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Doctors who cook say they give better nutrition advice

February 18, 2013|By Mary MacVean
  • Los Angeles students work on their dishes in a competition to come up with healthful school menu items. Some health professionals have been learning more about cooking as well so they can better advise patients on nutrition.
Los Angeles students work on their dishes in a competition to come up with… (Bethany Mollenkof )

Perhaps the next time you see your doctor, he might finish the visit with a reminder to take a medication and a conversation about cooking salmon.

In a “teach the teachers” experiment, healthcare professionals have been learning to cook as well as learning nutritional science at a conference that has been presented eight times in the last few years by Harvard University and the Culinary Institute of America. The idea behind “Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives – Caring for Our Patients and Ourselves” is that doctors and other healthcare professionals who know how to cook healthfully might be more likely to get patients to do the same.

“The conceptual mode for this program was influenced by the observation that for healthcare professionals, practicing a healthful behavior oneself (eg, exercise, wearing a seat belt) is a powerful predictor of counseling patients about these same behaviors,” researchers wrote in a letter in the Monday issue of the Journal of the American Medical Assn. Internal Medicine.

The conference participants -- 219 people before the conference and 192 three months after -- took an anonymous survey in 2010. The researchers noted a limitation of their work is that the results were limited to a three-month follow-up, and it’s impossible to know whether the reported changes in behavior were sustained.

But the participants reported changes: Before the conference, they cooked 58% of their meals, and  64% afterward; they ate more whole grains, nuts and vegetables; and while 46% said before the conference that they could successfully advise an overweight patient on nutrition and lifestyle, 81% said they could afterward.

“[W]e need enhanced educational efforts aimed at translating decades of nutrition science into practical strategies whereby healthy, affordable, easily prepared and delicious foods become the predominant elements of a person’s dietary lifestyle,” the researchers, led by Dr. David Eisenberg of Harvard Medical School, wrote. Eisenberg also is a member of the scientific advisory committee and consultant to the culinary institute.

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