Culinary Medicine for Prevention and Treatment of Disease – An Interview with Dr. John La Puma

An introduction to Dr. John La Puma would run into pages. Very briefly put has lectured on Nature Therapy at the Harvard University, written two New York Times best sellers. The Wall Street Journal called him “a secret weapon”. Many of the major international journals and TV channels have written or spoken about him including NBC, Fox, ABC, Oprah and Good Morning America. He teaches the world about wellness, lifestyle, stress management, healthy aging, nature therapy and culinary medicine. We have this opportunity of an interview with him.


Dr. La Puma, first of all please tell us what is Culinary Medicine?

Culinary medicine is a new, evidence-based field in medicine which blends the art of food and cooking with the science of medicine to create top-quality meals, dishes and beverages which can help to prevent and treat disease, and improve well-being.


You have taught nutrition and cooking at a medical school. Please tell us about this.

John La Puma
John La Puma / Photo: Madeleine Vite

Michael Roizen, MD (now Emeritus Chief Wellness Officer of The Wellness Institute of the Cleveland Clinic ) and I created the first culinary medicine elective in an American medical school: it was two weeks, with a week cooking and shopping, and a week studying and in the classroom. We held it in a supermarket in Syracuse, New York in January, when everything was freezing cold, and 11 senior medical students got hands-on instruction from us, using our Cooking the RealAge Way (Harper Collins) as a text. The next year, 83 students tried to enroll, so the elective was scaled back: it was very popular, because students loved learning about how food works like medicine in the body, and loved learning basic ways to cook, other than reheating noodles in the microwave.


Please tell us about Plant With a Doc

Plant With a Doc is a new, four week, scientifically proven, nature-based stress management technology which improves stress-related medical symptoms (anxiety, depression, back pain, neck pain, palpitations, difficulty breathing, fatigue) by reconnecting people with nature. We use regular text prompts, tailored to individual preferences and nature connection, and offer specific ways to get what you need outside daily, as well as mindfulness exercises and personal plants and pots to bring nature in as well. The program also improves employee productivity and well-being, as well as interior space, beautifying it and enhancing it.


Not just individuals, it is said you are a consultant to companies as well. Please tell us about this.

I work with companies which. care about reducing stress in the workplace, about making the advantages of particular dietary supplements or dietary campaigns known, or which care about the idea that taking care of the environment is part of a corporate responsibility, as much as returning dollars to shareholders; these companies know that there are other stakeholders as well, and want to do well as well as be good citizens.


You have led medical trials relating to burnout, obesity, hypertension, osteoarthritis, insomnia and diabetes. Could you tell us how Culinary Medicine can aid?

As above, culinary medicine attempts to improve the patient’s conditions with food and beverage. Foods, meals and dietary patterns can be as specific for specific conditions as medication.

Culinary medicine attempts to improve the patient’s conditions with food and beverage

Food for reducing burnout and stress are relatively few, for example, though emerging data suggest that specific brain foods may lighten the neurologic load there. But in general, there are some foods that are better for each of the conditions mentioned, and some that are worse. Culinary medicine attempts to identify the best foods, meals and patterns, knowing that food is condition-specific, as well as culturally specific.

Please tell us about your growing up years, your self motivation and those who inspired you.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a middle class family in California in the 70s and 80s, which gave me a chance at a University education, which I was grateful to have. I’ve always enjoyed trying to excel, and that has often been its own reward (not in small part because excelling by itself does not yield money, status, position or even knowledge…it just yields momentary recognition, which itself may be vanishing). I have sought out, quite consciously, people who inspired me–college mentors, research mentors, medical residency mentors, fellowship mentors, culinary mentors, farming mentors, television mentors. But I found these people not by looking for a mentor, although that would have been smarter. But instead by being driven internally towards a specific intellectual or practical goal—I loved a subject (creativity or diabetes or resuscitation or clinical ethics or permaculture or media teaching, respectively) and I found that another person, senior to me, or charged with the duty of overseeing people on their way up, noticed that I loved it too. I have made so many more mistakes than I have made correct decisions.


What do you like to do when you’re not busy?

I am learning to enjoy the moment more, and sit with my dogs and my girlfriend on our porch, and watch the quail on top of the roof, and wonder how and why they are there.


Our readers are mainly the youth from different parts of the world who look up to achievers such as yourself. A word of advice for them?

Do what you love, you will wake up happy

It’s often said that you should do what you love and the money will follow. That’s usually not true. But if you do what you love, you will wake up happy to go to work, and that’s a wonderful thing–something that will make you and your partner happy, and let you sleep well at night. You can do something on the side for money, eventually, even if you have to do that very thing now, most of the time.

Title photos: Shutterstock
Photograph of John La Puma: Madeleine Vite

Free recipes by John La Puma.

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