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Culinary nutrition

What can the art of cooking bring to our health and wellbeing?

Culinary nutrition is gaining ground as a specialty in the practice of nutrition and dietetics. We examine what it means and how it can help.

There is no clear consensus on a definition of culinary nutrition but it can be described as the art and science of healthy cooking and how to put it into practice.  Dietitian Connection says culinary nutrition is what you get when you combine a dietitian with a passion for food, cooking, nutrition science and the ability to communicate practical nutrition advice to improve the health of the population in a delicious way.  

Culinary nutrition is well established in the USA community of dietitians, but it is an emerging practice area in Australia and New Zealand. One of its most passionate proponents is Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) Emma Stirling. Emma is an academic and culinary nutritionist who has recently moved to the Australian Catholic University (ACU) to establish a culinary nutrition program, including post-graduate opportunities for nutritionists and dietitians to commence in 2022. Emma has also co-authored a book Understanding the science of food: from molecules to mouthfeel. We asked Emma to share her insights about culinary nutrition.

 

What does culinary nutrition mean to you?

To me, culinary nutrition involves taking a great passion for food and cooking, putting the deliciousness back into nutrition and leading with a food first philosophy. Following trends in the US and UK, I see huge growth in opportunities through culinary nutrition in the nutrition and dietetics profession as we upscale and move into brand new territories with influence, such as in delivered meals, cook at home recipe boxes or modern workplace canteens, as just a few examples. By improving the nutritional quality and deliciousness of food in people’s homes and outside them, we can improve health.

You’ve said that culinary nutrition is about putting the deliciousness back into nutrition. Why do you think deliciousness got lost?

Deliciousness has always been there and most nutritionists and dietitians I know are passionate about food, it just hasn’t always translated or featured in the way we educate, intervene or communicate on nutrition at a population or individual level. Nutrition reductionism (a focus on nutrients/compounds in food) is partly at play and also traditional pathways for dietetic graduates into clinical settings where medical nutrition therapy was the required focus.

We’re currently experiencing an anti-sugar trend. As a culinary nutritionist, what are your thoughts about this?

I think I can better answer this as a nutritionist and dietitian who has been around the block a few times. Just this week I’ve been teaching my students in our first Culinary Nutrition Science unit at ACU about food fads and trends and their cyclical nature. Through my extensive cookbook collection I’ve been able to show examples of decades old recipes, diet and fads that keep resurfacing every few years and sugar is one of those featured nutrients. We covered the need to be careful with reducing nutrition science into single nutrients and to consider whole foods and dietary patterns. We also talk a lot about cookery science and the functional role of sugar in recipes and products, such as in Maillard browning reactions. Sugar is present in many classic recipes and dishes and plays many roles, so just taking it out is not practical or desirable. A culinary nutrition approach is wholistic and considers, among other factors, the target group and setting as well as the sensory attributes and emotional appeal of food.

What changes would you like to see to ensure culinary nutrition makes a positive difference to our collective wellbeing?

There is evidence of a decline in cooking skills and some say cooking is a dying art like crochet, but we are seeing a huge revival and joy from these activities, especially in times of lockdowns and home isolation. As nutrition experts we have so many skills to help keep cooking alive and huge opportunities to broaden our reach and scope to educate and nurture through a culinary focus.

What do you think culinary nutrition brings to the table for food sustainability?

It brings quite a lot. Sourcing sustainable ingredients and understanding supply chains, planning balanced plant-rich meals and menus, developing recipes to use the best available seasonal ingredients, and avoiding food waste are very valuable in moving us toward environmentally sustainable eating habits.

You can sign up for updates on culinary nutrition at scoopnutrition.com and follow Emma on Instagram @emmastirling.

 

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