This month, we are exploring Culinary Medicine, a new field of research that focuses on the relationship between food, health, and disease prevention. Dr. Keith Argenbright, Director of the Moncrief Cancer Institute in Fort Worth, Texas, believes that this worthy research can bring hope to many families who have been impacted by cancer. While the physical health impacts of a research-proven diet are tremendous, the emotional and mental health benefits of finding community and joy in the kitchen are just as important.

Catch up on the Culinary Medicine series:

Starting the Conversation by Milette D. Siler, RD, LD
Through a Med Student’s Eyes by Priya Mathew
A Fresh Outlook on Food & Medicine by Jaclyn Albin, M.D.

Learn about another trailblazer who helped set nutrition on sound scientific footing:
Peter O’Donnell’s Persistence and the Center for Human Nutrition


By Keith Argenbright, MD

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”  James Beard

Connecting Patients to the Power of a Good Meal
As a graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, the Culinary Medicine initiative developed at Tulane by Timothy Harlan, MD, a chef turned internist, and Leah Sarris, RD, a Johnson and Wales-trained chef was of tremendous interest to me.  Touring the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine, and observing how culinary nutrition information was incorporated into the medical school’s curriculum to better address health issues, prompted me to apply this innovative concept to develop a program that would bring Culinary Medicine directly to our cancer patients at Moncrief Cancer Institute.

We understand the critical role of diet in health, and have the motivation to teach our patients and their caregivers an approach to food preparation that can decrease not only the risk of cancer reoccurrence, but complications from lifestyle-related illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. In our survivorship program, we lead hands-on cooking classes for our patients, teaching them how to make recipes that cost around a dollar a serving. When we consider the average amount spent by those who struggle with food insecurity in our community is over three dollars a serving, it’s clear this program has the potential to make a significant impact.  Hands-on cooking classes foster a human side to medicine and a way to interact with patients. By working together side-by-side to create meals that are not only delicious, but simple to prepare, we help them manage symptoms and side effects.

Finding Joy in Community
Recently, Milette Siler RD, LD, Community Dietitian at Moncrief Cancer Institute, had a session with a patient who was experiencing taste changes brought on as a side effect of treatment.  They reviewed multiple food options to identify items compatible with the patient’s taste preferences, while keeping the patient on track to meet their physical recovery goals.  Every individual has a personal, and often emotional, relationship with food, and a diagnosis of cancer escalates the stakes of this relationship.  Individualized support coupled with the joy of community and shared experience has the potential to give a patient with cancer the knowledge, skill set, and hope to find enjoyment in eating again.

The journey with cancer often violates a person’s deepest sense of self, but Culinary Medicine can help by restoring autonomy, dignity, and a positive association with food. Culinary Medicine is a part of the treatment path we take with our patients; it is a critical piece of the continuum of care.  Most importantly, it is a roadmap to healing and knowledge for a healthy lifetime with food.

Taste buds change and react with many cancer treatment modalities, and this is another area where the Culinary Medicine approach can support patients with practical solutions.  Experimenting with adding or increasing the spices or changing the texture of food can satisfy the palate in new ways.  The journey back to loving food should not be a lonely one, and preparing meals with other patients and a supportive guide is a novel, effective approach.

The journey with cancer often violates a person’s deepest sense of self, but Culinary Medicine can help by restoring autonomy, dignity, and a positive association with food. Culinary Medicine is a part of the treatment path we take with our patients; it is a critical piece of the continuum of care.  Most importantly, it is a roadmap to healing and knowledge for a healthy lifetime with food.

“…the kitchen is the heart of the home. It’s also the place where we heal.” Kris Carr


Learn more about the legacy of the Moncrief family and Institute