Food as medicine is not a new concept, but it’s taking hold in new places. At Church Health in Memphis, culinary medicine is a prescription they write often.
“Science shows that we can use food to help manage disease,” says Sharon Moore, nutrition and wellness manager at Church Health, a nonprofit that offers services to people with little or no access to healthcare. “Just about every health condition — diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, cancer — has some sort of inflammatory component, and that can be irritated or improved by what we eat and drink.”
In Tennessee, many people struggle with those chronic conditions in addition to others such as obesity and high cholesterol. Food can affect them all.
“Diet is one behavior that is easily modified and helps manage or prevent chronic health conditions,” says Moore.
“What we’re trying to do is to show people that nutrition is a tool, and food is medicine.”
Here’s what you need to know about culinary medicine, including how to apply it to your life.
What is culinary medicine?
Culinary medicine is an evidence-based field of medicine that uses nutrition and cooking to restore, maintain and improve health. It combines the scientific principles of nutrition, behavior and medicine to teach people how to make good food choices long-term.
How does culinary medicine work?
Different clinical conditions require different foods and drinks, so treatments vary. But if you decide to apply culinary medicine to the way you eat, you should pay attention to:
- How food works in the body
- The cultural and enjoyable aspects of eating and cooking
- Portion sizes and food groups
- Cooking skills and the time required to make meals
Because the goal of culinary medicine is to teach people proper nutrition and give them the tools to apply it, making it easy and sustainable are high priorities.
What is good about culinary medicine?
When it comes to chronic, preventable diseases, your diet is the risk factor you control most. Culinary medicine aims to make that work for you.
What are the limitations of culinary medicine?
Culinary medicine is not intended to be the primary treatment for any disease. So while a cancer patient may want to incorporate more fresh fruit and vegetables into their diet in place of processed foods, for example, they should not expect food alone to cure their cancer.
What are some examples of successful culinary medicine approaches?
Some eating patterns have proven as or more effective than prescription medication for certain conditions, including:
- An anti-inflammatory eating pattern for rheumatoid arthritis
- The ketogenic diet for epilepsy
- The Mediterranean diet for
Specific foods have also been found to be as or more effective as medicine in treating some conditions:
- Legumes to lower cholesterol
- Soy nuts for high blood pressure
- Tree nuts for metabolic syndrome
- Baked and broiled fish for heart failure
- Honey and milk for acute cough
Why is culinary medicine becoming popular now?
People want to approach their health in a more holistic way, and many people start by reducing their intake of processed foods. A renewed emphasis on organic food, gardening and eating locally has also helped boost the field of culinary medicine.
How do you apply culinary medicine in your own life?
At Church Health, the Mediterranean diet is often their starting point. Click here to learn more about it.