Dr Rupy Aujla is a GP who is passionate about empowering people to eat for health. We chatted about his earliest memories of food, why he thinks we’ve lost the power of food in our daily lives, and his vision for the health of Britain…

My earliest food memories are centred on community

When I think back to my earliest memories of food, they are in the temple: dahl, yoghurt, pickles, and usually a sweet dish made from flour, butter, and sugar. It was a sweet offering that each of us were meant to have a small part of, but it was so delicious that everyone had a handful!

Food is central to the Sikh religion. Food is the great equaliser of all humanity, no matter your race, gender, colour, or anything. I can still remember the fragrance of the hall in the temple as a child, where food was offered for free to anyone who wanted it, buckets of dahl, people volunteering as an act of service to their community.

Breaking bread together can be found in every religion and culture in the food, because food is integral as a way of life and community.

My personal journal as a doctor changed when I used food as medicine

My mother overcame some of her medical issues through food when I was a child, but the first time that food as medicine had a strong impact on me was when I was a junior doctor and I got ill myself. I had a medical condition called Atrial Fibrillation and was advised to have a procedure called an ablation. As someone training to heal the body, I researched as much as I could and with the blessing of my Cardiologists I opted to explore lifestyle changes before an intervention. I found that making changes to my eating, reducing refined sugars, getting better sleep and more considered exercise was enough to overcome my condition which surprised all of my medical colleagues and myself.

It was then that I realised that food was more than just energy. We needed a deeper level of understanding to teach ourselves about food as a medical tool, and that’s really where the Doctor’s Kitchen started.

We’ve lost touch with the medical impact of food and drink

This starts at medical school, when health professionals in training are not taught to appreciate nutrition in a broader context. The concept that eating too many calories equals putting on a pound of weight is rife, but it’s not helpful. Unfortunately we have a generation of doctors who have left medical school without the knowledge of the power of nutrition as a medical tool. Strict evidence based approaches are a pillar of medicine for good reason, but when it comes to food, a lack of randomised clinical trials shouldn’t put people off.

Many principles across cultures that were considered old wives’ tales are now starting to be validated in scientific trials. Almost all of us know that ginger and garlic are powerful ingredients for the body, but now labs are looking at their phytochemical profile to see how they affect viruses and inflammation. Although some modern supplements can be hurtful – like intense green tea capsules – we need to have more conversations about the power of food.

There’s one very common medical condition that can easily be managed through food

There’s a myth that Type 2 diabetes is a condition that just has to be accepted, and pills are the only solution – but that’s a detrimental message. We’re starting to witness a tidal wave of change now with more and more media attention on the growing obesity epidemic, but still there are countless people relying on medications without a real understanding of how food could positively change that.

If you want to change your diet in one step, eat more cruciferous veg

Broccoli, cabbage, spring greens, sprouts – they are so good for us, and this has been demonstrated through population studies and mechanistic studies examining their chemical profile. These are cheap and cheerful vegetables that may not be everyone’s first choice, but they are so good for our bodies. A little less accessible but just as good for us is the sprouted category: sprouted broccoli, sprouted mung beans, chickpea sprouts… You can use them in innovative ways in cooking, and they pack a real positive punch.

I’m already seeing real change – but I’m hungry for more

It’s incredible to see my vision of changing the medical curriculum to include culinary medicine come to life, because I’m passionate about seeing all doctors finish their medical training with an actionable plan for their patients to eat their way to health. But I want to see more than that: I want to see the appreciation for dietary principles applied to patients in hospitals and clinic environments, and my broader vision is to have food included as a treatment option on the NHS.

Wouldn’t it be incredible if, as well as prescriptions and services being delivered to your door, food could be too? Nutritionally balanced, with food that people will enjoy and no bad choices, that delivers positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing. The NHS exists to help us all live healthier lives, and it would be incredible to see food play a bigger part of that.

The NCIM understand my vision, and have their own for the nation

The solution for healthcare has to take a two-pronged approach, empowering both patients and professionals, which is exactly what the NCIM does. I’ve actually put one of Dr Elizabeth Thompson’s recipes in my next book, a type of gazpacho which she cooked for me and some friends. The evening ended in a poetry reading, proving to me that she understands the importance of feeding minds as well as bodies.

You can pre-order Rupy’s next book, The Doctor’s Kitchen – Eat to Beat Illness, and listen to his insightful podcasts on his website.

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