“Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food.” — Hippocrates, 431 BC
Imagine this: At the end of your visit, your doctor hands you a prescription … for kale chips.
“It surprises some patients, but they love it,” said Linda Shiue, MD. “Patients never expect their doctor will give them a recipe, but food is one of the most powerful tools you have to improve your health.”
Dr. Shiue is one of a growing number of physicians who are incorporating the idea of food as medicine into their practice. As director of Culinary Medicine for Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, her goal is to teach and empower patients, doctors, and staff to improve their health by learning how to cook.
“Food is one of the most ancient forms of medicine and healing, but somehow we’ve forgotten about that,” Dr. Shiue said.
Cooking Meets Medicine
Dr. Shiue wanted to share her personal experiences in cooking so she started her food blog in 2009.
“I hadn’t thought to share my blog with my patients because I thought of food as my personal hobby and not as part of patient care,” she said.
But after 15 years of practicing medicine, Dr. Shiue realized her two passions didn’t have to be mutually exclusive.
She felt a renewed sense of excitement after she attended an annual medical conference, co-sponsored by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Culinary Institute of America, where doctors learn about nutrition and cooking.
“That conference propelled me to talk to patients about food and nutrition,” she said. “If I could empower my patients to make a change by setting them up with the tools they need, that could make a real difference in their health.”
Attracted by Kaiser Permanente’s focus on prevention, Dr. Shiue joined the organization in September 2016. However, before starting her new role, she took a sabbatical to learn more about healthy cooking. She completed a 6-month, full-time program at the San Francisco Cooking School, which included a 2-month stint at Mourad, a Michelin-starred Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco. She also completed a plant-based nutrition program from Cornell University.
“I wanted to add more tools to my toolbox to help improve my patients’ health,” she said.
Lunching With Linda
Dr. Shiue now offers 2 cooking courses at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco’s Mission Bay Medical Offices, one for physicians and one for members and the community.
For 2 hours every month, physicians trade in tongue depressors and scalpels for wooden spoons and kitchen knives to participate in the Lunch With Linda series. The class is modeled after the concept of “See One, Do One, Teach One.” Participants observe her cooking demo, learn how to cook hands-on, and then share that knowledge with their patients. These classes help Dr. Shiue reach far more people than if she were to try to reach individuals on her own.
She also leads Thrive Kitchen, a series of monthly cooking classes for Kaiser Permanente members and the community, which features a changing menu of globally inspired, seasonal, vegetable-centric dishes. The goal is to demonstrate how easy — and delicious — it can be to eat healthily. Her dream is to create onsite teaching kitchens at Kaiser Permanente medical centers nationwide.
“It’s a lot of work, but I love what I do,” she said. “I get to combine my passion with my career, and what could be better than that?”