Montana State University

Dietetic interns, WWAMI medical students collaborate at MSU to learn about food as medicine

October 12, 2017 -- By Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

MSU WWAMI medical education students participate in a culinary medicine workshop with Montana dietetic interns Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in Bozeman, Montana. MSU photo by Colter Peterson.MSU WWAMI medical education students participate in a culinary medicine workshop with Montana dietetic interns Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in Bozeman, Montana. MSU photo by Colter Peterson.

MSU WWAMI medical education students participate in a culinary medicine workshop with Montana dietetic interns Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in Bozeman, Montana. MSU photo by Colter Peterson.

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BOZEMAN — Culinary medicine – or blending the art of food and cooking with the science of medicine – can complement traditional medicine, and focusing on eating delicious, healthy foods can bring long-term benefits, according to Coleen Kaiser, director of the Montana Dietetic Internship program at Montana State University.

That’s the motivation behind a new collaboration between the Montana Dietetic Internship program and the WWAMI Medical Education Program at MSU.

“This collaboration is about getting people excited to eat scrumptious food, that over the lifetime has positive impacts on lessening the instance of cardiovascular disease, weight gain, obesity, the onset of diabetes and other chronic diseases associated with our eating habits,” said Kaiser, who is also a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist. “It’s really about blending lifestyle choices, nutrition, culinary arts and health care.”

To learn how to associate food and nutrition choices with health care, this fall Montana dietetic interns provided workshops for students in the WWAMI program. As part of the project, 24 interns led three workshops for up to 45 participants.

The workshops – which began with a tour of Towne’s Harvest Garden, MSU’s student-run vegetable farm – were designed to introduce the concept of food as medicine with a focus on farm-to-table and sustainable food systems, according to Anna Diffenderfer, assistant director of the Montana Dietetic Internship program. They also provided an overview of the biochemical interactions and benefits of particular foods, as well as how to use the information in clinical settings, particularly in rural health care. Finally, the workshops provided a cooking lesson focused on the Mediterranean style of eating. Diffenderfer said the Mediterranean style was chosen because of a large amount of research that supports it as a healthy eating choice.

Kaiser said the dietetic interns brought a wealth of knowledge and skills to the workshops, including a background in food and food science, an understanding of nutrition as it relates to medicine and biochemistry, and expertise in behavioral changes related to nutrition. Still, she said, for as much as the workshops were designed to benefit WWAMI students, they also provided important lessons for the dietetic interns who led them.

“This workshop was beneficial to my future by providing a platform to teach, learn and engage with another profession,” said Bailey Fisher, a dietetic intern who is originally from Billings. “Having this experience gives me more confidence in working with interprofessional teams.”

Lanie Sumlin, a dietetic intern from Littleton, Colorado, said the culinary medicine workshop experience validated her choice of profession.

“Not only were we able to share our knowledge in nutrition and sustainability with the WWAMI students but we had the privilege of conducting interprofessional work,” said Sumlin, who received a bachelor’s degree from MSU. “This workshop was beneficial to my future career because it reminds me that, as a future dietitian, we must always be advocating for ourselves by sharing with other professionals the value that a (registered dietitian nutritionist) can add to the health care team."

Culinary medicine is increasingly being incorporated into medical school curriculums, according to Colette Kirchhoff, foundations of clinical medicine clinical director of the WWAMI Medical Education Program at MSU and a family physician at Bozeman Health.

“Medical doctors are asked questions about nutrition and diet and often have very little nutrition education in their training,” she said. “This (workshop) is a start and an important one. So many of the medical illnesses we treat can be improved or prevented by good nutrition. We need to work together with our dieticians to improve the health of our society.”

To further develop the culinary medicine workshops, Kaiser and Diffenderfer, along with Colleen McMilin and Marcy Gaston – both faculty in the Department of Health and Human Development – recently won a $20,000 grant from the College of Education, Health and Human Development. Kaiser said the group’s goal is to have dietetic interns lead a pilot series of six culinary workshops for medical, nursing and other health profession students during the fall of 2018.

Kaiser and Diffenderfer hope that all of the workshops help future physicians feel comfortable addressing food and lifestyle choices with their patients. They also hope that they will encourage a team approach to wellness, so that physicians and registered dietitian nutritionists can work together to meet patient needs.

“There’s research to show that a holistic approach to well-being is beneficial in patient-centered care, and we hope that these workshops help facilitate and encourage this type of collaboration,” Kaiser said.

Contact: Coleen Kaiser, 406-994-5002 or; or Anna Diffenderfer, 406-994-4074 or