TV's ChefMD Dishes Out Cooking and Nutrition Advice

Nicholas Genes, MD, PhD


January 09, 2007

It's a new year, and many people have resolved to adopt healthier diets. Perhaps no one is more qualified to help than Dr. John La Puma who, in addition to being a physician and trained chef, is an author of several cookbooks and host of a cable TV cooking show.

His latest role is that of blogger, and at his Web site readers can learn how nutritional medicine is easing symptoms and improving lives. Over the holidays, I corresponded with Dr. La Puma about his unique career.

Dr. Genes: Was cooking an interest before you studied medicine? I know you didn't formally train as a chef until after you were practicing, but did involvement with one field lead to the other, or did you have 2 interests that just complemented each other?

Dr. La Puma: Medicine led to cooking school and Topolobampo [an exclusive Chicago restaurant], which led back to medicine. My patients now ask for recipes, too, which I like. In a weight loss program or on a conference menu plan or in a demo kitchen, even a small change -- "get double the marinara with half the pasta instead of a full order of fettucine alfredo," for example -- can make a big difference. So, knowing about food and cooking helps me to be a better doctor and consultant.

Dr. John La Puma hosts Grand Rounds
January 9, 2007

Dr. Genes: You were the first in the United States to do a postgraduate fellowship in clinical medical ethics, and later, you were clearly an innovator in nutritional medicine. Now you're a TV host and blogger. How were you drawn to these disparate fields? Were you dissatisfied with a general medicine practice?

Dr. La Puma: I like finding out what really matters to someone; everyone has something they're very good at or care passionately about. I like those details, the details of the patient's story; those people, stories, and cases have drawn me towards different parts of medicine.

Dr. Genes: The eating habits of my fellow residents are often poor. (I'm no angel either.) Do you have any advice for the sleep-deprived, time-conscious young professional? You once recommended in a Wall Street Journal interview to "never eat on the run" -- but what did you do when you were a resident?

Dr. La Puma: What works best for sleep-deprived residents is what often works best for other stressed-out, busy professionals: First, do not skip or skimp on breakfast; try Kashi bars, nuts, milk, and apples, for example. Even if you are not hungry, eat breakfast sitting down at a table; you'll feel more like you had a meal. And second, find ways to dissipate stress: eg, 5 minutes of progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation, or a brisk 5-minute walk, preferably outside the building every day. A few minutes creates hours of impact. Our studies of physician eating habits show that the top predictors of physician obesity are stress at home and stress at the office.

Dr. Genes: Do you ever run into trouble when you headline a post with something like "strawberries are helpful for joint pain"? Do you get irate letters from disappointed arthritic patients who had been hoping for a miracle?

Dr. La Puma: My job is to help people choose what's good for them. When you tell patients that strawberry extracts have been shown to inhibit COX enzymes, or that donut glaze is sweetened Crisco and that it raises non-HDL cholesterol, or that fish oil lowers triglyceride levels, patients love it and want to know and do more.

My patients are smart; they know that a strawberry isn't an ibuprofen tablet, and that too many of either will make them sick. But if they have a chance of doing something good for themselves besides taking their medication, with a simple change of food, they jump. It's confidence-building and easy.

Dr. Genes: On the other extreme, do you find that some doctors criticize or dismiss your approach because you didn't go straight to labs, imaging, and meds? Or because you're citing less well-known, maybe smaller studies, perceived as out-of-the-mainstream?

Dr. La Puma: As long as the peer-reviewed science we cite is solid, most physicians understand that I am trying to motivate people to control their own health and be responsible for what they choose. You really can improve your energy level, your sleep, your wound healing, and your quality of life with what you eat.

Dr. Genes: How about the fact that you're selling things on your site -- books, private sessions, olive oil? Is that a conflict of interest? Does it counterbalance the free advice and recipes?

Dr. La Puma: Disclosure of even the perception of conflict of interest is helpful, and I think it's a good idea on the Internet, too. On, we post information about the medical practice for patients and referrers, and we post research, healthy recipes, and products for the general public. We do sell products we think are first-rate -- I'd actually like to make a high polyphenol, Tuscan-style olive oil and a high-resveratrol pinot noir -- as a way to support the site. But private sessions and medical advice are for the medical office.

Dr. Genes: How did you get started with the cable TV show? Is the blog an outgrowth of that effort? Do you write the entries yourself, or do you have a staff?

Dr. La Puma: I write all the blogs myself and answer all my own mail and email, and I intend to for as long as I can. I started blogging because of my medical practice. Patients were asking me what to eat, and I thought new nutrition research deserved interpretation, not just promotion. I like blogging for the same reason I like medicine: It offers endless flexibility, stimulation, and opportunity.

One of my most interesting blogging connections has been with Allen Searls, who is a part of social networking for Revolution, Steve Case's new health company. His dad, Doc Searls, is a famous blogger in Santa Barbara, where I live. Doc coauthored the ClueTrain Manifesto, which predicted accurately how the Web would change. I heard Doc speak here recently, met him afterwards, and felt honored, like the world made sense. Social networking in healthcare, by the way, is going to be very powerful.

I've just been lucky with the TV show HealthCorner and ChefMD. They let me teach cooking and about food and nutrition with a little bit of humor, which makes it fun and easy for people to remember. My goal is to find 1000 ChefMDs -- docs who love food and medical science, and who can take care of patients using both.

Dr. Genes: Ethicist, chef, physician and TV host John La Puma plays host to a different audience on January 9, 2007, when Grand Rounds comes to Join him as he serves up the week's best in online medical writing.


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