Fare thee well

Course has good taste in health

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A new elective, Introduction to Clinical Nutrition class, teaches healthy recipes to medical students. The class emphasizes culinary nutrition fluency among future physicians.

Second-year medical student Tiya Clark enjoyed cooking long before she ever tied on an apron and donned a chef’s toque for the first meeting of her Introduction to Clinical Nutrition class. But the future pediatrician believes learning how to create healthy, affordable meals will make a huge impact on the lives of her young patients someday.

“Nutrition is important while children are growing,” Clark said while preparing roasted asparagus to accompany shrimp fra diavolo during a class in November. “It’s walk the walk. You can say, ‘I’ve substituted lentils for ground beef. It tastes good.’”

Piloted last summer, the elective course is the fruit of a partnership between the Health Science Center and H-E-B. The course follows a culinary nutrition curriculum of the Tulane University School of Medicine, and is part of a national trend emphasizing culinary nutrition fluency among physicians, said Tisha Lunsford, M.D., clinical associate professor of medicine and director of the Gastroenterology Fellowship Program. Dr. Lunsford directs the course along with Michelle Savu, M.D., FACS, clinical associate professor of surgery.

“Food is universal,” Dr. Lunsford said. “Everyone eats, and everyone has a culture of food. The doctor can take a few moments to connect to the patient: ‘Tell me what you like to eat.’”

H-E-B purchased the curriculum from Tulane and also provides all supplies, expert chefs and the use of its teaching kitchen. H-E-B culinary nutritionist and corporate chef Charlotte Samuel teaches the culinary portion of the class. Samuel also is an adjunct instructor in the Health Science Center’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

The recipes featured in the program are based on a Mediterranean diet and cost no more than $2.50 per serving, Samuel said.

“I want them to have a really good understanding [of food preparation] so that when they do talk to their patients, they are confident and authentic in what they are teaching,” Samuel said.

Each class session lasts four hours. During a recent class, students tasted eight unlabeled food items in a special presentation on the physiology of taste.

“You blew my mind right there!” second-year medical student Max Cadena called out when a guest chef noted that iodized salt is double the volume of kosher salt because of its smaller grains.

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The elective course is a partnership between the Health Science Center and H-E-B. The grocery chain purchased the curriculum and also provides all supplies, expert chefs and the use of its teaching kitchen.

During class, students cook in groups of four, share meals, review how to apply what they’ve learned, and engage in simulated clinical exercises led by Dr. Lunsford. The idea, she said, is to train proactive physicians who encourage patients to make doable dietary modifications, rather than simply treating symptoms of disease.

Another course goal is to cultivate student mentors. Second-year medical student Justin Low took the class last summer and was back this fall, checking in with students as they made collard greens and honey mustard pork tenderloin, and pesto pasta with roasted tomatoes, broccoli and white beans.

“I’ve never taught anything before,” Low said. “It’s helping me learn how to be an effective teacher to others.”

Dr. Lunsford hopes to be able to expand the course to accommodate more than the current maximum enrollment of 16 and to make it available to other students in health professions courses at the Health Science Center.

“The ‘do as I say’ approach has failed,” Dr. Lunsford said. “We have a patient population growing in girth despite all of our best efforts. We have to meet patients where they are.”

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