Growing field of culinary medicine helps people get healthy by teaching them to cook healthier foods
There are connections between what we eat and how we feel, and the growing field of culinary medicine looks to capitalize on that link by joining the foundations of nutrition science with teaching people how to cook healthy, tasteful meals.
One North Country doctor’s office is taking it to the next level by offering patients cooking tips and techniques from a teaching kitchen that’s part of their clinic.
Joe Wetterhahn, a family practice physician and his wife Gina, a physician’s assistant, ditch their stethoscopes one night a month for a set of knives and cutting boards, teaching patients how to make tasty, healthy food.
The genesis of this whole thing?
"Gina one day in frustration saying 'nobody is getting better. We’re spending time with people, doing the best we can, but the weight is going up, the blood sugars are going up, blood pressure is going up'," Wetterhahn said. "It’s not just us, it’s obviously happening across the country. But the way to really impact that is at the plate."
So after a conference on culinary medicine introduced them to teaching kitchens, they pitched the idea to Samaritan Hospital in Watertown, which was building a new health center in Adams. And the hospital took it on, creating a restaurant grade fully equipped teaching kitchen right off their office.
"They invested into this to the point where you walk into our office, and you can sit down take out three cutting boards, grab a knife set and learn how to cook," said Wetterhahn.
So far, the program has grown to about 20 people per session. And Gina and Joe emphasize this is not like a visit to a nutritionist. While science does play a role in what dishes they teach, these classes are more practical.
"Here’s something you could make and eat that will make you healthy, without talking about the milligrams of sodium, or the grams of fiber, or the things that don’t really translate into how we put food on our plate," said Wetterhahn.
So instead of boiling squash, the 20 or so patients who come to the testing kitchen get a lesson in roasting veggies, like a delicata squash.
"With a delicata squash, the idea is that you eat the rind. Just pick it up and eat it. Because the rind is delate," the Wetterhahns said during a recent class.
Joe and Gina make up their menus the morning of class. Most are based on the Mediterranean diet. They do all the shopping at a local grocery store. So far they say there haven’t been any cooking busts, but they do admit, one of the biggest challenges is getting folks to try fish.
"There’s this hesitancy because of cooking fish that it won’t turn out, or I’m not going to like it and it’s expensive and I don’t want to take a chance with it. So we try to integrate fish and seafood a lot in our menus," Wetterhahn said.
A recent class though turned some fish doubters into cod lovers.
"Sometimes certain fishes are fishy. Fishes are fishy. But cod is dense and not fishy," Gina said.
Wetterhahn said the field of culinary medicine is growing. There are teaching kitchens in tech companies like Google. Some medical school are offering classes in teaching kitchens. But he’d like to see it in more communities like his, rural populations where studies show there are greater rates of obesity and diets higher in fat.
"The challenge is, again, getting it into areas like northern New York. Getting it into more rural areas, instead of having pockets in urban areas where you have a medical school and it doesn’t filter out beyond that," Wetterhahn said.