Culinary medicine: what exactly is it?

We always talk about how personalized nutrition can help or even reverse some diseases and health problems. If that’s so, doesn’t this make it a “weapon” in the hands of doctors? It does! As long as they know how to use it. And there’s a title for this concept: culinary medicine.

Culinary medicine is a new, science-based field of medicine that blends together the art of cooking and foods with the science of medicine, without excluding prescribing medication. It’s not about tasting flavors and smelling aromas of food. Its target is to help people make some personal medical choices about the quality of foods that will help them prevent or even cure certain diseases, answering the question “what do I need to eat for my system and my illness”.

This field of medicine emerged from the –in many cases- inefficient medical practices in chronic diseases and the rise of holistic practices, which urged people to turn into nutrition and alternative medicine in order to enhance their health and deal with diseases.

Culinary medicine pays attention to how certain foods function in our system, with some nutritional patterns being effective in certain conditions. More specifically, an inflammatory diet can prove very beneficial in rheumatoid arthritis, while Mediterranean diet is super healthy for cardiovascular diseases, for colon cancer and diabetes type 2. At the same time, there are foods that are also effective in the context of a balanced diet and way of life, that can benefit us: beans can lower cholesterol, soy can offer benefits in hypertension etc.

Due to its importance in health, culinary medicine is already part of educational programs in American medicine schools for more than 15 years, while the first center of culinary medicine opened in 2013 in New Orleans (University of Tulane). Some hospitals also offer culinary medicine programs to their medical staff as part of their education, while they’re also open to the public.

What’s most important is that culinary medicine offers systematic ways of understanding and appreciate a patient’s nutrition and cooking as part of his/her care, so that it can be applied according to health goals.

As with everything in life, though, there are people, professionals and non-professionals, that question this procedure, since doctors already gave some diet tips to patients, while dietitians and other health professionals are specialized in this. It’s true that most doctors are not trained to comprehend the mechanism behind nutrition and the way it can affect metabolism, immunity, pathophysiology and general health. At the same time, conventional medical interventions (drugs, procedures) take less time and don’t occupy medical stuff as much. But while these practices can bring good and more immediate results, they may cause other health problems in the long run. A very good example is diabetes, where doctors don’t give proper diet instructions to patients and rely totally on meds.

It seems that we have a long way ahead until culinary medicine becomes a more solid part of medicine where doctors will use it as a tool, having been trained in it.

Till then, keep in mind useful culinary medicine tips like these below and find your own personal dietitian, who knows your medical history and can help you.

Culinary medicine practice tips
-In cases of skin cancer family history, add pomegranate, tomato and dark chocolate in your everyday nutrition. Their antioxidants make skin more resistant in UV radiation.
-Spices like cinnamon, oregano, thyme, garlic are shown to reduce E.coli growth up to 90% in uncooked meat.
-Fresh raw ginger contains gingerol and has inflammatory properties.
-Add some lemon or orange peel in your tea to reduce skin cancer risk up to 42%
-Leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables and generally fruits and vegetables can help lower the risk of surgery for gallstones when consumed daily.
-Crush your garlic and leave it for about 10 minutes before cooking it, so as to give time to enzyme alliinase to transform to allicin with strong inflammatory properties.
-Combine olive oil with tomatoes or tomato paste for greater lycopene absorption. Tomato paste has 10 times more lycopene, but only 25% is absorbed without a fat source.
-Add 1 tbsp vinegar in a meal high in carbs to lower blood sugar rise, insulin and triglyceride excretion by 20% within an hour.

Culinary medicine meal ideas
Mediterranean probiotic salad with blck-eyed-peas, zucchini, broccoli, pickled cucumbers, sun-dried tomatoes

Vegan poke bowl with vegetables, molasses, soy sauce

-Bruschette with roasted tomatoes, olive-oil, chopped avocado and plenty of oregano

-Whole-wheat penne with broccoli, roasted tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, olives

Don’t forget to check out the nutrition plans in to find the one that suits you and your body.

-Adam O, Beringer C, Kless T, et al. . Anti-inflammatory effects of a low arachidonic acid diet and fish oil in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatol Int. 2003;23(1):27–36
-Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, et al. . Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. N Engl J Med. 2013;368:1279–1290
-Meyerhardt JA, Niedzwiecki D, Hollis D, et al. . Association of dietary patterns with cancer recurrence and survival in patients with stage III colon cancer. JAMA. 2007;298:754–764
-Koloverou E, Esposito K, Giugliano D, Panagiotakos D. The effect of Mediterranean diet on the development of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a meta-analysis of 10 prospective studies and 136,846 participants. Metabolism. 2014;63:903–911
-Ha V, Sievenpiper JL, de Souza RJ, et al. . Effect of dietary pulse intake on established therapeutic lipid targets for cardiovascular risk reduction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. CMAJ. 2014;186(8):E252–E262
-Welty FK, Lee KS, Lew NS, Zhou JR. Effect of soy nuts on blood pressure and lipid levels in hypertensive, prehypertensive, and normotensive postmenopausal women. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:1060–1067