North Texas Daily

Health Science Centers course trains students in Mediterranean diet

Health Science Centers course trains students in Mediterranean diet

April 08
10:07 2014

Steven James // Staff Writer

A new course at the UNT Health Science Center prepares medical students to treat health problems like high blood pressure and kidney disease through cooking and eating certain foods that can lower patients’ health problems.

The culinary medicine course is offered at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at UNTHSC. Students learn how to prepare the Mediterranean diet, which includes learning how to control the fat, carbohydrate and sodium levels of food when cooking.

The Mediterranean diet involves eating healthy foods such as fish, vegetables and whole grains, then adding olive oil or fruit to those foods for flavor. Officials at UNTHSC hope this will help improve the overall health of patients, who are having a hard time buying, cooking and prioritizing healthy food.

Currently, the course is only offered to first-year medical students. In the fall, the course will be offered to both first and second-year students.

“Chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure are a public health issue,” said Peggy Smith-Barbaro, senior director of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. “[We use] evidence-based information on the role of diet in disease and provide them [the public] with culinary options they can pass on to the public.”

Smith-Barbaro also said that in order for students to take the class, they must first pass online quizzes that test them about chronic illnesses. Then, they attend the UT Southwestern Moncrief Cancer Institute in Fort Worth, learning hands-on culinary arts training. After completing the cooking portion, the students then learn the nutritional values of the foods they cook.

“We did this in the hopes of improving the education of healthcare providers to ultimately enhance care for chronic illnesses,” she said.

Darrin D’Agostino, chairman for the department of medicine at UNTHSC, teaches students about nutritional information.

“As opposed to dietitians just saying that a certain food is bad, students are learning the link between nutrition and medicine,” D’Agostino said. “Students literally learn to cook and then everybody tastes each other’s food to give feedback about whether the food was good or bad; too much salt or too much fat.”

He said the body needs to keep a good balance between sodium and potassium intake. Too much sodium in the kidneys could lead to kidney disease and even kidney failure.

“If you go to a restaurant or if you even just eat at home, there are bound to be lots of sodium content in that food,” D’Agostino said. “Just be cautious about what you eat.”

First-year medical student Rolando Cantu said the new course has taught him surprising things about certain diseases.

“I used to think that when you got diabetes, you had to give up everything with sugar,” Cantu said. “The thing is, you don’t. You can mash up fruits to give the more dry foods flavor.”

He said people can follow the Mediterranean diet by limiting sugary foods, consuming less alcohol, buying whole wheat bread and eating nuts.

“Something as delicious as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can get you health points,” he said. “After learning this specific way of cooking, I have been applying it myself.”

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