Food as Medicine
A recipe for better health
The food choices we make have a significant impact on our overall health. Being overweight or obese is one of the biggest contributors to poor health and can be controlled with a proper diet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the prevalence of obesity is 18.5% for children and adolescents aged 2-19 years old, 40% for adults, and costs the U.S. health-care system $147 billion a year. A balanced diet helps to maintain a healthy weight, reduces the risk of heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, as well as promotes more restful sleep.
If you have a health condition that is caused or exacerbated by a poor diet, one of the first things your doctor will tell you is to improve your eating habits by cutting out certain foods from your diet. It is helpful to be told by your doctor that you need to eat healthy and avoid certain foods, but what specifically do you need to eat? This is where culinary medicine comes in.
Culinary medicine is a branch of medicine which utilizes a unique combination of nutrition and cooking knowledge to assist patients in achieving and maintaining optimal health. A new class available to LSU Health Shreveport medical students is teaching future physicians the importance of culinary medicine. The “Cooking Up Health” course is designed to teach students about nutrition and healthy cooking through the lens of culinary medicine and community health. The students in the class will learn how to apply nutrition concepts to manage and prevent diseases using food as medicine.
Students will learn 100% plant-based recipes and incorporate global flavors and cooking techniques, and practice motivational interviewing skills and behavioral change coaching techniques through role-playing scenarios they will encounter with patients one day. The course is led by a nutritionist and two medical faculty. The students will learn specifics about how certain dietary patterns of eating combat particular disease processes. For example, the students will learn how the Mediterranean diet combats cardiovascular disease and will cook a Mediterranean-like diet during the class to get an idea of the flavors and spices involved in these recipes.
They will complete four culinary learning classes and two community health sessions at the We Grow Together Campus in Shreveport. The goal of this course is to prepare medical students with the knowledge of nutrition and its impact on overall health so that they can work with their future patients on a useful plan with achievable goals to help them maintain a healthy, balanced diet.
Making good and nutritious food choices is so important to living a healthy life, and one place you can start is right in your home – so make sure you don’t forget the pantry when you are doing your spring-cleaning this year! We are more likely to eat healthy when it is available, so clean out the pantry and ditch all the junk food! If there are items full of sugar or oil, it does not need to be in your home. Empty-calorie foods like sugar-sweetened beverages and processed packaged foods have no nutritional value, and all these foods really do is contribute to our obesity epidemic. If you are looking to make a change to your diet and want to lead a healthier lifestyle, be sure to also consult with your doctor or a nutritionist on what is best for you and your overall health.
Here are some quick tips to help you start making positive changes, and an easy pasta salad recipe:
1) Have a tray of cut celery, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and bean sprouts always ready in the refrigerator – quick and easy to pick up and eat in a hurry!
2) Keep a big bowl of fresh fruit right on the kitchen counter filled with anything in season (kiwi, apples, pears, oranges, peaches, grapes).
3) Get the whole family involved with cooking and food preparation, especially since kids are more likely to eat what they make! Go to a local farmers’ market and have your kids help cook what they pick out.
4) Swap potato chips for hummus and baked pita chips or peanut butter with crackers.
5) If your family loves having dessert in the evening, instead of ice cream with strawberries on top, try substituting strawberries with a dollop of yogurt on top a few nights per week.
6) Create a water infusion that sits right in the fridge so it is the first thing everyone sees when they open the fridge door. Waters infusions you can try are mint and cucumber, basil and watermelon, or ginger and lime.
Rupa Mahadevan, MD, is an assistant professor of medicine/ pediatrics at LSU Health Shreveport and is a lifestyle and integrative medicine physician at Feist-Weiller Cancer Center focused on cancer survivorship and well-being.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Ready in 30 minutes!
Need: large bowl and measuring cups
Special notes and tips:
• Vegetarian meal
• Any other favorite vegetables like mushrooms or broccoli can be added to this dish.
• Add 1 tbsp. of lime juice for an added kick.
• Great item to take for lunch every day since it is full of veggies and filling!
1 box of tri-color rotini pasta
1 box of grape tomatoes (roasted in oven for
1 chopped medium red onion
2 green peppers
2 oz. olives
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
¾ bottle of low salt Italian dressing
½ pound of feta cheese crumbles
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch basil
Ingredient options: You can substitute regular pasta for lentil pasta or vegetable pasta
1. Bring pasta to a boil and then drain. Place pasta in a large dish.
2. Finely chop 1 red onion, 2 green onions and add to pasta.
3. Add in olives, pepper, garlic powder, feta cheese, parsley and basil to pasta dish.
4. Bake tomatoes in oven for 10-15 minutes until skin starts to wilt.
5. Add in ¾ bottle of Italian seasoning and stir.
6. Serve with a side of fruit.