The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

What Medical Students Told Me About Nutrition

Early tomorrow we're traveling to the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee to teach for a week at the Wilderness Medical Society medicine elective. I posted about the elective in December.

This year I will teach the medical students the entire curriculum of diving physiology and hyperbaric medicine, and some fun seminars in orthopedics and stretching.

Last year we brought flashlights but no phone, as no cell signal got through there. Before arriving last year, I asked the medical director if we should pack in food. He said, "Not at all, the camp has its own chef." He told us there was plentiful vegetarian food. When we arrived, the breakfasts were sugared, packaged cereal, or sugared processed oatmeal packages, lunchmeats with greasy gloppy potato salad and fruit salad for lunch, meat loaf or other meat for dinner with small sides of vegetables soaked in fat. This is more than innutritious, it is harmful to health. There were many unfermented soy loafs and products. Unfermented soy, popular in protein powders, drinks, bars, and meat substitutes, is not turning out to be healthy as previously thought, and does not have the benefits of fermented soy products. Two previous posts, Is Your Health Food Unhealthy and Exercise is More Important Than Calcium Supplements for Bones explained that unfermented soy is known to slow the thyroid and has estrogen-promoting qualities - increasingly documented to contribute to estrogen-dependent tumors like fibroids, cystic ovary, breast cysts, and endometriosis. Hundreds of thousands of women annually have needless, serious, and painful surgery for conditions they might alleviate by avoiding estrogenic foods and the numerous "women's" supplements sold in "health" food stores. There were plenty of cookies, cakes, and muffins, coffee, and, in fairness, a bowl of fruit.

We were surprised that a medical education program would serve unwholesome food. Should we have been surprised? At the several medical conferences I attend every year, the breakfasts and meals at functions and meetings are bacon or sausage (these are not helpful protein sources; they do more damage than good), cheese Danish, and other junk food. The fruit is served covered with sugar and cream or as a small side. The only vegetables are the decorations. "Break-out" snacks are confections, candy bars, and ice cream. I was once on a committee that decided and promoted national health policy. The box lunches were ham, cheese, and mayonnaise sandwiches on white bread (or processed flour wraps) with a wisp of something green sticking to it, a bag of potato chips, a package of cookies, and a can of soda. I inquired one time about it and was told by the people in charge that it was "perfectly healthy and contained greens." At another conference, I was told they once tried to have healthful food, but were threatened by their physician members with reduced enrollments if they did. These are the physicians and health providers you go to, to safeguard your health. But, they are of the old generation and times have changed, haven't they?

At the Wilderness elective last year, I went believing that the young, "hip," privileged medical students had grown up with all the right information. I queried one student there about the food, and he replied without hesitation that it was no different from what he ate at home because healthy eating, "was too expensive and too time consuming and you need too many special pots and pans to cook that weird healthy stuff." I was taken aback by his misinformation. Several medical students agreed that they couldn't be expected to eat right with their difficult schedules, and that healthful food tastes terrible. Most had candy bars and bags of chips in their packs, or fancy "energy bars," which truthfully, are little more than candy (with unfermented soy and some synthetic vitamins) not the health products that advertising wants us to believe. I always thought that people know what is bad and would be embarrassed if anyone knew they did bad things. But the students didn't know it was unhealthy and flaunted their bad habit. These are the next generation of doctors who will make decisions about your health? Or prescribe drugs and surgery for things they don't know are from bad eating habits?

Our job there as their teachers is to give them information and open doors of insight. But their mind was set, and they did not want to hear how to have easy, inexpensive, and good-tasting healthful food (without needing special pots and pans).

I went to the director, a friend and sensible man, with the great idea to teach a healthful eating course at the next elective. He told me the students wouldn't be interested. I offered the idea to just change the menus to beneficial food at each meal, to live what they learn. The director smiled and told me they had a hard enough time getting enrollments and didn't want anything to decrease numbers. I said, "Don't tell them it's healthy food ahead of time." He winked, "Word would get out!"

I will let you know what happens this year with the students. We're bringing vegetables, fruit, onions, and spices for ourselves. If you're interested in how to make easy, inexpensive, fast, and good-tasting food, see the book Healthy Martial Arts. The interesting information I will be lecturing about this week on diving physiology and hyperbarics, is also on web site books page.

/Addendum: Here is the link to how we did - When Did Health Become Thinking Out Of The Box?

Photo by TomEppy

  • 1
Was this article helpful? Yes No

About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.