- College of Medicine
When most of us think about healthy eating, we focus on cutting out the foods we enjoy. Dr. Jacquelyn Nyenhuis, the new assistant professor of internal medicine specializing in culinary nutrition at the College of Medicine, wants to change that.
“Culinary medicine is all about engaging the patient to think differently about their food and the taste of food,” Dr. Nyenhuis said. “Maybe when you first start leaving out sugar, things may not taste as good, but after a while you start to appreciate the natural sweetness of fruits and vegetables.
Dr. Nyenhuis’ focus is culinary medicine – an evidence-based specialty that blends the art of food and cooking with the science of medicine. She joined the College of Medicine through a grant from the Martin Andersen – Gracia Andersen Foundation to provide academic, clinical and community leadership and instruction in scientifically-based human nutrition.
Dr. Nyenhuis believes physicians play a role in teaching their patients how to create good tasting, wonderfully-looking foods that contribute to good health. Science has shown that diet plays a key role in causing and preventing conditions such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and even some forms of cancer. Research has shown that 50 percent of deaths that occur from heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes are related to how we eat. Dr. Nyenhuis believes that improving cooking skills translates to being able to prepare more nutritious meals which can reduce risk of these diseases.
“It’s not necessarily about teaching the in-depth science, it’s about teaching the cooking skills that uses science-based evidence to help people eat healthier,” Dr. Nyenhuis explained. “For example, science has shown that fermented foods like yogurt increases probiotics in the body which help with digestion. So we teach people how to incorporate those foods in meals, how to use better cooking methods to preserve nutrients and how to use fresh ingredients and flavorful spices and herbs to make our food taste even better.”
At the med school, Dr. Nyenhuis recently helped teach a fourth-year culinary medicine elective that showed future physicians practical skills to cook healthy, tasty meals. Students spent time in a teaching kitchen at UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management and then shared their skills with community groups.
“We take a hands-on approach in transforming the sciences of nutritional medicine into something that doctors can share with their patients,” Dr. Nyenhuis explained. “Studies show that experiences like this make doctors more likely to pass on health and nutrition information to their patients. This is important because doctors are often asked about diet and nutrition. Many times they don’t feel comfortable discussing it. So we’re giving future doctors the resources to be able to talk about nutrition in a positive way and give their patients practical advice.”
Beyond working with medical students, Dr. Nyenhuis will be participating in community education and outreach projects across Central Florida. “We want to engage people in the community, teaching them about nutrition and healthy cooking skills and hopefully they will pass it on to their families and other members of the community,” she said.
Growing up on a farm in Iowa where she used fresh ingredients to make her meals from scratch, Dr. Nyenhuis has always loved food and cooking.
“When I was really young I did a demonstration at the state fair on cooking vegetables with less water to preserve nutrients, and I think that’s when I really fell in love with the science of cooking and teaching it as well.”
After completing a bachelor’s in food sciences from Iowa State University, she went on to earn a master’s in nutrition at Louisiana State University and a Ph.D. from North Dakota State University. She is also a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist and a Diabetes Educator.
She shares recipes and tips for creating healthy foods on her blog Cooking With Jacque and co-authored Nutrition and Diet Therapy, a college textbook. She has provided nutrition coaching to communities across the globe, including Malawi, Africa where she coached patients with HIV/AIDS on preparing healthier meals.
“We want to give people the resources to be able to move in a better direction by being able to cook healthier,” she said. “Culinary medicine can be a really fun way to start improving their lifestyle, health and even address very specific diagnoses, whether it be diabetes, heart disease or kidney issues.”