UK College of Medicine offering precision nutrition and culinary elective medicine to medical students

UK College of Medicine offering precision nutrition and culinary elective medicine to medical students

By Lindsay Travis
University of Kentucky

“For some reason I really wanted fruit or salty foods when I was in treatment. Spicy, salty, salty foods — it helped keep my appetite,” recalls Yueming “Ronnie” Wu, a graduate student in chemistry at the University of Kentucky.

In 2020, he was diagnosed with advanced colorectal cancer at the age of 27. Wu underwent six months of biweekly chemotherapy infusions and took biweekly chemotherapy pills. After that, he underwent another aggressive treatment: cytoreductive surgery (CRS) with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy which essentially washes out the abdomen with hot chemotherapy.

Sara Police, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of Nutritional Science Education, created a culinary medicine course to teach the next generation of health practitioners about the power of food. (Arden Barnes/UK Photo)

“After each operation, I had lost at least 20 to 30 pounds,” Wu said. “And after chemotherapy, I could barely drink room temperature water. I was incredibly temperature sensitive and my taste definitely changed.

Wu is not the typical patient. As a researcher at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, he says he’s “blessed” to know about the impact of food.

“I know the consequences of what I eat,” Wu said. “The dietitians at UK Markey Cancer Center gave me a comprehensive overview of food. It was pretty important that I follow that.

“A new emerging field”

A new course at the UK College of Medicine teaches future doctors how to integrate healthy food options into the care of patients like Wu.
Precision Nutrition and Advanced Culinary Medicine (NS801) is a one-hour medical elective course offered online to medical students at the College of Medicine’s three campuses – Lexington, Bowling Green and Northern Kentucky.

Culinary medicine is an evidence-based field that combines food with medical science. Its goal is to help people make good decisions about what they eat to help prevent and treat disease and restore well-being.

The course is a collaboration between Sara Police, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of nutritional science education in the Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences at the College of Medicine, and Chef Tanya Whitehouse, program manager for the Learning Kitchen at The Food Connection within the College of Agriculture, Food and the Environment.

“Culinary medicine is an emerging field,” police said. “Medical schools across the country are beginning to integrate culinary medicine into their curricula. The prevalence of nutrition-based chronic diseases in Kentucky is alarming, and we felt compelled to create this course for medical students in the UK, as the next generation of health practitioners.

The course integrates clinical, biomedical and culinary perspectives into eight weeks of study. Students learn about various normative diets for a range of diseases that affect Kentuckians, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cancer.

Culinary challenges put learned information into practice. Students focus on flavor to modify recipes for the Diet to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and Mediterranean diets or take a cancer patient case study to create a nutrient-packed smoothie while accounting for taste changes and sensory.

The police relied on Whitehouse’s experience in the kitchen to create the cooking challenges. Both emphasize the importance of nutrition education for medical college students and future physicians.

“I feel like there are a lot of disease states that Kentucky is pretty high in that can be avoided with dietary bypass,” Whitehouse said. “The problem is, when that patient or caregiver goes home, what are they going to have for dinner? This is where I think The Food Connection can really start to bridge that gap.

The Food Connection strives to bring locally grown food to campus and throughout Kentucky through partnerships with farmers, food producers, students, and community members to develop vibrant and sustainable food systems. .

“We’re also helping Kentuckians and saying, ‘Here’s some recipes. They are healthy and they taste really good. They can satisfy and comfort you, even if it’s not mac and cheese. It’s a way to get people to look at healthy foods differently,” Whitehouse said.

“This course can augment and enrich the nutritional education of health professionals so that they have greater confidence in approaching the subject of diet, which is a sensitive issue. Culinary medicine training gives future physicians tools and strategies to influence the health outcomes of future patients. So any increase in confidence a doctor can have when discussing diet as medicine, the better,” police said.

Wu is still doing well and is considered NED – no evidence of illness – after these rounds of aggressive treatment. He still credits his housemate, UK College of Law graduate Zachary Holt, for helping him recover. Holt cooked countless meals and tracked Wu’s changing cravings during and after treatment.

“Zach cooked a variety of dishes. Basically, if I wanted something, he would,” Wu said. “He might not know how to cook it, but he was researching how. Food is certainly important in recovery because you take in what you eat, all of those nutrients. It can help you recover and feel better in general.

Medical students interested in enrolling in the course will be able to take it in the spring of 2023. If you have any questions about the course or the nutritional science education program, you can email the police at .

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