What Is Culinary Medicine?

Culinary medicine is a fast-growing trend. It is becoming more popular among select physicians who want to find a better way of discussing nutrition with their patients.

The basis for this idea was rooted in the importance of having an honest discussion about what patients are eating and why they are choosing certain foods over others.

Instead of simply outright asking patients what they eat, doctors practicing culinary medicine choose to focus on asking patients what they enjoy eating, as this helps to present a clearer image of the patient’s overall health.

When doctors change their approach to nutrition, patients feel more comfortable discussing their health and ultimately learn more about consuming foods that are better for them in the long run. The focus of culinary medicine is to open the discussion surrounding essential topics such as how your eating habits affect your health. It also focuses on what you can do to nurture better eating habits moving forward and is an important part of preventive health care.

How do doctors learn culinary medicine?

Culinary medicine was pioneered by Dr. Tim Harlan, who currently serves as the executive director of Tulane University’s Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine. Dr. Harlan’s goal was to improve upon the existing knowledge medical students have of nutrition to help promote a better understanding of how these topics need to be discussed with patients.

Culinary medicine is taught both in a classroom and in a kitchen to provide students with a fundamental understanding of nutrition and holistic medicine. Instructors for these culinary medicine programs are often chefs and dieticians, as these qualified professionals help the medical students learn about each aspect of food consumption and preparation.

These courses are taken as an elective in medical school, with over 50 medical schools offering culinary medicine courses across the country. Some notable schools offering this elective include the University of Southern California, the University of Central Florida Orlando and George Washington University.

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The primary focus of these courses is to teach students how to communicate with others about the fundamentals of food. When the med students have a better understanding of how food is prepared and consumed, they develop the knowledge needed to have an informed and personal discussion with their patients about these subjects later.

What are the principles of culinary medicine?

Through culinary medicine courses, students learn how to communicate more effectively with patients. This is the driving principle of this program. By learning from chefs and dieticians, medical students gain the advantage of learning new strategies to apply during visits with their patients.

This helps to alleviate some of the tension patients commonly feel when answering questions during an appointment. For example, someone with a weight issue may feel uncomfortable speaking to his or her doctor about his or her preferred foods as he or she may feel as though these choices are not the healthiest options. When this happens, the communication between the patient and the doctor is less-than-perfect, and the doctor is left with an unclear image of the patient’s overall health.

Instead of telling patients to eat healthier, doctors with a knowledge of culinary medicine provide patients with healthy recipes to try and based their recommendations on the patient’s personal preferences. A physician may suggest a healthier version of the patient’s favorite breakfast item to help the patient control his or her caloric intake and promote a better relationship between the patient and the food she or he is consuming.

Courses in culinary medicine are focused on several diversified groups to provide medical students with the ability to offer helpful recommendations to their patients, no matter what the patient’s background is. Some of the courses focus on expectant mothers and children, whereas others focus on the nutritional needs of seniors who want to lead healthier lives.

Students may opt into a Spanish language course to assist them in communicating with Spanish-speaking patients. By learning about the needs of different people, students can more effectively approach the conversations they have regarding nutrition as they are equipped to provide a personalized plan for each patient they treat.

What is the goal of culinary medicine?

The primary goal of culinary medicine is to open a line of conversation regarding how the general public approaches food. Through the knowledge they obtain with a culinary medicine course, students gain the ability to educate patients on:

  • More nutritious alternatives to their favorite foods.
  • Portion control.
  • Kitchen sanitation.
  • Understanding and deciphering food labels.

When patients have a total understanding of nutrition, they can make better decisions when it comes to the food they consume each day. Some patients may be making poor food choices simply because they do not understand how to read their food label properly and are inadvertently consuming more sodium than is recommended.

Other patients may struggle with portion control and are concerned with giving up certain foods to cut down their caloric intake. Doctors who are trained in culinary medicine help patients eat what they want to eat without sacrificing their health in the process.

More Benefits of Culinary Medicine

Those studying culinary medicine maintain a goal of teaching patients how to have a better relationship with food and nutrition. Many of the leading health issues plaguing Americans today are attributed to poor diets, which usually stems from a lack of education.

Instead of signing up for cooking classes or visiting a nutritionist, patients receiving culinary medical care speak directly with their primary care physician about how to approach nutrition and food in their lives.

By eliminating the process required to learn this information, doctors trained in culinary medicine are strengthening their relationships with their patients while also improving the health of their patients at the same time. People who eat a balanced diet are less likely to develop obesity and heart disease.

Additionally, undernourished children are at risk of developing serious health issues which can be treated more effectively when their parents are informed of how to provide nutrition within a restricted budget. Doctors well-versed in culinary medicine can provide helpful ways for families to provide nutritious meals for their children even if they are using food stamps or WIC benefits.

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