Food is medicine. It’s a sentence that we hear a lot today, but the idea still has yet to permeate the medical field. Rather than turning to garlic as an anti-biotic or ginger as an anti-nausea agent, we look for the prescription-the drug that will cure all of our ails. And doctors are just as guilty of this mindset. The purpose of this project was three-fold: Explore the world of culinary medicine and the different foods that are instrumental in preventative healthcare; work with medical students at UVM to plant the seed that food is medicine, and as a doctor it is important to have a wide knowledge base to best inform and heal your patients; and finally get medical students out into the community to teach potential patients how they can use food as medicine.
To meet the first goal, I explored Tulane’s culinary medicine curriculum and a book called Chef MD. I was amazed at the variety of foods and herbs that we could be consuming that have amazing health benefits. Some of the key take aways I learned: are eat color. Foods with anti-inflammatory benefit are bright in color. For example: pomegranates, tomatoes, turmeric, broccoli and kale. All are high in antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals in the body that cause inflammation. I also learned to eat foods that give better satiety, meaning they keep you full for longer. These are lean proteins like yogurt, fish, poultry and nuts; healthy fats like olives, olive oils, wild salmon, walnuts and almonds; and resistant starch like legumes and brown rice, which take longer to break down.
To meet the second goal, I chose three modules from Tulane’s curriculum that I thought were interesting, to share with the four medical students who volunteered to learn about culinary medicine. I shared the module on anti-inflammatory diets, fad diets and what to know about them, and diets for Celiac’s disease. In addition to sharing knowledge, I also invited these medical students to join our culinary medicine class with UVMMC head chef Leah Pryor. Leah taught us how to make nourish bowls: a collection of vegetables on a grain base. She imparted wisdom such as using healthy fats to increase absorption of nutrients, or an acid such as lemon for a flavorful and healthy dressing. And most importantly, when discussing culinary medicine, and just healthy eating in general, meeting people where they are, which is a concept that I think is really important to master especially for future doctors.
Finally, for the third goal, I had hoped to include an outreach program, where myself and the volunteers would teach a cooking class at the King Street Youth Center. Due to time constraints this part of the project has not been tackled yet. However, I did apply for and receive funds from the Ben and Jerry’s Foundation to buy the necessary supplies, so I hope this will be an event that will take place in the spring!
There were certainly a lot of challenges to this project, namely Covid and schedule related. I had hoped to meet with the medical students in person, rather than just over Zoom, but it was difficult to find a space that could accommodate us with Covid guidelines, and also coordinate with the schedules of busy students. The outreach portion of the project was delayed due to waiting for the funding, although now that we have it, I hope to move that piece forward!