Doctors who cook say they give better nutrition advice

Perhaps the next time you see your doctor, he might finish the visit with a reminder to take a medication and a conversation about cooking salmon.

In a “teach the teachers” experiment, health care professionals have been learning to cook, as well as learning nutritional science, at a conference that has been presented eight times in the past few years by Harvard University and the Culinary Institute of America. The idea behind “Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives — Caring for Our Patients and Ourselves” is that doctors and other health care professionals who know how to cook healthfully might be more likely to get patients to do likewise.

“The conceptual mode for this program was influenced by the observation that for health care professionals, practicing a healthful behavior oneself (for example: exercise, or wearing a seat belt) is a powerful predictor of counseling patients about these same behaviors,” researchers wrote recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.

The participants — 219 people before the conference and 192 three months afterward — took an anonymous survey in 2010. The researchers noted a limitation of their work is that the results were limited to a three-month follow-up, and it’s impossible to know whether the reported changes in behavior were sustained.

But the participants reported changes. Before the conference, they cooked 58 percent of their meals, and 64 percent afterward; they ate more whole grains, nuts and vegetables; and while 46 percent said before the conference that they could successfully advise an overweight patient on nutrition and lifestyle, 81 percent said they could afterward.

“We need enhanced educational efforts aimed at translating decades of nutrition science into practical strategies whereby healthy, affordable, easily prepared and delicious foods become the predominant elements of a person’s dietary lifestyle,” wrote the researchers, led by Dr. David Eisenberg of Harvard Medical School. Eisenberg also is a member of the scientific advisory committee and consultant to the culinary institute.