It’s no secret that the food we eat has a big impact on our health. About half of all American adults have one or more preventable chronic diseases — many of which are related to poor diets. I pleased to see there’s growing momentum to tackle this problem.
Culinary medicine is an emerging field that combines the art of food and cooking with the science of medicine. At its core, culinary medicine aims to bridge the gap between nutrition and health care. By empowering individuals to make informed and intentional food choices, it serves to promote health, prevent disease and aid in the management of chronic conditions.
My colleagues and I are proud to stand at the forefront of this growing movement. With a commitment to combining nutrition and preventive medicine, we are dedicated to transforming the way we view food, health and healing.
From the Clinic to the Kitchen
My personal journey began at the University of Texas in Houston. During medical training, I saw a broad scope of diseases and realized my desire to help patients went beyond just treating an illness.
My philosophy is to treat the whole person — mind, body and spirit. And I focus on harnessing the power of food to prevent the development of lifestyle-related diseases in the first place — something I’ve found to be missing in most medical training.
One of the cornerstones of this approach is the integration of culinary medicine into patient care. Culinary medicine is evidence-based medicine that translates nutrition research into practical use in home kitchens. It will look a bit different for everyone, because we all have a unique health journey.
A key aspect of culinary medicine is education and intentional living. Nutrition is what’s known as a modifiable risk factor, meaning that your food choices can lessen the severity of a variety of disease symptoms and lower your risk of developing some diseases in the first place.
Helping people understand nutrition and the art of food and cooking is key. It’s less about focusing on food pyramids, fad diets and “good versus bad foods,” and more about giving others the knowledge needed to care for their health through nutritious and enjoyable food.
One of the ways we do this is by inviting our patients and community members into the kitchen and swapping our white coats for aprons. We conduct healthy cooking demonstrations to show others how easy it is to craft wholesome meals that resonate with their taste buds and well-being. And we use social media to share plant-forward recipes and to inspire others to start thinking of food as medicine.
In short, we meet our patients and community members where they cook, eat and gather information online, some of which can be wrong — even dangerous. And we help them see that the choices they make affect not only how they feel but also how they live.
Because culinary medicine isn’t just about healthy food choices. It recognizes that food is a multi-dimensional aspect of our lives, encompassing cultural, social, emotional and physical dimensions.
Fostering Connection and Sustainability
Food is both connecting and nourishing. It’s deeply tied with building community, forging bonds, and sharing and celebrating our diverse backgrounds and cultures. It’s a means to come together through cooking, savoring and partaking in a meal.
Furthermore, prioritizing a plant-forward diet can yield advantages for our individual health and the health of the planet. It’s vital to understand that our food choices also have an impact on the environment.
Less water, land, energy and resources are used when eating plant-forward. Including more plant-based foods and less meat in your diet is one easy way to help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and improve your health too.
In an era where unhealthy diets now kill more people than tobacco and high blood pressure, culinary medicine helps to connect the “why” and “what” of healthy eating. As I tell my patients, your next wellness opportunity is waiting for you at your next meal.
Dr. Angie Neison is a board-certified family medicine, lifestyle medicine and culinary medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group.