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A cooking class is provided at the kitchen in University Commons.

Integrative Health & Wellness

Nutrition matters. Food is medicine. Eat healthy and enjoy every bite. Our goal is healthy, unapologetically delicious food.

“We will develop, discover, and teach healthcare professionals, patients, and community members how to make evidence-based lifestyle changes to live longer, better lives.”
 

Our story

USA Health is committed to the overall health and well-being of the Gulf Coast. In addition to offering the finest in disease care through the broad range of hospital and outpatient settings, we recognize the large impact lifestyle choices play in health and disease. Small lifestyle changes can have big impacts on most of the major causes of illness and death in our community. Our Integrative Medicine approach helps impact those changes through research, teaching and delivery of this information to the community at large.

USA Health's culinary kitchen is one arm of that commitment and recognizes the evidence that food is medicine. Diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart attack, dementia, and several common cancers are all positively impacted by diet and other lifestyle choices. There is ample corroboration of multiple studies to prove that food can be a positive factor in health, but it is also apparent that no one wants to eat something that doesn’t taste good. Culinary medicine strives to join the science of nutrition with the art of food preparation to make those dishes that are good for us, unapologetically delicious, and crave-worthy.

The Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, a premiere institution, in the early 2000s partnered with the Culinary Institute of America, also a premiere institution, to begin a collaborative effort to find the most delicious and nutritious foods and teach healthcare providers and chefs how to produce those foods and make them affordable and easy to prepare. Several USA Health team members have attended joint conferences entitled Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives over the years and brought back the knowledge to our area. Beginning in 2015, pioneering classes were held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Bishop State. Now, USA Health has its own teaching kitchens at University Commons in Mobile and the Mapp Family Campus in Fairhope. A third kitchen will be incorporated into the new medical school building on USA's campus. The purpose of the kitchens is to train providers to cook, eat, and teach good nutrition and to join with the community to spread the knowledge.

Man running

Five tips for living a longer and healthier life

  1. Nutrition: eat a healthy diet
  2. Move: 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily
  3. Maintain a healthy weight
  4. Don’t smoke
  5. Limit alcohol to 2 drinks/day

For more on these topics, see the Healthy Living Guide from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Wellness mindfulness1

Visit the USA Health Wellness blog

Looking for additional tips from the leaders of the Integrative Health & Wellness Program? Visit the USA Health Wellness blog for articles that focus on exercise, nutrition, mental health and overall wellness.
Visit USA Health Wellness

“When you eat real food, you don’t need rules.” - Michael Pollan
 

Nutrition

What should I eat?
There is ample evidence that food can be both good for you and delicious at that same time. Some of the tastiest cuisines in the world, from places like Greece, Italy, France, Japan, China, Mexico, Morocco, West Indies, Africa, and the American South, are healthy and tasty. Food can be good for you and delicious at the same time. We focus less on deprivation and more on what you can eat and how to prepare it. Yes, we did list Southern cooking as healthy! A healthy lifestyle involves eating healthy, nutritious food. Changing from a typical American diet that is high in sugar and processed foods has the potential to reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and dementia by up to 30%.

What your “gut” says about you
Remember your gut and nurture your microbiome. Your microbiome is all the different microorganisms that live in and on your body. They outnumber your own cells and have an important role in your health. Evidence is accumulating that a healthy gut microbiome influences your energy equilibrium, immune function, and all manner of other health parameters. A plant-forward, high-fiber diet has been shown to foster good microbiome growth. The converse is also true that a poorer quality diet fosters a less healthy microbiome. Your microbiome thrives on fiber and particularly on diverse sources of dietary fiber. Eating a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains fosters a diverse and healthy group of microbes in your gut. This has a whole group of specific positive effects on your health, from brain health to immune competence, cancer prevention, and weight loss, among others. On the other hand, “bad” microbial growth occurs with junk foods, preservatives, highly processed, and sugary foods. This is accompanied by an increase in unhealthy outcomes.

Understanding food labels
Again, our emphasis is less on “don’t do this,” and more on “do this,” but we recommend you read and understand food labels. That is the only way to know what you are eating. Look at the ingredients and understand they are listed by weight. Watch out for added sugar, look for fiber, and compare them to similar foods. If there is an ingredient listed that you don’t recognize, it probably isn’t food, but a food-like chemical. Understanding food labels will aid in making informed decisions toward choosing good nutrition and healthier choices.

What are added sugars?
These are sugars and syrups added to food when they are processed. These include brown and cane sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, and others. These add calories but no essential food value. They also increase your hunger and increase your risk for diabetes and other diseases. In the 1900s the average person was eating about 2 pounds of sugar per year. In 2017, the estimated average was over 120 pounds per person, per year!

Meatballs

Healthy and delicious recipes to try

Cooking class

Come join us

Classes are being scheduled at our Teaching Kitchens located at University Commons in Mobile and the Mapp Family Campus in Fairhope. We would love to have you join us! To receive more information on this month’s calendar and to register, email IHWP@health.southalabama.edu or call 251-660-6441.

Get Moving

Staying Active
Just move! There are many kinds of exercise, and they all offer amazing health benefits. You don’t have to have a gym membership or pay for a monthly app subscription. Any activity that gets you up and moving is part of an active lifestyle. Walking counts and is a good form of exercise. You also can try Pilates, yoga, swimming, or bicycling. Most research suggests 30 minutes of daily, moderate exercise for maximum benefits, or at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week. Set goals for yourself! You don’t have to start with 30 minutes daily, start with 10-15 and build up gradually. Being physically active can improve your brain health, help manage weight, reduce the risk of disease, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve your ability to do everyday activities. Research suggests that adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits!

Mindfulness
Don’t forget that to be fully healthy you need mind, body and spiritual health. Develop an awareness of your mental well-being, your stress level and its impact on sleep, anxiety, and overall well-being. Seek out and learn effective ways to reduce stress through mindful meditation, exercise, museum visits, reading, music, and spiritual pursuits. There are many resources that can help you find your inner peace:
 

Program Leadership

Robert Israel, M.D., F.A.C.P.

Program Director; Internal Medicine Physician

Jennifer Young Pierce, M.D., M.P.H.

Leader of Cancer Control and Prevention; Professor of Interdisciplinary Clinical Oncology

Benjamin P. Schrubbe, M.D.

Family Medicine Physician

David S. Weber, Ph.D.

Professor of Physiology and Cell Biology

Rebecca Graves, Ph.D., NP-C

Director of Special Projects and Evaluation; Associate Professor, Office of Research, Development, and Evaluation

Margaret Murray Sullivan

Vice President, Development & Alumni Relations

Kelly McCarron

Associate Vice President for Medical Affairs, USA Health Development

Haleigh Tapscott

Program Manager; Manager of Practice Operations - HCA

Support the impact

The Gulf Coast is an area with a world of flavor but also home to a population affected by poor eating habits, which translate to higher incidences of chronic disease. Our Integrative Health and Wellness Program combines evidence-based nutrition and culinary medicine with personal wellness education programs that support behavioral change. We invite you to make a gift to the IHWP Endowment Fund and help us improve the overall health of our community.

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Upcoming Events

Dec312023

Our calendar lists special events and regularly scheduled classes separately. To display a list of upcoming classes, select the "Classes" option above or visit Events, Classes and Support Groups at USA Health.

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