Unique Culinary Medicine programme aims to transform the nation’s health

Westminster Kingsway College is at the heart of an ambitious partnership between the culinary industry and healthcare professionals, that seeks to transform the health of thousands of people every year – and which officially launched on Wednesday 26 February, at a star-studded event held at the college’s Victoria Centre.

A host of culinary and clinical luminaries, including Chef Albert Roux OBE; restaurateur, chef and broadcaster Prue Leith CBE; Dr Sophie Park from UCL Medical School; and the crossbench Peer, Lord Bilimoria, came to the college’s Victoria campus – home to its highly-regarded School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts – to celebrate the success of the programme so far and to urge others to adopt it.

The programme, called Culinary Medicine, is a unique partnership between Culinary Medicine UK (a non-profit organisation) and Westminster Kingsway College. The programme teaches doctors and medical students the foundations of nutrition in the context of a patient’s case history, as well as how to cook. By educating medical professionals in this way, clinicians gain a much greater understanding of the vital role that nutrition plays in general health, as well as enabling them to speak to their patients about changes they can make to their diet based on their medical condition – be that obesity, gut health, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.

The programme has been running for the past two years and following a small scale pilot with Bristol University students, has trained over 400 medical students of the UCL Medical School in London. According to Dr Sophie Park (Director of Medical Education at UCL Medical School), the programme is hugely useful. The students, in the 5th year of their studies, have overwhelmingly enjoyed and valued the course, and Culinary Medicine UK hope to get more teaching hospitals and universities on board in the near future.

Westminster Kingsway College provides vital culinary expertise to the programme, as well as the top-quality kitchen facilities that are essential to provide meaningful training to the course’s participants. WestKing Chef Lecturer Vince Kelly tutors the course’s students – many of whom have no previous cooking or nutrition experience – in cooking skills and works with a dietitian and nutritionist on modules covering weight management and portion control, protein and veg diets, and fats.

Gary Hunter, Deputy Principal of Westminster Kingsway College said: “We are delighted to have been the first UK Culinary Medicine Academy and work with the Culinary Medicine programme for the last two years. It has been an inspiration to work with Dr Rupy Aujla and his team to deliver such a unique programme of education and inspiration to the next generation of GPs, Doctors and Chefs. We look forward to continuing this unique partnership, so that the programme can expand and benefit thousands more people across the country.”

The college’s involvement in the programme began when Professor David Foskett – the internationally-renowned hospitality educator and author – connected the college with Dr Rupy Aujla – an NHS GP and the founder of Culinary Medicine UK.  Dr Rupy, who has long been an advocate of better nutrition and its impact on health, had been working with Dr Timothy Harlan and the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans whose Culinary Medicine programme started in 2012.

As Dr Rupy explained: “The UK has been exceptionally slow to adopt this idea. So I decided to use some of the materials from the USA and bring it to the UK and introduce it into a programme with the help of Gary Hunter from the college and Professor Foskett. The programme brings different disciplines together, such as professional chefs, dietitians, and registered nutritionists, and when you get this incredible mixture of specialists, incredible things can happen. I really hope to see Culinary Medicine becoming the standard across all medical schools.”

Elaine Macaninch, a Registered Clinical Dietitian, works for both the NHS (with women who have diabetes in pregnancy) and for Culinary Medicine UK as their Lead Dietitian and Educator. She explained “As health professionals we have an enormous influence over the health of our nation, but research is telling us that, within everyday practice, there are hardly any conversations about food.  That’s a real missed opportunity. For example, diabetes, blood pressure, gut health and general health, there’s so much opportunity for good nutrition to support people’s health and for doctors to have the confidence to have conversations about food with their patients in a way that is sensitive to their background, their culture and their medical condition.

Also at the launch event was the chef, restaurateur and Great British Bake-Off judge Prue Leith. She has followed the Culinary Medicine programme since its launch, is a great advocate of it and has recently been tasked by the Government with overhauling hospital food.  She was very dismissive of the current food offer in many hospitals (where she feels that food is just seen as a drain on budgets, rather a vital input for patients that must be invested in) and wants them to place a much greater priority on the provision of high-quality, delicious and nutritious food, that “really lifts patients’ spirits”.

Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea, is the founder of Cobra Beer and a crossbench Peer in the House of Lords, Lord Bilimoria is also the Patron of Culinary Medicine UK and has been instrumental in raising awareness of the programme among Government departments, as well as securing vital funding for the programme, including from Charles Wilson, the CEO of Tesco’s Booker business. Celebrating the partnerships that have enabled the programme to prosper, he said: “This programme would not be happening without the collaboration between the college, academics, doctors, dietitians, nutritionists – all of us making it happen. This great initiative is going to save lives and make us a healthier country.”

To find out more about the Culinary Medicine Programme, visit the Culinary Medicine UK website.

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