Nourishing the Body, Nurturing the Soul

Article Summary
  • “Cooking Up Health” teaches medical students the importance of cooking and nutrition.
  • The class emphasizes the important role food plays in disease prevention.
  • The program has added a research component that unites academic and community stakeholders to address health and social issues.

Convenience often takes precedence over mindful choices in the fast-paced rhythm of modern life. The significance of cooking nutritional foods is often overlooked.

But preparing wholesome meals at home is a practice that goes beyond satiating hunger. It can also enhance healing and prevent disease.

Medical students cooking during the "Cooking Up Health" class
Medical students doing prep work in “Cooking Up Health.”

Through “Cooking Up Health,” University of Miami Miller School of Medicine medical students are learning why nutrition is a cornerstone of well-being and how conscious choices about the food that graces our plates can improve physical, mental and emotional health.

An Integral Component of Medical Education

“We get a good amount of information about nutrition from our standard medical school classes, such as cutting down on salt and lowering cholesterol,” said Devin Kennedy, a second-year medical student. “But beyond that, I didn’t know what foods to buy or avoid. I was also interested learning what to recommend for my patients in the future.”

Megan Bougher, a first-year physical therapy student and a vegetarian, said the plant-based cooking program was a natural fit for her.

“Physical therapy is about healing the body and good nutrition is part of the recovery process,” she said, adding that she wants to work in underserved communities where it can be difficult to access healthy foods.

Kennedy and Bougher were among the 18 Miller School students who participated in a recent cooking class at the Herbert Wellness Center to learn more about the role of diet and nutrition in disease prevention. Under the guidance of Chef Vicky, they prepared and cooked sweet potato, corn and black bean tacos, mashed up avocados to make guacamole and sampled “green” smoothies with spinach, bananas and grapes.

A "Cooking Up Health" attendee shows off her tacos
“Cooking Up Health” participants cooked plant-based tacos during class.

“Diabetes, obesity and joint problems are just a few of the conditions that can be improved with proper nutrition and physical movements,” said Gwen Wurm, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Miller School, while pointing out how the polyunsaturated fats in avocados are good for infant brain development while cilantro, turmeric and garlic also have health benefits.

Joey Schulz, a Ph.D. cellular biology student, agreed.

“My grandmother passed away from diabetes, and I want to educate people about proactively changing lifestyles to prevent this disease,” she said.

Health from a Nutritional Perspective

The class was part of a seven-week interdisciplinary culinary medicine program, first developed by Common Threads and expanded by the Osher Center for Integrative Health. The students also participate in community service by co-teaching nutrition lessons to second- to fifth-graders at the Overtown Youth Center.

“Conventional medicine has done wonders, but there is an emerging drumbeat in the community for other ways for people to approach health,” said Teresa Glynn, P.T., D.P.T., M.B.A., vice chair of clinical services and assistant professor in the Miller School’s Department of Physical Therapy. “There is a deep need for us to take ownership of our personal health journeys with a lifestyle that includes good nutrition, adequate sleep and plenty of exercise.”

Last year, Laura Redwine, Ph.D., clinical research director of the Osher Center, led a pilot of the “Cooking Up Health” program with eight medical students and eight physical therapy students.

“We were able to expand the program this year, thanks to a grant we were awarded through Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, and include a research component to assess its impact,” she said.

The grant program supports projects uniting academic and community stakeholders to address ongoing and emerging health and social issues.  

“Along with educating young people, we want to study how this model can help older adults, many of whom enjoy cooking and would benefit from knowing more about healthy foods,” Dr. Redwine said.

Tags: food as medicine, medical education, nutrition, Osher Center for Integrative Health