More than 40 medical schools have added culinary medicine programs to the menu to help students better understand how to combat obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Aspiring medical professionals receive hands-on cooking lessons focused on creating healthy meals and supporting patients with special dietary needs. The courses also serve as an opportunity to explore consumption habits and preventive medicine.
Nearly three-quarters of illnesses come from or are affected by food consumption, and culinary medicine can solve that problem, says Dr. Timothy Harlan, associate dean for clinical services at Tulane Medical School in Louisiana.
“We, as health care providers, have not done the best job in having conversations with patients regarding diet and food,” says Harlan, who is also a practicing internist and a former chef.
Six years ago he helped launch The Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University, the first dedicated teaching kitchen to open at a medical school.
4 ingredients for starting a culinary medicine course
Advice from Tulane Medical School
- Start with a single elective class and evolve from there.
- Find a space to hold classes (a kitchen or a culinary arts classroom is necessary).
- Have an interested faculty member oversee operations.
- Hire a knowledgeable culinarian who can also teach.
Tulane has developed a broad-based curriculum that has been adopted at other medical schools. The university also offers culinary medicine specialist certification.
The culinary medicine program has scaled to where it now costs $20 per person per class—with funds raised from grants, medical events and conferences making it essentially cost neutral, Harlan says. Tulane charges a premium to medical professionals, who often use the course to satisfy continuing education requirements.
Ultimately, deans and medical schools have to recognize that dietary habits are significant causes for most illnesses, says Harlan. “For us to know nothing about food doesn’t make sense,” he says. “It has to become part of our training so that we can have meaningful conversations with patients about food.”