Dr. Helen Cappuccino

Dr. Helen Cappuccino of Lockport, who is teaching a trail-blazing class in “Culinary Medicine” at the University at Buffalo in February, shops for produce at the Niagara Produce on Transit Road in East Amherst.  

Dr. Helen Cappuccino is going to be teaching an unusual new class at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine in February.

The Lockport surgeon’s class will expose medical school students to ideas about how food can be as important as medicine in healing.

Cappuccino, who is a surgical oncologist at Roswell Memorial Medical Center in Buffalo, will also be teaching the fledgling doctors how to cook nutritious foods that are also delicious.

“I like a more holistic approach to health, wellness, and disease avoidance,” she explained during a recent interview. “I don't want my patients to need surgery or medicine. To the extent I can forestall these choices by better eating habits, I want my patients to understand this, and I also want future doctors to be more conversant in, and concerned about it, so they can educate their patients as well." 

The breast cancer surgeon and medical school professor is a bit of an expert on good foods. She and her husband, Dr. Andrew Cappuccino, are long-time members of the international gourmet food lovers association, Chaines de Rotisserie, and locally are known for their appreciation of fine foods and wines. 

“Eating well doesn't need to mean feeling hungry or unsatisfied,” she said during a recent interview. “Like anything in life, moderation is the order of the day. It's okay to have occasional sweet treats, or a beer or a glass of wine or a drink, or processed meats. Just do so in moderation." 

Increasingly, restaurants are making health and nutrition an important part of their offerings, she said. Many restaurants are making nutritional content information available. “

Chefs are now often sourcing their food locally, organically, and sustainably, and prepared to offer gluten-free, keto, vegetarian, and vegan dishes. Even when enjoying fine dining, you can eat healthily if you know what to look for,” she added. 

Her class will be called “Culinary Medicine,” and take place in the culinary labs at Erie County Community College. The medical students will learn about healthy meal preparation and about food that can help prevent, or moderate, obesity, cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes.  

“We will also discuss fad diets, supplements, and teach the student doctors about how difficult it can be (and costly) to eat healthy foods, and to work with their patients to identify strategies to eat in a healthier way,” she said. 

Below,  Cappuccino offers 15 tips that will be an important part of her medical school class.

1. Limit foods that increase the risk of cancer. Some foods increase the risk of cancer including alcohol, foods high in nitrates, such as processed meats including bacon, ham, salami, other lunch meats, jerky, and hot dogs, as well as more than 18-ounces of meat a week and a consistent consumption of extremely spicy foods or those supplemented with chili pepper. Eat these foods in a limited way.

2. Keep alcohol and sweet intake modest. With alcohol, drink no more than one serving a day for women and two a day for me, with no more than five sweets/desserts per week.  

3. Get vitamins from your diet. Supplements have not been scientifically proven to decrease the risk of cancer. The best way to get essential nutrients, vitamins, and calories is in food. Eat a well-balanced diet. Use supplements only when you are deficient in a particular vitamin.  

4. A diet high in naturally occurring fiber is healthiest. Fiber moves food through the intestinal track optimally and helps to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut. Choose whole grain breads instead of refined or processed breads, and choose whole grain cereals.

5. Eat a rainbow of colors. Eat a plant-based diet of dark green, red, orange, yellow and blue fruits and vegetables. Ideally, people should consume five portions of vegetables and/or fruits each day

6. Choose healthy oils. The body need healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil.

7. Eat fish at least twice weekly. Choose oily fish like salmon, trout, herring, sardines, and mackerel.

8. Eat less salt. Salt reduction is important as it can contribute to high blood pressure and the whole cascade of vascular disease that results from hypertension, heart disease, strokes, peripheral vascular disease, and hardening of the arteries. Try for no more than 6 grams of salt a day or 2.3 grams of sodium.

9. Take more time eating. It gives your brain time to process that you are full. Fast eaters are more likely to be obese.

10. Drink plenty of water. Water is necessary for many bodily function, to help excrete and clear toxins, and it reduces hunger.

11. Roast or bake food. Instead of frying or grilling, roast or bake food in the oven or roaster. Carcinogens have been found in meat charred from the grill, while deep frying adds too much oil to the diet. 

12. Eat lean meats. Try to get at least 30 percent of calories from proteins such as lean meats, fish, eggs and nuts, which are especially healthy.

13. Drink your coffee black. Coffee has healthful benefits, but added sugar and cream do not.

14. Use psychology to decrease your food intake. Eat on smaller plates as it helps reduce consumption; ask for dressings and sauces on the side, eat the healthiest foods on your plates first, when you are hungriest.

15. Eat in a way that avoids obesity. Obesity has been correlated with in increase risk of multiple cancers. It is especially important to minimize sweeteners in sodas and juices, full fat dairy products, high fat foods such as fried chicken with skin, as well as duck, hamburgers, bacon, ham, sausage, hot dogs, and many deli meats. Also, avoid excessive intake of calories, especially of more than 2,000 calories per day. 

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