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Author: Christian Maino Vieytes, B.S. Nutritional Sciences, University of Maryland, College Park, M.S. Candidate, Division of Nutritional Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

Why What We Eat Matters 

The power of food to promote healing and a general sense of well-being has long been a known commodity in different cultures.  Eastern cultures, in particular, have harnessed the potential of food as a modality for healing.3, 23 Dietary strategies, dichotomized into either yin or yang, make up an integral part of traditional Chinese and Eastern Medicine and its quest to treat a myriad of ailments.23 Even in Western cultures, we have seen an acknowledgment of the healing potential of food. After all, it was the Greek physician, Hippocrates, who once famously declared, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.28 Yet, we have also realized how destructive diet can be to our health and to the health of a nation as a whole, as a consequence of less nutritious choices and over-eating.  Rising health-care costs, plateauing life-expectancy figures, and escalating rates of chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease and cancer are a reflection of this. In order to foster a fruitful discussion about culinary medicine and its practical applications into the modern context of healthcare we must acknowledge the successes it has had in historical contexts.

What is Culinary Medicine and Who is it For?

Lifestyle approaches to preventing and treating common chronic illnesses are becoming increasingly popular. Culinary medicine can be thought of as an arm of the integrative model of medicine and well-being. It places an emphasis on modifying nutrition practices to fit within the needs of the individual.5 This can take many shapes and forms. For instance, an individual with rheumatoid arthritis can implement an anti-inflammatory diet to enhance their control over the disease state.17 Another individual without any current illness may adopt a Mediterranean Diet in order to prevent the onset of cardiovascular disease, cancer, or Alzheimer’s later on in life.19

The successful implementation of these lifestyle changes requires close attention and guidance from a healthcare professional. Unfortunately, medical doctors receive very limited education on topics involving nutrition, although younger physicians are realizing the need to seek additional training on culinary coaching and nutrition.2, 4 Counseling with a dietitian is one feasible alternative. Most dietitians possess experience and training in culinary skills and practices that they can pass on to their patients.

A key component of culinary medicine programs is the focus on promoting cooking in the home. With the rise of fast and convenience-food chains and products, we have slowly divorced ourselves from the ceremonial and cultural traditions associated with consuming food and have, as a result, paid the price with our health.14, 15 The scientific literature supports the idea that eating at home is good not only for promoting a healthy well-being but also has the added benefit of reducing expenditures on food.9, 11, 12, 14, 21, 22  Some programs have even demonstrated a capacity to fight food insecurity in low-income households.26 Culinary coaching programs also focus on enhancing grocery shopping and food storage skills.

The effects of culinary coaching have been documented.1, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 20 Culinary programs targeted at managing type 2 diabetes and blood sugar levels are demonstrating success, especially those that address and provide solutions to known barriers to home cooking.11, 13 These barriers include limited time, limited cooking skills, and low confidence in cooking.10, 21 A recent study also showed that eating at home is associated with a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the first place.13 Clearly, there is a lot of potential for these culinary medicine programs. Nevertheless, we should be wary of services offered by uncredentialled individuals and should only take culinary advice from trained health professionals and credentialed chefs.8, 9

Sooner or later, we can expect food prescriptions to become a norm and practitioners to doodle foods on their prescription pads in order to facilitate their patients’ health-related goals.16

To learn more about Culinary Medicine, watch the free, on-demand webinar Culinary Medicine: Where Health Meets Food.

Works Cited 

  1. Choi, Evan Y et al. “A plant-based diet and heart failure: case report and literature review” Journal of geriatric cardiology : JGC 14,5 (2017): 375-378.
  1. Danek, Robin L., et al. “Perceptions of Nutrition Education in the Current Medical School Curriculum.” Family Medicine 10 (2017): 803-806.
  1. Jiang, Sandy and Cassandra L Quave. “A comparison of traditional food and health strategies among Taiwanese and Chinese immigrants in Atlanta, Georgia, USA” Journal of ethnobiology and ethnomedicine 9,1 61. 27 Aug. 2013, doi:10.1186/1746-4269-9-61
  1. Kris-Etherton, Penny M et al. “The need to advance nutrition education in the training of health care professionals and recommended research to evaluate implementation and effectiveness” American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 99,5 Suppl (2014): 1153S-66S.
  1. La Puma, John. “What Is Culinary Medicine and What Does It Do?” Population health management 19,1 (2016): 1-3.
  1. Massera, Daniele, et al. “A whole-food plant-based diet reversed angina without medications or procedures.” Case reports in cardiology 2015 (2015).
  1. Peters, Nancy Champe, et al. “Adherence in a 1-year whole foods eating pattern intervention with healthy postmenopausal women.” Public health nutrition12 (2014): 2806-2815
  1. Polak, Rani, et al. “Credentialed chefs as certified wellness coaches: call for action.” Eating behaviors19 (2015): 65-67.
  1. Polak, Rani et al. “Health-related Culinary Education: A Summary of Representative Emerging Programs for Health Professionals and Patients” Global advances in health and medicine 5,1 (2016): 61-8.
  1. Polak, Rani, et al. “Improving patients’ home cooking–A case series of participation in a remote culinary coaching program.” Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism8 (2017): 893-896.
  1. Polak, Rani, et al. “Innovation in diabetes care: improving consumption of healthy food through a “Chef Coaching” program: a case report.” Global advances in health and medicine6 (2014): 42-48.
  1. Polak, Rani et al. “Innovation in medical education: a culinary coaching tele-nutrition training program” Medical education online 23,1 (2018): 1510704.
  1. Polak, Rani, et al. “Preventing Type 2 Diabetes with Home Cooking: Current Evidence and Future Potential.” Current diabetes reports10 (2018): 99.
  1. Reicks, Marla et al. “Impact of cooking and home food preparation interventions among adults: outcomes and implications for future programs” Journal of nutrition education and behavior 46,4 (2014): 259-76.
  1. Reicks, Marla, Megan Kocher, and Julie Reeder. “Impact of cooking and home food preparation interventions among adults: a systematic review (2011–2016).” Journal of nutrition education and behavior2 (2018): 148-172.
  1. Ridberg, Ronit A., et al. “A Pediatric Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program Increases Food Security in Low-Income Households.” Journal of nutrition education and behavior(2018).
  1. Skoczyńska, Marta, and Jerzy Świerkot. “The role of diet in rheumatoid arthritis.” Reumatologia4 (2018): 259
  1. Smith, Richard. “Let food be thy medicine…” BMJ : British Medical Journal 328,7433 (2004): 0.
  1. Sofi, Francesco, et al. “Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis.” BMJ337 (2008): a1344.
  1. Taillie, Lindsey Smith, and Jennifer M. Poti. “Associations of Cooking With Dietary Intake and Obesity Among Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participants.” American journal of preventive medicine 52.2 (2017): S151-S160.
  1. Tiwari, Arpita et al. “Cooking at Home: A Strategy to Comply With U.S. Dietary Guidelines at No Extra Cost” American journal of preventive medicine 52,5 (2017): 616-624.
  1. Wolfson, Julia A., and Sara N. Bleich. “Is cooking at home associated with better diet quality or weight-loss intention?.” Public Health Nutrition8 (2015): 1397-1406.
  1. Wu, Qunli, and Xiaochun Liang. “Food therapy and medical diet therapy of traditional Chinese medicine.” Clinical Nutrition Experimental18 (2018): 1-5