.

However, while in medical school, she noticed that doctors were not incorporating nutrition into their conversations with patients who could really benefit from knowing how healthy eating habits could improve their medical conditions.

"I would ask my attendings [doctors who supervise medical students], ‘Why aren't we talking to people with heart disease about what they're eating?’ or ‘Why aren't we talking to people with diabetes about their diet, only prescriptions?’" she said in a press release.

She noted that many health care professionals don’t have the time to have these meaningful conversations about nutritional habits.

Or, they're simply resigned to the fact "that no one changes their diet anyway, and that it's better to just focus on medications."

"It made me think, ‘Well, maybe we're just approaching the topic of healthy eating with patients the wrong way," Hauser said.

"Most people know that vegetables are good for them," she said.

But only one in 10 people eat the recommended number of servings each day, she said.

"Common barriers that stand in the way are cost, lack of knowledge and skills to select and prepare healthful ingredients, time and socialization that foods can be healthy or delicious but not both," said Hauser.

Culinary medicine is an effective method to combat these key barriers to dietary behavior change by teaching people that healthy food can be tasty, fast and inexpensive if a person knows how to cook and plan meals, she noted.

She wanted to change the status quo.

So she worked with a faculty member in medical school to start the first culinary medicine continuing education conference — "which continues to this day."

It's called Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives.

"It’s one thing to be told, ‘You need to change your diet and you need to exercise more’ — a strategy that we now recognize is not very effective," said Dr. David Miles Eisenberg, director of culinary nutrition and adjunct associate professor of nutrition at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

He also is founding co-director of the Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives conference.

The conference is multidisciplinary in nature that includes two specialties who wear white coats — chefs and health care professionals to teach how cooking can improve eating habits.

And next February the course, which is co-sponsored by the Harvard T. H. Chan School and the CIA — as in, the Culinary Institute of America — is going to be in Napa, Calif.

"It’s an altogether other thing to be brought into a ‘Teaching Kitchen,’ taken by the hand and provided with an education," he said.

Those who attend the conference will learn "what foods to eat more of, less of and why."

He notes the conference also teaches "how to cook with easily accessible whole food ingredients and make healthy but delicious, affordable, easy-to-make (and sustainable) recipes and meals."

It also emphasizes the importance of regular exercise but reminds "how critical it is to eat and live mindfully" and provides helpful tips how to change habits that are counterproductive.

He also spoke about another upcoming conference this October. It will showcase how culinary medicine is today being integrated into many venues across the U.S. and globally.

It’s called the Teaching Kitchen Research Conference (tkresearchconference.org), and it's sponsored by Harvard and the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative. It is co-funded by the National Institutes of Health.

"The potential of learning to cook, move, eat and think more healthfully can and will change behaviors, clinical outcomes and costs of care for all," Eisenberg said.


Articles in this issue:

Leave a Comment

Please keep in mind that all comments are moderated. Please do not use a spam keyword or a domain as your name, or else it will be deleted. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation instead. Thanks for your comments!

*This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.