In hospitals across the country, a small number of physicians are taking courses to learn how to better provide nutrition counseling for patients. Dubbed “culinary medicine,” the burgeoning movement teaches how to address patient dietary needs by delivering hands-on culinary experience paired with crash-courses in nutrition myths and other common questions.
In a recent The New York Times article, Dr. Amitha Kalaichadran, a pediatrics resident at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, wrote about her experience at a culinary medicine class that took place in February. Dr. Kalaichadran was one of 80 physicians who had signed on to take the course. Over the course of three days, a veteran surgeon instructed doctors on a number of culinary techniques ranging from how to efficiently chop an onion to how to cook whole food, plant-based proteins like farro, lentils, and quinoa.
According to an article published in Popular Health Magazine, culinary medicine is not nutrition, dietetics, or preventive, integrative, or internal medicine nor is it beholden to a single culinary philosophy or way of cooking. Author Dr. John La Puma describes it as a method of helping people make better dietary choices that can help prevent disease and promote well-being, an “evidence-based field in medicine that blends the art of food and cooking with the science of medicine.”
In addition to practical kitchen skills, much of the time was spent addressing nutrition myths, how to talk to patients about making diet and lifestyle changes, and how to read nutrition labels. How to be mindful of a variety of intersections that patients may face, such as economic status, time, and food scarcity (13 percent of Americans are food insecure), was also addressed. Many of these programs place a strong emphasis on eating plants. On the American College of Preventative Medicine culinary medicine resource page, for example, only vegan recipes are provided.
According to Dr. Kalaichadran, the growing movement of culinary medicine is beneficial to doctors and patients alike. She recalled how her training had failed to adequately prepare her for talking to patients about nutrition, something that one 2008 study revealed is common among doctors. A course in culinary medicine helps to fill the gaps that most medical schools fail to address and leaves doctors feeling prepared to help patients make better lifestyle and dietary choices.
Although the course Dr. Kalachaidran did not focus on vegan culinary medicine, it did address cooking whole, plant-based foods for health. However, vegan culinary programs are emerging within the medical community. In Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fresno, California, doctors and nurses were invited to take a 21-day vegan challenge to get hands-on experience in teaching patients the benefits of a vegan diet.
The PCRM Food for Life program, founded by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), teaches attendees how to address health and vegan nutrition. PCRM also operated the Barnard Medical Center, a vegan medical center based in Washington D.C.