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Cooking to health

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Provided by Networx.com

Medical school is already a whirlwind of classes, intensive training, and first-hand experience with patients and other health care providers. Yet, as our understanding of medicine grows, it's getting more and more complex. The latest innovation, coming out of Tulane University, is the addition of cooking classes to the medical school curriculum. Wondering what med students are doing in the kitchen when they should be surrounded by the tiled walls of the OR?

Growing evidence strongly indicates that dietary choices can have a profound effect on human health. While the specifics of nutrition (look at the recent revelations about saturated fats, for example) are still a topic of lively research and debate, we do know that people eating fresh, whole foods tend to be healthier, physically and mentally. Many people aren't getting the fruits and vegetables they need, and they're relying heavily on diets that feature frequent use of prepared and fast foods.

That's partially a function of not knowing how to eat, and primary care providers are the first line of defense there. Unfortunately, many primary care providers are equally clueless, and historically, medical schools have provided very limited nutritional training to people who aren't going into nutrition-related healthcare fields. While doctors might tell patients to "eat right," they don't always have tips and tricks for doing so, or suggestions to help their patients eat better.

With the culinary program, Tulane is teaching medical students to cook, and it's also providing valuable information about nutrition. Students can use that information in their own lives -- med students are notorious for eating poor diets thanks to the long hours they work and the limited time they have for food preparation -- but they can also help their future patients, relying on firsthand experience to offer advice about nutrition, recipes, and food preparation.

It's a small, quiet revolution in a world where people are growing more and more aware that food isn't just fuel, but a vital component of our health. As people start up edible San Francisco landscaping and hit up farmers' markets on the weekends, food is occupying a much larger role in our lives, and physicians are smart to want to join in. Especially for patients who haven't been exposed to culinary diversity and opportunities to source and cook their own food, this medical training will be vital, because it will help doctors provide concrete solutions to their patients without having to refer them to a nutritionist.

Many human cultures have been using food as a healing tool for thousands of years. Bringing the practice back again can help people take control of their health and save big time on medical care, with a focus on preventative medicine to keep patients healthier so they don't need costly interventions.

Katie Marks writes for Networx.com.

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