Nutrition as medicine: The building blocks of health

Brian O'Malley, with the Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metro Community College, holds a cooking session as part of UNMC’s Keep Calm and Soup On program in January.

These articles on “nutrition as medicine” were featured in the 2024 spring edition of UNMC Connect. See the online version of the publication at this link.

What we eat matters.

Yet, too often, fast and ultra-processed foods are America’s go-to option.

Now, Steven Wengel, MD, assistant vice chancellor for wellness at UNMC, is partnering with others to promote healthy eating through healthy cooking.

“How much we move and eat matter dramatically,” Dr. Wengel said. “This project is intended to provide a healthy cooking lesson that is practical for busy people and pleasing to the palate.”

UNMC’s Keep Calm and Soup On session offered a virtual presentation Jan. 19 to cook Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup.

In 2020, Dr. Wengel helped launch “Keep Calm and Cook On,” a series of virtual presentations for UNMC faculty, staff and students that includes a cooking demonstration, nutritional information and a question-and-answer session.

Supported by The Monarch Fund, the project is a joint effort of UNMC Human Resources, UNMC’s wellness program and medical nutrition staff, and the Metropolitan Community College Institute for the Culinary Arts’ Open Kitchen Workshops. In addition, UNMC’s food services partner, Sodexo, features limited menu items at its med center cafes.

Dr. Wengel credits MCC’s Brian O’Malley and Sara Rogers for their culinary collaboration, UNMC’s Mariah Jackson, assistant professor of medical nutrition, for providing nutritional highlights during each demonstration, and human resources’ Giovanni Jones for her creativity and logistical help.

Participants learn how to prepare healthy (and easy!) recipes that don’t require hours in the kitchen or long lists of costly ingredients. Past presentations have focused on preparing Minnesota wild rice soup, lemon chicken orzo and turkey and black bean chili.

“More and more research is being done on the negative effects of ‘ultra- processed food’ on our health,” Dr. Wengel said. “One antidote for that is cooking at home using healthy ingredients.”

A geriatric psychiatrist, Dr. Wengel said growing evidence suggests lifestyle factors may impact and help prevent such diseases as Alzheimer’s. “More and more, we’re seeing that lifestyle factors — like how much you move and what you eat — matter,” he said.

In addition, reports indicate that some psychiatric conditions — obsessive compulsive disorder and major depression — are associated with derangements of the microbiome, he said. “We don’t know if it’s cause or effect,” Dr. Wengel said, “ …but in some preliminary studies, the microbiomes of people with depression or OCD seem to be different. Can we influence that by diet? We don’t know, but maybe.”

One thing we do know, he said: “There’s no downside to eating healthy.”

Brian O’Malley prepares ingredients for the Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup that he cooked for UNMC’s Keep Calm and Soup On session.

1 comment

  1. Patty Davis says:

    I LOVE the Keep Calm and Cook On sessions! Brian O’Malley not only shows us how to make the recipes, but has so much knowledge and interesting facts about the ingredients, the origins of where the recipes come from, the nutritional values, the chemical compounds and how they react together, knife techniques . . . I could go on and on, but the main point is that it is very educational in more ways than just watching someone make a recipe. I can’t wait for the next set of Keep Calm and Cook On to be offered!

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