Clinical Spotlight: Swathi Rao, PA-C, & Teaching Kitchens

Young women sisters cooking meal together at home kitchen
Read Time: 3 Minutes

Functional medicine practitioners know that chronic disease prevalence continues to be at record levels,1 that many patients do not have an optimal nutritional status,2 and that personalized lifestyle-based treatments such as nutritional interventions help to support optimal health and reduce chronic disease risk.3,4 What are some innovative ways to teach patients about nutrition and healthy meal preparation? Emerging research has indicated that teaching kitchens are a promising approach to improving a patient’s nutritional status and confidence in the kitchen.5-8

Functional medicine certified clinician Swathi Rao, PA-C, incorporates teaching kitchens into her patients’ educational experience. “I’ve always believed that food should come first; food should always be our first medicine,” says Ms. Rao.

For the last 15 years, I’ve really been focused on how to actually get people to change their diet—not just for an elimination diet, not just for four weeks, but for a lifetime.

Swathi Rao, PA-C

Ms. Rao explains that teaching kitchens in a clinical practice are designed to influence lifestyle change in eating behaviors and to improve a patient’s existing condition or prevent disease onset.

In the following video, Ms. Rao discusses how a teaching kitchen has been incorporated into her functional medicine practice:

(Video Time: 3 minutes) Swathi Rao, PA-C, practices at Be Well Family Care in Carmel, IN.

Poor nutrition is linked to a variety of chronic conditions; however, healthcare practitioners are rarely offered adequate nutritional training as part of their medical school curricula. A 2019 systematic review published in The Lancet Planetary Health found that among quantitative studies, qualitative studies, and curriculum initiatives from multiple countries, including the US, nutrition was insufficiently incorporated into medical education programs regardless of country.9

As new US legislation and national initiatives such as the White House National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health address the past-due need for nutritional training as part of medical education programs,10,11 teaching kitchens have also recently gained attention for their positive health impact. The inaugural US-based Teaching Kitchen Research Conference took place in 2018 and then again in 2020 and 2022 to highlight new techniques and research strategies that help widen the scope of teaching kitchen programs.12 In addition to teaching kitchens used as components of effective health interventions,7,13 teaching kitchens have also been implemented as elective culinary medicine courses available to healthcare, social work, and law students.14 A small 2022 observational study found that students who participated in a culinary medicine training course conducted at a teaching kitchen significantly increased their confidence in nutrition knowledge, skills, and attitudes.14

Clearly, medical professionals like Swathi Rao, PA-C, have a meaningful impact on improving patient health by providing opportunities for patients to develop nutrition proficiency. Educational programs like teaching kitchens may help alter the healthcare trajectories of those who have already developed chronic health challenges or are at elevated risk for developing them.

What other personalized lifestyle-based approaches can help patients reduce their risk of chronic disease development? Learn more about tools and strategies to help patients achieve sustainable lifestyle change and improve their well-being through IFM’s new course Lifestyle: The Foundations of Functional Medicine.

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  1. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Chronic diseases in America. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed December 13, 2022. Accessed June 21, 2023.
  2. Reider CA, Chung RY, Devarshi PP, Grant RW, Hazels Mitmesser S. Inadequacy of immune health nutrients: intakes in US adults, the 2005-2016 NHANES. Nutrients. 2020;12(6):1735. doi:3390/nu12061735
  3. Wang P, Song M, Eliassen AH, et al. Optimal dietary patterns for prevention of chronic disease. Nat Med. 2023;29(3):719-728. doi:1038/s41591-023-02235-5
  4. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. How you can prevent chronic diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed February 8, 2023. Accessed June 21, 2023.
  5. Doxey RS, Wolferz RH, Stewart KL, Goossen R, Imber L. Building flavor and confidence in the kitchen: a pilot virtual cooking class on healthy snacking. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2022;17(1):64-70. doi:1177/15598276221125686
  6. Moore MA, Cousineau BA, Rastorguieva K, Bonnet JP, Bergquist SH. A teaching kitchen program improves employee micronutrient and healthy dietary consumption. Nutr Metab Insights. 2023;16:11786388231159192. doi:1177/11786388231159192
  7. Rivera RL, Adams M, Dawkins E, et al. Delivering Food Resources and Kitchen Skills (FoRKS) to adults with food insecurity and hypertension: a pilot study. Nutrients. 2023;15(6):1452. doi:3390/nu15061452
  8. Miller MF, Li Z, Habedank M. A randomized controlled trial testing the effectiveness of coping with cancer in the kitchen, a nutrition education program for cancer survivors. Nutrients. 2020;12(10):3144. doi:3390/nu12103144
  9. Crowley J, Ball L, Hiddink GJ. Nutrition in medical education: a systematic review. Lancet Planet Health. 2019;3(9):e379-e389. doi:1016/S2542-5196(19)30171-8
  10.  Jim McGovern press release. McGovern resolution on nutrition education in medical schools passes house. Jim McGovern, Congressman for the 2nd District of Massachusetts. Published May 17, 2022. Accessed June 21, 2023.
  11.  The White House. Fact sheet: the Biden-Harris Administration announces more than $8 billion in new commitments as part of call to action for White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. The White House. Published September 28, 2022. Accessed June 21, 2023.
  12.  Eisenberg DM. Teaching kitchen research conference October 18-19, 2022. J Integr Complement Med. 2023;29(2):63-68. doi:1089/jicm.2023.0003
  13.  Rohela P, Olendzki B, McGonigal LJ, Villa A, Gardiner P. A teaching kitchen medical groups visit with an eHealth platform for hypertension and cardiac risk factors: a qualitative feasibility study. J Altern Complement Med. 2021;27(11):974-983. doi:1089/acm.2021.0148
  14.  Hynicka LM, Piedrahita G, Barnabic C, Rambob I, Berman BM, D’Adamo CR. Interprofessional culinary medicine training enhanced nutrition knowledge, nutrition counseling confidence, and interprofessional experience. J Integr Complement Med. 2022;28(10):811-820. doi:1089/jicm.2022.0573


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