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What is Culinary Medicine?

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:

Specific foods have also been found to be as or more effective as medicine in treating some conditions:

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?

The American Society for Nutrition offers great information about culinary medicine, as does CulinaryMedicine.org.

At Church Health, the Mediterranean diet is often their starting point. Click here to learn more about it. 

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.

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WellTuned does not offer medical advice. Any personal health questions should be addressed to your doctor.

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