Healthy nutrition is a vital component of wellness. What we eat plays an important role in physical and emotional health. For those of us in the health professions, this is even more important because we bear responsibility for educating our patients on healthy nutrition.
Chronic diseases – including heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and obesity – are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems. Arkansas has the sixth highest obesity rate in the US at 34.5 percent. There is a large body of evidence implicating diet and lifestyle as major contributing factors; factors that can be modified. There is also a growing body of evidence and interest in the role of food and diet in the management of chronic diseases. Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. While our students are taught about the importance of diet and its impact on various diseases, these topics are usually presented in an ad hoc manner depending on the disease or system that is being covered. Our goal is to provide the future health care providers of Arkansas with an integrated overview of the importance of nutritional wellness to foster their interest in this topic. Armed with this knowledge, they can utilize a more holistic approach to correct imbalances that underlie chronic diseases.
With this in mind, the Student Wellness Program has been promoting nutritional wellness through cooking lessons for our medical students at the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute of Arkansas (Culinary Institute), Little Rock under the guidance of Dr. Meenaskhi Budhraja since Fall of 2017. In addition to learning about healthy nutrition, these lessons provide a wonderful venue for socialization, team building, de-stressing, and developing an interest in cooking; something that the SWP would also like to promote. The SWP obtained a grant from the Medical Education Foundation of Arkansas (MEFFA) to support this activity this year. The MEFFA funds were used to introduce medical students to the concept of culinary medicine (“Food as Medicine”) through a “hands-on” three-hour cooking session where they prepared a healthy meal at the Culinary Institute. We have held four separate cooking lessons with 25 participants each for a total of 100 this fall. From the feedback and evaluations, students have thoroughly enjoyed this experience, reporting how it has expanded their awareness of healthy nutrition and that healthy food does taste good. They reported a better understanding of the importance of nutrition for their own wellness as well as the joy of cooking.
While these lessons were largely focused on medical students, the Student Wellness Program held a separate cooking lesson with a theme of the “Kitchen Pharmacy” for the Student Leadership Council of the College of Pharmacy with the gracious support of Dr. Schwanda Flowers, Associate Dean. The feedback from this event was also very enthusiastic. For the coming year, the SWP plans to explore funding opportunities to expand this program to students from the other UAMS colleges.
Dr. Meenakshi Buddhraja is a gastroenterologist practicing in Little Rock for over 25 years, and over the last 10 years has been actively involved in promoting healthy nutrition in the community. She is an honorary faculty at the Culinary Institute where she teaches a course on healthy nutrition to culinary students. Over the past two years, Dr. Buddhraja in collaboration with the medical student-led Integrative Medicine Interest Group has been offering these ‘hands-on’ immersive classes specifically designed for our medical students. Dr. Buddhraja and her nutritionist give didactic lectures. She schedules the cooking lessons at the Culinary Institute. Students (n=25 at a time) who have signed up are present to the facility at the designated time. There is a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation about healthy nutrition. Dr. Buddhraja and her team have menus with written recipes for a healthy, nutritious meal, and the required ingredients, spices, and condiments ready in each cooking station. She provides general instructions about the menu and the dietary benefits. The students break out into groups, go to the cooking station of their choice, and start preparing the dishes. Dr. Buddhraja, her nutritionist, and other members of her team supervise and provide necessary guidance to the students as they prepare the food. When all the dishes are prepared, the students gather together for a moment of mindfulness and share the meal together. The feedback from participating students has been universally positive.