Dr. Julia Nordgren ’13, Employing Food as Medicine

Dr. Julia Nordgren ’13
“As physicians we need to help bridge the gap between the science of health and the practical application of everyday culinary skills. We need to do a better job helping our patients make sustainable lifestyle changes.” – Dr. Julia Nordgren ’13

CIA Alumni Bio

Pediatrician, chef, and culinary educator Dr. Julia Nordgren began to notice an alarming trend among her patients. More and more children were encountering health problems usually found in adults and the elderly. “As a general pediatrician for eight years, I saw so many instances of weight problems and poor health in young kids,” says Dr. Nordgren. “I started focusing on kids with high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and weight issues. I found many families in need of basic culinary education with no idea where to start. Food is the foundation for good health. It’s so basic, but a lot of parents don’t have the skills to cook real food.”

Health Kitchens, Healthy Lives

Julia has always loved cooking and firmly believes that what you eat is the key to overall health. With that objective in mind, Julia traveled to The Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus in 2008 to attend the Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives: Caring for Our Patients and Ourselves conference. The four-day program presented the latest findings in nutrition research and combined it with hands-on classes in selecting and preparing healthy foods. “I absolutely loved the program. It’s the only conference out there geared towards physicians and cooking,” she says. “I became even more convinced that as physicians we need to help bridge the gap between the science of health and the practical application of everyday culinary skills.”

Looking for a Culinary School

Her excitement didn’t end with the conference. “With encouragement from my colleagues, I began to look for a program where I could combine my medical training with culinary school,” she says. “I looked at every school up and down the east coast but didn’t find anything that compared to the CIA. I feel it’s the place to get the absolute best culinary education. The CIA is involved in several great initiatives regarding healthy cooking and has a vested interest in playing a larger role in addressing the obesity crisis. It’s the only school sitting at the table of the larger movement in the restaurant industry to develop better foodservice for children.”

Julia’s decision to enroll in the Accelerated Culinary Arts Certificate Program was a difficult one that came with personal sacrifice—St. Helena was 3,000 miles away from her husband and two children in Guilford, CT. However, “the Greystone campus was an amazing place to be, and the Napa Valley is the epicenter of food and wine. The other reason the program was well-suited for me was the time frame. It’s only eight months, and then I could get home to my family,” Julia explains. “There is a very strong sense of professionalism and commitment to excellence at the CIA. I feel the students were all motivated to learn and there was a great sense of support and camaraderie. Everyone was there for the love of food and wine, and the connections you made will stay with you long after you attained your certificate.”

How Your Diet Works with Your Body

Her culinary education and medical background enables Julia to explain how diet impacts health in very real terms. That’s key when dealing with patients for whom nutrition is new territory. Julia now practices medicine at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and does hands-on culinary medicine teaching at the Stanford Teaching Kitchen. She also released her first cookbook, The New Family Table: Cooking More, Eating Together & Staying (Relatively) Sane. Happily, her family decided to make the move west. With Dr. Nordgren on the case, a healthy future for hundreds of children will most certainly be on the menu.

Dr. Julia Nordgren majored in culinary arts at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, CA. She is a pediatric lipid specialist with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Palo Alto, CA.