College to offer Culinary Medicine elective

Physicians often advise patients to avoid foods high in fat, sugar and sodium. But it can be more effective to help patients come up with a meal plan suitable for everyday life. That is why The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences is partnering with the College of Human and Environmental Sciences to create a Culinary Medicine elective.

Starting in January 2016, the class will teach, through lectures, hands-on cooking classes and a follow-up discussion, medical students, Family Medicine residents and nutrition students how to better educate patients about their diets.

“Patients don’t like to hear ‘don’t eat,’” says Dr. Jennifer Clem, assistant professor in Family Medicine and one of the faculty spearheading the project. “We need to be telling our patients what they can eat. Students aren’t coming out of their medical education with the right thoughts about this issue, and we need to work on that.”

Clem will be teaching with Dr. Linda Knol, associate professor of human nutrition at the College of Human and Environmental Sciences. About 30 will take the class, which will encourage a team-based approach to working with patients. The idea is for the students to learn the basics of cooking so that they can provide patients with helpful information when addressing chronic disease management and obesity. Classes will be held in the College of Human and Environmental Sciences’s teaching kitchen.

The curriculum for the course will pull from five of 20 modules of the curriculum at Tulane University’s Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine: Intro to Culinary Medicine, which will include the principles of the Mediterranean diet; weight control and portion control; fats and textures; renal disease, hypertension and sodium; and diabetes and carbohydrates. The students will also learn recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.

A group leading the College’s efforts to implement the elective presented information about the course to the College’s Board of Visitors at its fall meeting on Nov. 13. The group was comprised of: Clem; Knol; Dr. John C. Higginbotham, associate dean for Research and director of the College’s Institute for Rural and Health Research; and Dr. Keirsten Smith, a second-year Family Medicine resident. Smith pointed out to the Board that by 2030, obesity will surpass tobacco as the leading cause of cancer.

“Obesity is slowly becoming a norm which will continue to burden our healthcare system if the problem isn’t addressed,” she said.

In June 2015, Higginbotham, Clem, Dr. Richard Streiffer, dean of the College, and Dr. Bhavika Patel, chief resident for the College’s Family Medicine Residency, attended a two-day retreat at the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine to learn about the curriculum.

“Addressing lifestyle issues in order to improve health is fundamental to what we do in primary care in the nation,” said Dr. Streiffer in a NOLA.com article. “We need ultimately to equip our students with a better set of skills, not just with disease but about wellness. This is a piece of a long-term strategy to change our curriculum and our product.”