Nutrition as medicine: The building blocks of health – food | Newsroom

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Susan Evans, MD, knows healthy eating is a prescription for better health.

Now, the 2005 UNMC College of Medicine graduate is making sure future physicians both understand — and can create their own — healthy eating habits.

“Food and nutrition are one of the building blocks for health,” said Dr. Evans, assistant professor in UNMC’s Department of Family Medicine. “We’re not — as a population — eating a healthy diet, and as medical students and physicians we’re historically not taught as much nutrition.

“Yet, dietary factors are the biggest risk factor for morbidity and illness so it’s important to ask our patients about nutrition. If we know how to eat and prepare a healthy diet, we’re more likely, and more confident, in asking and counseling our patients on nutrition.”

To do that, Dr. Evans fulfilled a decade-long dream to partner with Metropolitan Community College’s Institute for Culinary Arts and create an elective, four-hour culinary medicine course for UNMC’s fourth-year medical students.

“Students love the cooking class,” which is supported by The Monarch Fund to nurture healthier lifestyle choices, she said.

Med students travel 4.5 miles to MCC to learn both the foundation of a healthy Mediterranean diet and fundamental knife skills, before whipping up a classic citrus vinaigrette or a salmon, spinach and quinoa salad.

The culinary medicine class is the icing on a revamped nutrition curriculum that mirrors national trends to strengthen nutrition education for medical students. Through the efforts of an interprofessional team including basic science, nutrition and medical faculty, nutrition content has been integrated across the first three years of medical training.

Too often, nutritional messages are confusing, Dr. Evans said. To keep it simple, she advocates for diet quality over diet type, which means eating real foods — fruits or vegetables, fresh or frozen; healthy proteins; whole grains; nuts; seeds; olive oils and other healthy fats. She recommends avoiding processed foods, keeping a food journal to avoid mindless eating, and adding high-fiber foods to one’s diet.

Nutrition is truly a team effort, Dr. Evans said, and acknowledges that healthy lifestyle choices are impacted by cost barriers, cultural beliefs and one’s access to transportation and insurance. “The more we know, as physicians, the more we can work with dietitians and reinforce the role of nutrition.”

The goal is simple, she said: “I’d like to see more of us living a healthy lifestyle and having conversations with our patients because they think we are a reliable source of knowledge on nutrition.”

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