Breen, who also teaches a class for undergraduate students called Cooking on a Student's Budget, and Shafto saw a pressing need to design a practical course for aspiring health professionals.
"For a long time, we were focused on treatment instead of prevention," Breen said. As a society, "we're not incorporating this idea that eating and lifestyle are preventive medicine."
Obesity, diabetes and hypertension are just a few of the serious health problems caused in part by poor diets.
The shift from an agricultural-based society to an industrialized one has affected the food system and brought "innumerable health consequences," Shafto said.
"Our diets have been stripped of rich vitamins, fiber and minerals," she said, adding that industrialization also has made us more sedentary and has exposed us to more pollution and stress.
PHYSICIAN, FEED THYSELF
The Food Matters for Health Professionals course covers topics such as diet and inflammation and the importance of eating healthy fats.
And because burnout and stress are common among health care providers, the course also includes information about self-care. Students learn how to eat mindfully, taking deep breaths before eating, sitting down to dine with others and slowing down enough to taste their food.
Throughout the course, the students kept a journal and recorded their eating habits.
"They were amazed at how much they weren't paying attention," Breen said. They also reflected on how much their eating habits might be affecting their personal health and their ability to care for others.