We all need to eat, so why not eat craveable, delicious and healthy foods?

This past week, the Campbell Foundation and the W.D. and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professorship in Integrative Medicine sponsored a lectureship on “Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives.”

Visiting professor Dr. David Eisenberg from the Harvard School of Public Health presented about the rising perils of obesity and diabetes, as well as inactivity as a major threat to the health of the U.S.

Our ability to support care of these conditions financially is unsustainable. Is the solution to our current health care system crisis really more bariatric surgery for morbidly obese children and adolescents or diabetes medications for these same kids? Is our best hope in some anti-obesity pill for adults whose lifestyles as couch potatoes and high calorie foods have finally caught up with them?

Eisenberg’s messages were succinct. The answer to these questions is unequivocally, “No.” Perhaps the simplest and most clear message was that we should once again prepare our meals at home.

Cooking at home allows us to control ingredients, sodium, fat content, portion size and more. Taking time to cook allows to savor the smell, color and taste of freshly cooked foods prepared with loving care in a way that cannot be found in prepared, processed or take-home fast foods.

Spending time with our families to eat mindfully, enjoy each other’s company and to choose healthy foods is an enormous health benefit on multiple levels. Mindful eating means not only mindful preparation but also eating away from the TV or other distractions and noticing our body’s signals we have eaten enough.

Some key messages:

• Use whole grains as your core carbohydrates. Carbs such as whole wheat, brown and wild rice, quinoa, couscous, wheat berries, bulgur and farro all reduce risk of problems like diabetes and obesity.

• Use healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil in your cooking and avoid trans-fats at all costs. Eat fish regularly for the benefit of healthy omega-3 fats.

• Use the MyPlate plan to balance your diet with lean, healthy proteins, abundant fruits and vegetables and whole grains.

• Move. Daily activity, just getting off the couch for 30 minutes or so, not necessarily going to the gym, will improve your health risks.

Another lesson in “Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives” was that we no longer even know how to cook at home. After at least a couple generations of working moms, the new generation of children has grown up on pre-prepared, processed foods.

We need to actually teach people how to cook. It is hard to cook at home if you don’t know what you are doing, have never experienced it, don’t enjoy it or think you don’t have time to do it.

Cooking at home is a great break in the day. It allows us to shift our mind from the daily stresses to the simple joys of slicing, dicing, stirring, smelling, braising, roasting, grilling, and sautéing healthy meals for ourselves and our families. Make time to do this. Simple recipes help.

One approach is to create “teaching kitchens” in our communities and medical schools. This will help people learn not only what is healthy cooking but also how to create luscious dishes. The Campbell Foundation has allowed UTMB to acquire and stock a demonstration kitchen now lodged at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at 4700 Broadway in Galveston.

This kitchen is being used to teach community members, medical and other health professionals on how to cook and eat better. More events and courses are planned using this valuable resource and we are working to find support for other similar teaching kitchens at the medical branch and in the community.

Try cooking something healthful at home tonight. It doesn’t need to be fancy or take long but you and your family will benefit in many ways.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.

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