Your doctor probably encourages healthy eating during checkups, but do they really know how to help you in the diet department?
Less than 25 percent of doctors say they received adequate training to counsel patients on nutrition and physical activity, according to a report from the Bipartisan Policy Center, American College of Sports Medicine, and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
In order to better equip doctors to provide improved dietary counseling, the Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans has added some ingredients to their curriculum.
The university’s Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine (GCCM) now gives medical students a crash course in nutrition science, including classes on cooking.
Beefing Up Nutrition Requirements
Dr. Timothy Harlan, the executive director of the GCCM, is not new to the nutrition industry. He is also known as Dr. Gourmet, the founder of The Dr. Gourmet Diet Plan.
"Physicians talk about nutrition and diet all the time, but they don't talk about it in a way that communicates change to their patients," Harlan said in a video produced by the school, which also offers courses in the community.
Harlan’s latest research found that just two out of five medical schools in the United States require the minimum 25 hours of nutrition education recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.
In fact, 71 percent of recently graduated medical students report that they had been inadequately trained in nutrition counseling.
A 2015 survey of 627 students published in Advances in Preventive Medicine found that when medical students had the hands-on training at the GCCM compared to just clinical education, there was a 72 percent increase in proficiency in the overall competencies.
GCCM also offers a certification program for practicing physicians, mid-levels, registered dietitians, and pharmacists. The center is also working to create other certifications for chefs and food service personnel.
Tulane isn’t the only institution attempting to train future doctors about the culinary world. The Tulane curriculum was devised in partnership with the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University, and it has been sold to more than 15 other medical schools.
Nutritionists Call for Better Doctor Education
Andy Bellatti, a nutritionist based in Las Vegas, said he likes the trend of medical students taking cooking classes.
“This way, they can begin to broach the topic and make a few helpful suggestions the patient can utilize until they see a nutrition expert, or if they end up never going,” he said.
Bellatti noted that many medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high triglycerides, and hypertension can be managed — and in some cases, reversed — with proper nutrition. This is why doctors should understand more about nutrition science and food preparation.
“For example, when dealing with hypertension, simply reducing sodium is not enough. It is also equally important to increase intake of foods rich in potassium and magnesium,” Bellatti said.
The program may be able to give doctors more knowledge to pass on such tips to their patients.
Sharon Palmer, a California-based nutritionist and author of “Plant-Powered for Life,” said physicians have a huge opportunity to impact a patient’s health through accurate diet information.
“Many physicians go all the way through medical school with little nutrition education,” Palmer told Healthline.
She cited a recent study that found they have about 20 hours of education in total.
“That is not enough,” she said.
Palmer said that many people don’t have a nutritionist or dietician they can turn to, so having a more educated doctor — or one that better incorporates nutritional education into a patient’s lifestyle — is vital.
“Many people may go see their doctor once a year for their check-up, but they certainly aren’t in the habit of seeing their dietitian once a year,” she said.
Palmer said she does see more physicians who are seeking out better education in nutrition and others who are working nutritionists into their practice.
Still aren’t sure you’re getting adequate nutrition counseling? Palmer says patients should take it upon themselves to find doctors that have an interest in diet health and wellness.
“You can seek out a physician who is more in tune with prevention and the power of nutrition,” Palmer said.