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KU Medical Center, KU Health System and JCCC promote wellness through nutrition series

December 07, 2018

By Greg Peters

Taylor, Riley, Sullivan and Burns
Taylor, Riley, Sullivan and Burns

A crowd intent on learning how nutrition can promote brain health and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease packed the Wysong Family Culinary Theatre in the Wylie Hospitality and Culinary Academy at Johnson County Community College on a mid-November evening.

The attendees came to hear Jeffrey Burns, M.D., co-director of the University of Kansas Alzheimer's Disease Center (KUADC), Matthew Taylor, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow in the Dietetics and Nutrition Department, and Aaron Prater, a chef and assistant professor at JCCC, present the latest information regarding how diet and exercise might help prevent people from developing Alzheimer's disease or at least slow the progression of its symptoms.

"Nutrition for Brain Health: Reducing the Risk for Alzheimer's Disease," was the seventh installment of the eight-part lecture series "Cook Right, Eat Right,' produced through a collaboration between the University of Kansas Medical Center, The University of Kansas Health System and JCCC.

"I hope the people who attend gain an appreciation that you can eat healthy and enjoy it," said Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., RD, chair of the KU Department of Dietetics and Nutrition. "They learn a lot. Not only the health information and the nutrition education, but also how to apply those messages and translate them into enjoyable meals."

Finding the right recipe

The concept for "Cook Right, Eat Right" began taking shape last winter when Sullivan, Michelle Riley, MHS, RD, an assistant professor in JCCC's Food and Beverage Management Program, and Jeff Novorr, vice president for Support Services at the health system, got together and started kicking ideas around for a way to present nutrition education to the public. Each had been considering something similar, but it was Novorr's coaxing that got things moving.

"Having physicians, clinical dietitians and professional chefs collaborating to provide education on important health issues with practical, easy-to-implement dietary solutions has proven to be a winning combination," Novorr said.

Soon, the program's founders began putting together a framework for the schedule based first on the hot nutrition topics of the day and then cross-matched those themes with the corresponding "health months" that coincided with the timing of the series. For example, May is National Stroke Awareness Month, so the May 9 presentation was built around stroke health issues. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and November is World Alzheimer's Month, so those were naturals for presentation topics.

Still other topics were chosen for seasonal reasons. For example, July was "Summer Sizzle with Garden Produce," and August was the time for "DASH Back to School with Healthy Snacks." After that, Sullivan, Riley and Kelly Linder, clinical nutrition manager for the health system, came up with the specific messages they wanted to convey at each session.

"We wanted to touch on hot nutrition topics while still making it broad enough to draw an audience," said Riley, who is also a doctoral student in the KU Dietetics and Nutrition Department. "We really wanted to make sure that we focused on evidence-based information since there are so many sources of misleading nutrition information in today's world."

The monthly sessions were scheduled for the second Wednesday of each month, starting with "Take a Bite Out of Stroke" on May 9 and concluding Dec. 12 with "Healthy Holiday Cooking." Speakers were chosen for their expertise based on the theme being presented.

Alzheimer's takes the stage

So it was on Nov. 14 that Burns, Taylor and Prater stood under the bright kleig lights of the kitchen theater spelling out the research being done to combat one of the most widespread diseases in the United States. Burns began by explaining how Alzheimer's is the leading cause of dementia and that one in three Americans 85 and older is living with the disease. He went on to say the goals of the KUADC, one of 31 National Institute on Aging-designated centers, are to find ways to prevent the disease and stop its progression once somebody has been diagnosed, with the ultimate prize being able to diagnose Alzheimer's before the onset of symptoms so people can begin treatment.

His message dovetailed nicely into Taylor's speech, which echoed Burns' sentiment that what is good for the heart is good for the brain, whether it's from a nutritional or metabolic point of view. He showed how the Western diet, filled with processed food, refined sugar and high in saturated fats, has negatively affected not just the body but also the brain.

"I watch PBS a lot, and one of the things they talk about a lot is brain health," said audience member Sherri Huffman, who contributed several insightful questions to the discussion that followed the demonstration. "I learned a lot tonight about the studies that KU is doing and about the correlations between exercise and brain health. They're trying to prove that metabolism relates to brain health and not just body health."

Prater tied the evening's messages together by demonstrating how healthy meals can be produced with simple ingredients and not a lot of prep time. "Cooking shouldn't be a chore," he told the audience after preparing a roasted cauliflower and chickpea salad along with a pasta sauce with anchovies in about 15 minutes.

"We hope that people learn that healthy eating doesn't have to be complicated," said Riley. "With all the mixed messages people see about diets it can be overwhelming, and it can make healthy eating seem impossible."

‘Cook Right, Eat Right' Part II

Response to surveys given out at the "Cook Right, Eat Right" sessions has been strong and attendance built to the point that they had to stop taking reservations for the November session. Because of the program's popularity, organizers have decided to launch a second series beginning in February. "There is a need for these sessions, and the public really enjoys them," Sullivan said.

For those who haven't been able to attend, the sessions are available on the JCCC YouTube channel.

Last modified: Dec 11, 2018