Foods high in sodium, sugar-sweetened beverages, processed meat, and trans-fat are responsible for 11 million global deaths from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes, a study in The Lancet reports. But the concept of food as medicine may provide a way to build, restore, and maintain better health.
A recent review and report from the Center for Food As Medicine and the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center explains that for millennia, food has been a part of medical practice. As medical treatments and procedures modernized, however, many Western cultures shifted away from food.
But the report finds that food as medicine programs and interventions can help manage chronic disease and combat food insecurity. Programs including medically-tailored meals and nutrition incentive programs also aim to help vulnerable populations gain access to fresh, nutritious foods. Structural barriers to race, ethnicity, and class cause communities of color and low-income communities to have limited access to nutritious food.
In Dr. Raj Patel and Dr. Rupa Marya’s book, Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice, the authors argue that the food people eat, the environments they inhabit, and the injustices they experience impact everything from the brain’s development to how the immune system functions.
“These exposures [the body is responding to] are not a choice. These exposures have been created and recreated through colonialist architecture and capitalist architecture,” Dr. Rupa Marya, internal medicine specialist and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, tells Food Tank.
Medical professionals are recognizing the tangible benefits of making food an integral part of preventing and fighting disease. Physicians in Mexico and the Philippines are creating the first culinary medicine education programs in their countries. In Nigeria, pharmacologist Charles Wambebe is researching and developing health and medicinal values of the food that’s consumed in African countries. In the United States, doctors, nurses, and clinical dietitians are centering the needs and experiences of marginalized communities and paying attention to the social determinants of health. Around the world, physicians are launching culinary medicine programs, teaching courses, and incorporating food into their medical practice.
Here are 22 medical professionals working to use food as a critical tool for treating, controlling, and healing from illness and maintaining health.
1. Dr. Evelisse Capó, United States
Originally from Bayamón, Puerto Rico, Capó is a Doctor in Pharmacy and the Director of Culinary and Spanish Content for the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. As CEO and Founder of The Food Pharmacy, Capó aims to educate people about the benefits of a plant-based diet to prevent and aid in the treatment of cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and other life threatening conditions. The Food Pharmacy offers cooking demonstrations, seminars, speaking engagements, employee wellness programs, menu development, and one-on-one programs such as health and lifestyle coaching.
2. Hilda Carey, United States
Hilda Carey is a registered dietitian nutritionist and the lead clinical outpatient dietitian at Kaiser Permanente – San Francisco Medical Center. She specializes in pediatric nutrition and eating disorders and aims to help transform the way people and their families eat and empower them to use food as medicine. Carey focuses on integrating culturally appropriate advice for patients to effectively match their lifestyle, living conditions, dietary needs, and food culture.
3. Dr. Robert E. Graham, United States
Also known as “Dr. Rob the Chef,” Graham is a Harvard trained physician, Board Certified in both Internal and Integrative Medicine and has over 15 years of clinical experience. Integrating a “food-first” approach into healthcare is a key aspect of Graham’s work. He has taught over 200 healthcare workers, mostly medical residents, how to prepare healthy and delicious plant-based meals and created “Victory Greens,” the first educational and edible rooftop garden at a hospital in NYC. As the Chief Health Officer of Performance Kitchen, Graham helps create over 60 different healthy frozen meals spanning various dietary needs and provides a range of medically tailored meals which doctors prescribe for chronic conditions.
4. Dr. Dara Huang, United States
As both a double Board Certified physician specializing in Internal Medicine and Kidney & Hypertension and a professional sushi chef, Huang believes that a healthy life begins with a healthy kitchen. Huang aims to help patients prevent high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, obesity and cancer through food. Her practice empowers patients to take charge of their relationship with food through cooking techniques, exposure to healthy ingredients, and behavioral changes to help them achieve their individual goals.
5. Dr. Amitha Kalaichandran, Canada
Born in London and based between New York and Toronto, Kalaichandran is an epidemiologist, physician, medical journalist, and health-tech consultant. Kalaichandran advocates for integrative approaches to wellbeing, like culturally-appropriate nutrition, combined with equitable access to the social determinants of health.
6. Dr. William Li, United States
Li is a world-renowned physician, scientist, speaker, and author of Eat to Beat Disease – The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself. Li’s seminal book identifies the strategies and dosages for using food to starve cancer, reduce the risk of dementia, and beat dozens of avoidable diseases. As founder of the Angiogenesis Foundation, a nonprofit organization disrupting disease through angiogenesis – the process the body uses to grow new blood vessels – Li aims to improve global health by advancing angiogenesis-based medicine, diet, and lifestyle.
7. Dr. Aseem Malhotra, United Kingdom
Malhotra is a Trained Consultant Cardiologist with the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom and is a visiting Professor of Evidence Based Medicine, Bahiana School of Medicine and Public Health in Salvador, Brazil. Malhotra has highlighted concerns that prescribed medications and procedures are over-sold and argues that most of our nutrients can be delivered more efficiently from food than from supplements.
8. Dr. “Shad” Farshad Fani Marvasti, United States
Marvasti is a physician, medical educator, researcher, public speaker and author trained at Stanford University. His work advocates for the use of food as medicine and he actively teaches his patients to prepare healthy meals with food prescriptions to help treat their medical conditions. Marvasti engages his medical students, local chefs, and community members to conduct group cooking classes where patients with pre-diabetes and diabetes learn how to use food as medicine to treat their conditions.
9. Dr. Rupa Marya, United States
Marya is a physician, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and co-founder of the Do No Harm Coalition. She is also the founder and executive director of the Deep Medicine Circle, a worker-directed nonprofit committed to healing the wounds of colonialism through food, medicine, story, learning, and restoration. Marya and Raj Patel co-authored the book Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice, which seeks to understand the root causes of health disparities and the rise of inflammatory disease in industrialized places.
10. Dr. Jodi Leslie Matsuo, United States
A Native Hawaiian Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator, Matsuo has training in Integrative and Functional Nutrition and graduated from the Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program. She has focused her work on the benefits of eating plant-based for both personal health and the health of the environment. In collaboration with her husband, Dr. Leon Matsuo, she co-founded the Kukui Lifestyle Medicine clinic. At the clinic, she runs a nine-week program, the Pono Program, which offers cooking demonstrations and health education. Matsuo combines her medical training and plant-based cooking through these courses to show how eating plant-based does not have to be restrictive.
11. Dr. Fabiola Flores Monsivais, Mexico
Monsivais is a physician specializing in internal medicine. Monsivais also conducts research in Human Nutrition, Food Science and Nutrition and Dietetics and is a member of the Latin American Lifestyle Medicine Association. With a certification in Plant Based Nutrition from T. Colin Campbell Center of Nutrition Studies, Monsivais teaches medical and nursing students how to cook plant-based foods at the Autonomous University of Baja California (UABC) in Mexicali, Mexico. The UABC teaching kitchen is on the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative “Food is Medicine” map, the first in Mexico and Latin America.
12. Dr. Mechelle Acero Palma, Philippines
A Family Medicine physician and Lifestyle Medicine Specialist, Palma developed the first training design and curriculum on Culinary Medicine in Asia, which launched in 2016. Through the course, clinicians, coaches, chefs, and other practitioners can learn about the benefits of nutrition prescription. Palma developed the Doctor’s Teaching Kitchen in the Philippines, providing skill development in nutrition coaching and culinary medicine.
13. Dr. Paula Pires, Brazil
Pires is an endocrinologist and general practitioner in São Paulo, Brazil. She created the Médicos na Cozinha, or “Doctors in the Kitchen” project in 2018 after attending a course on Lifestyle Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Through this project, she teaches classes related to culinary medicine for doctors and health professionals, both in-person and online.
14. Dr. Sirisha Potluri, India and United States
Sirisha Potluri is a medical doctor and a dietary and lifestyle medicine coach certified in plant-based nutrition through ECornell. She received a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) from Guntur Medical College in Guntur, India, and has focused her interests in plant-based nutrition and disease prevention. Potluri co-founded the Plant-Based Los Angeles and Plant-Based India pages, platforms which aim to provide plant-based recipes and tips for controlling illnesses like diabetes and hypertension through food and nutrition.
15. Dr. Lauren Powell, United States
Born and raised in Metro-Detroit and now based in Atlanta, Georgia, Powell is a board-certified family medicine physician and culinary medicine specialist. Through her social media tips, online cooking school, and debut book, Food Essentials for the Busy Professional, she aims to end generational health issues in the African-American community and make healthy eating accessible and enjoyable. Powell travels across the United States to speak with diverse audiences about food as medicine to prevent disease and heal from illnesses.
16. Dr. Linda Shiue, United States
Shiue is a primary care doctor and professionally trained chef. As a physician and director of culinary medicine at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, she aims to share healthy cooking skills to improve health and wellness and emphasizes using seasonal produce. At Kaiser Permanente, Shiue founded the Thrive Kitchen, which provides hands-on cooking classes to empower clinicians and patients. She is also an advisor for Wild Skillet, a collaborative effort to create more healthy, affordable, and accessible food options. Shiue received a Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition from Cornell University.
17. Dr. Terry Simpson, United States
An Alaskan Native of Athabascan descent, Simpson was the 22nd Native American to become a surgeon and the first Alaska Native to become one. Simpson also completed culinary medicine training at the Goldring Institute at Tulane in New Orleans, becoming the first surgeon to be certified in the field of Culinary Medicine. His blog and podcast, Your Doctor’s Orders, focuses on debunking popular health myths and explaining different food and health fads, such as fish oil supplements, protein powder, the carnivore diet, the Impossible Burger, and more. Simpson is a member of the Joint Operating Board for the Alaska Native Medical Center, and in 2013, he received the National Indian Health Board Area Impact award for his work.
18. Dr. Scott Stoll, United States
Stoll received his medical degree from the University of Colorado and is the co-founder of the Plantrician Project and the International Plant Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference. Through the Plantrician Project, Stoll aims to educate, equip, and empower healthcare providers and other health influencers with knowledge about the benefits of understanding food as medicine and whole food plant-based nutrition. He also helped launch the Regenerative Health Institute, a collaborative project between the Plantrician Project and the Rodale Institute that works to integrate a regenerative vision for human health, agriculture, and the environment.
19. Dr. Manjula Venkatappa, India and United Arab Emirates
Venkatappa is a medical doctor and senior healthcare management consultant advocating for the importance of wholesome, nutritious food. Originally from Bangalore, India, and based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Venkatappa researches recipes to treat specific health conditions, including autoimmune diseases and heart health. Venkatappa founded NutriiU, a curated health and wellness recipe portal that provides tailor-made recipes to help control and treat chronic conditions.
20. Dr. Charles Wambebe, Nigeria
Wambebe received his PhD in Pharmacology from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Nigeria and is the Founding President of the International Biomedical Research in Africa (IBRIA) and Chair of Product Research and Development for Africa (PRADA). Wambebe researches food plants and edible insects and has focused on developing medical products based on African Indigenous medical knowledge. As a professor of pharmacology and having worked in the field of African Indigenous medical knowledge for decades, Wambebe works to enhance the concept of good food as good medicine.
21. Jessica Wilson, United States
Jessica Wilson, MS, RDN is a clinical dietician, consultant, and author who has worked with eating disorder patients since 2009. Throughout her career, she has brought attention to how both the public health and medical field’s framing of healthy eating and obesity has contributed to the rise in eating disorder cases in the last decade. As a Black, queer woman, Wilson’s career in the health and dietetics fields has garnered attention on national media and led her to co-host the “My Black Body Podcast.” The podcast aims to center the experiences of those who have Atypical Anorexia Nervosa and are rarely diagnosed because they don’t fit the stereotype of being thin, affluent and white.
22. Dr. Colin Zhu, United States
Zhu is a board-certified physician who practices family medicine in Los Angeles, and uses the evidence-based science of food and nutrition to help his patients heal from chronic disease. He learned from his mother, who practiced Chinese medicine, about finding balance within the body. Following completion of his medical degree, Zhu trained as a chef and a health coach at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health & Culinary Arts and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. He created TheChefDoc in 2017, an online wellness and lifestyle education platform that aims to empower people through culinary medicine.
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