As you’ve heard me say before, making good choices in what we eat is so important! Whether you have a dietary restriction or whether you just want to avoid future medical issues, what you eat is huge! I actually have this sign ‘framed’ and display it at my home tasting parties and workshops, and it usually gets a chuckle from my customers! But laughs or not, it’s true! Believe it or not, healthy eating and nutrition is NOT something that is taught in medical school, although the results of poor choices raise the number of visits to the doctor’s offices!
When it comes to premature death and disease, what we eat ranks as the single most important factor, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Yet few doctors say they feel properly trained to dispense dietary advice. One group, at least, is trying to fill that knowledge gap. Most medical schools nationwide don’t offer hands-on nutrition training. In fact, only about a quarter of American med schools offer the 25 hours of nutrition training recommended — but not required — by the National Academy of Sciences.
That’s why the following concept got my attention when I read about it recently.
Seems that a dozen University of Chicago first year medical students went to one of the area’s top cooking schools to take a culinary nutrition class they won’t even get credit for. The class is being taught at night, after hours, by Dr. Sonia Oyola and Dr. Geeta Maker-Clark. Maker-Clark did study culinary medicine. But not at med school.
“This training was something that I pursued on my own after I graduated from residency,” Maker-Clark says. “I really received none of that kind of nutritional information during medical school.” So this spring, she and her colleagues launched a pilot based on a culinary medicine course taught at Tulane University. There, med students are required to take it.
The four-week culinary nutrition class in Chicago starts with about an hour on diet-related disease and how to treat it with food, followed by a healthy dose of hands-on cooking. Studies show this kind of personal experience makes doctors much more likely to pass along health and nutrition information to their patients. But no medical board requires doctors to study it.
Few programs feel the need to add these courses. And that frustrates Stephen Devries. “I did a four-year, extra-intensive training program in cardiology and didn’t receive ONE minute of training in nutrition,” Devries says. “That’s gotta stop.”
A few years ago, Devries left his cardiology practice to lead the Gaples Institute, aimed at expanding nutrition training in medicine. This summer he’s launching an online nutrition course for doctors. But he also wants to reach students. So he recently met with fellow nutrition advocates who want to add nutrition questions to medical board exams, change accreditation standards and tie medical training grants to nutrition education.
David Eisenberg from the Harvard School of Public Health, says he’s also frustrated by the situation but sees it largely as a slow institutional response to what he calls a tsunami of obesity and diabetes. “I don’t think we could have predicted that health care professionals would need to know so much more about nutrition,” he says. “Nor did we expect that we’d need to know more about movement and exercise or being mindful in the way we live our lives or eat or how to change behaviors.”
Back at the Chicago cooking class, changing behaviors is exactly what they’re trying to do. In just two hours, students like Erik Kulenkamp have mastered 12 new dishes to share with patients. “We don’t get a lot of devoted curriculum time to this issue,” Kulenkamp says. “I feel like it’s one of the things that patients are most curious about and have the most questions about: things that they can do to prevent things from happening rather than treat them once they occur.”
For now, this class is just a small, grant-funded pilot, but Dr. Maker-Clark envisions a day when it’s standard fare at all American med schools.
So when you feel lousy, and your lab tests are all over the map, and you pop prescription pill after prescription pill to combat your high blood pressure, your high cholesterol, your diabetes, ADHD, Chrone’s Disease, Ulcers, and so forth, remember that chances are your doctor did not study nutrition and healthy cooking in medical school! Give healthy eating and meal planning a try, and see if perhaps you can cut down on the list of ailments and the size of your pill box! You never know!