The UK College of Medicine offers precision nutrition, culinary medicine as an elective for medical students

Lindsay Travis
University of Kentucky

“For some reason during my treatment, I craved fruit or something delicious. Spicy, savory, salty food whetted my appetite,” recalls Yueming “Ronnie” Wu, a chemistry doctoral student at the University of Kentucky.

In 2020, at the age of 27, he received an advanced diagnosis of colon cancer. Wu underwent six months of chemotherapy infusions every two weeks and took chemotherapy pills every two weeks. After that, he underwent another aggressive treatment: cytoreductive surgery (CRS) with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, which washes the abdomen with hot chemotherapy.

Sarah Polis, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of Nutrition Science Education, created the Culinary Medicine Course to teach the next generation of health care workers about the power of food. (Photo by Arden Barnes/UK)

“After each surgery, I lost at least 20 to 30 pounds,” Wu said. “And after chemotherapy, I could barely drink room temperature water. I was very sensitive to temperature and my taste had definitely changed.”

Wu is not a typical patient. As a researcher at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, she says she’s “lucky” to have knowledge about the effects of food.

“I know the consequences of what I eat,” Wu said. “Nutritionists at Markey Cancer Center in Great Britain gave me a complete introduction to food. It was very important for me to follow that.”

“Emerging Field”

A new course at the UK College of Medicine is teaching future doctors how to incorporate healthy food options into caring for patients like Wu.
Precision Nutrition and Advanced Culinary Medicine (NS801) is a one credit hour medical elective offered online to medical students at Lexington, Bowling Green and all three College of Medicine campuses. Northern Kentucky.

Culinary medicine is an evidence-based field that combines food with medical science. Its goal is to help people make healthy decisions about what to eat to help prevent and treat disease and restore well-being.

Course Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences, College of Medicine, and Director of Nutritional Science Education, Ph.D. A collaboration between Sarah Polis and Chef Tanya Whitehouse, Learning Kitchen Program Manager. Food Communication in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

“Culinary medicine is an emerging field,” Police said. “Medical schools across the country are beginning to incorporate culinary medicine into their curricula. The prevalence of diet-based chronic diseases in Kentucky is alarming and we felt compelled to create this course for UK medical students, our next generation of doctors.”

The course combines clinical, biomedical and culinary perspectives into eight weeks of study. Students will learn about different prescription diets for a number of diseases that affect Kentuckians, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cancer.

Culinary challenges allow you to put the information you’ve learned into practice. Students focus on taste to modify recipes for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and Mediterranean diets, or study the case of a cancer patient to create a nutrient-dense smoothie that takes into account taste and sensory changes.

Police drew on Whitehouse’s kitchen expertise to create culinary challenges. Both emphasize the importance of nutrition education for medical students and future physicians.

“It seems to me that there are a lot of diseases in Kentucky that can be prevented by bypassing the diet,” Whitehouse said. “The question is, when that patient or caregiver gets home, what are they going to make for dinner?” And that’s where I think Food Connection really starts to close that gap.”


Food Connection works to bring locally grown food to campus and Kentucky by partnering with farmers, food producers, students and community members to develop vibrant and sustainable food systems.

“We also help Kentuckians and ‘Here are some recipes.’ They are healthy and taste good. They can satisfy you and actually comfort you, even if it’s not mac and cheese.’ It’s a way to help people look at healthy food in a different way,” Whitehouse said.

“This course can increase and improve the nutrition knowledge of health professionals so that they are confident in approaching the sensitive topic of food. An education in culinary medicine equips future physicians with the tools and strategies to impact the health of future patients. So, any increase in confidence in a doctor when discussing diet as medicine, the better,” Police said.

Wu is still doing well and is considered NED — no evidence of disease — after aggressive rounds of treatment. She still credits her roommate, UK Law College graduate Zachary Holt, with helping her recover. Holt made countless dishes, and Wu’s passions changed during and after treatment.

“Zach used to cook different dishes. Basically, if I want something, he’ll do it,” Wu said. “He might not know how to cook it, but he would look up how it was prepared. Food is important in recovery because you absorb all the nutrients you eat. It will help you recover and feel better in general.”

Medical students who want to enroll in the course can take it in the spring of 2023. If you have any questions about the course or the Nutrition Science Education Program, you can email Police at [email protected]

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