The Mediterranean diet is still the gold standard; butter is not, in fact, back; the gut microbiome is a growing field of study giving rise to “prescriptions” for better nutrition. These are just a few of the lessons from last month’s Culinary Medical Conference in Traverse City, the first event of its kind in Michigan.

Over the course of a weekend at Northwestern Michigan College’s Great Lakes Culinary Institute, about 60 attendees experienced culinary medical training through tours, lectures, and hands-on cooking. Participants learned the importance of discussing with their patients what comprises a healthy diet and how to achieve this in their own homes.

The conference was hosted by the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, Munson Healthcare, the Grand Traverse Foodshed Alliance, and the Culinary Institute, and supported by grants from the Health Fund and Rotary Charities of Traverse City. The idea for the conference is based on an event hosted annually by Harvard Medical School and the Culinary Institute of America. At “Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives,” physicians, dieticians, and others working in healthcare to come together and learn about the role food plays in determining health.

It should come as no surprise that food plays an important role in how healthy you are. Studies show what you do in the kitchen can be more important than what you do in the gym when trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle or lose weight. Unfortunately, physicians and other healthcare providers receive limited training on the role nutrition and diet play in overall health. Still, it’s becoming established medical fact that diet is a key determinant of health. Medical professionals need training to talk about food and diet with their patients, especially those with chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.

These ideas were at the heart of the Culinary Medicine Conference, which kicked off Friday evening with a keynote by Dr. David Eisenberg, director of culinary nutrition and adjunct associate professor of nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Eisenberg discussed the importance of taking a culinary medicine approach to improving dietary patterns and health outcomes for patients. Impressed by the collaborative nature of the groups in the Traverse City area, he highlighted the opportunity to catalyze a statewide effort to train more physicians and providers in the culinary approach.

Saturday started with a trip to the Sara Hardy Farmers Market to learn more about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), one of many opportunities for participants to learn more about local food and cooking.

The field trip was followed by a lecture on food access and healthy food alternatives for food pantry patrons from three locals: Dr. Cyrus Ghaemi, DO at Munson Family Practice Center, Les Hageman of the Father Fred Foundation, and Laura McCain, a registered dietician and chef. Another lecture, by Dr. Jennifer Lyon, DO, dove into dietary guidelines, understanding dietary fats, and how to use food to manage chronic conditions.

Later, with help from the talented staff and students of the Culinary Institute, participants cooked recipes designed for individuals with health issues such as weight management, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Participants ate what they cooked for lunch and dinner, sampling others’ dishes alongside their own.

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Michael Pollan

 Sunday’s program began with a lecture by Michigan State University’s Jean Kerver, PhD, MSc, RD, on the gut microbiome and her research on health outcomes from pre-birth through early childhood. According to research from Dr. Kerver and others, early exposure to certain microbiomes can have a preventative effect on asthma, obesity, and autism.

Afterward, attendees joined one of three breakout sessions: Introduction to Cooking Matters; Core4 Weight Management Program on Appetite Awareness Training;  or “Overheard in the Diabetes Educators Office.” In the afternoon, participants were able to go on one of two field trips to a farm or co-op grocery store.

The Culinary Medicine Conference went beyond the health headlines you read every day, providing meaningful training and insights at the intersection of science and medicine. We live in an obesogenic society where so many messages promote the unhealthy diets, quick fixes, and unsustainable eating. This event provided participants with tools to take back to their practices and help their patients live a more healthful lifestyle.




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