Culinary Health and Medicine Program Improves Medical Students’ Nutrition Knowledge

two women hold up a strand of spiralized zucchini during a cooking class

When your doctor says “eat better,” do you know what that really means? Should you eat more vegetables, or eat more often, or eat more of a specific nutrient? Which diets are safe and effective? How do you make these changes easily and affordably? Chances are, your doctor doesn’t have these answers, either: while medical schools require 25 hours of nutrition training, less than a third of students meet that requirement, leaving future physicians woefully unprepared to address the dietary needs of their patients. Additionally, so much conflicting information about popular dietary advice has left many doctors and patients not knowing what to believe. A partnership between the Institute, our Fellow Dr. Chris D’Adamo, and the University of Maryland School of Medicine sought to address this issue with the Culinary Health and Medicine Program (CHMP), a first-of-its-kind program that created a culinary medicine curriculum as a core requirement for first- and second-year medical students. 

Culinary medicine is a practical, evidence-based approach to nutrition and health that incorporates food, cooking, and science. According to recently published research, the groundbreaking Culinary Health and Medicine Program showed that it is possible and practical to teach medical students a more complete perspective on food and health that will immediately benefit themselves and their patients in myriad ways. One student reported, “I learned about the real-life barriers to accessing or switching diets, which helped frame the perspective of future patients so that I can better address their needs and concerns.” Another said, “Through experiences obtained from culinary medicine, it is easier to relate to future patients and really grasp their needs and the obstacles they are facing. You can become more of a ‘friend’ in the field to the patient, rather than just an ‘expert.’”

This unique approach, and the precisely designed curriculum of the CHMP, taught students to meet their future patients’ dietary needs in budget-friendly, time-efficient ways—and, in turn, gave the students themselves valuable self-care tools to support their busy school years. Utilizing the Institute’s state-of-the-art teaching kitchen, students experienced the benefits first-hand as they tried new recipes, discovered the healing power of different nutrients, and made new connections between health and food. Students learned about different popular diets and how to prepare various healthful meals costing less than $10 each, all while using basic kitchen equipment and easily sourced ingredients, to keep dietary changes as approachable as possible for future patients—and medical students on a budget! 

This program was feasible to implement, immensely popular among medical students, showed improved learning outcomes, and helped students become healthier people and better doctors. Dr. D’Adamo’s message to other institutions is “you can do this and your students are going to love it!” This project provides an ideal model for other institutions to replicate, and underscores the importance of teaching students beyond the traditional disease-focused lens to incorporate food as medicine.

For more, check out University of Maryland School of Medicine’s CHMP video here.