How to make food as medicine successful and sustainable

By Kayli Anderson, MS, RDN, ACSM-EP, DipACLM, FACLM   

As interest in food as medicine grows, it is important to recognize the unique value proposition that lifestyle medicine brings to the conversation.

A wide array of colorful fruits and vegetables with heart shaped bowls scattered amongst the image with nuts, seeds and spices in them.

The world is finally awakening to the potential of food as medicine (FAM). 

Since its founding in 2004, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) has championed the advancement of FAM to treat and even reverse chronic disease, establishing itself as the preeminent leader in nutrition education and resources for health professionals, and advancing the practice of FAM through innovative research and tireless advocacy. 

Since the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health in the fall of 2022, a growing number of health systems, policymakers, government agencies and private sector organizations have committed to implement various modalities, such as providing education to health professionals, incorporating produce prescriptions into practice, developing culinary medicine programs, and even delivering medically tailored meals and groceries. The benefits of FAM was a focus recently at multiple events, including the World Economic Forum and the inaugural U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Food is Medicine Summit, the latter of which representatives of ACLM participated in. 

What lifestyle medicine brings to FAM 

As interest in FAM rises, it is important to recognize the unique value proposition that lifestyle medicine brings to the conversation. Historically, FAM programs have focused primarily on providing more nutritious food to underserved populations to keep them healthy. Addressing food insecurity with healthful food—nutrition security–is important but becomes unsustainable if patients are not educated in healthy food preparation, connected with resources to improve access to healthy food, and coached by lifestyle medicine-trained clinicians who can help them make successful and lasting lifestyle behavior changes within their unique circumstances. This clinical aspect is often missing from the conversation in terms of chronic disease. 

Moreover, six in 10 U.S. adults have at least one chronic disease and an unhealthy diet contributes to the development of type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke and some cancers. The problem’s scale is too large, too urgent, to use FAM to prevent new disease only.  

That is why it is so critical that physicians and clinical practice teams are trained to make evidence-based therapeutic lifestyle interventions to treat and, when used intensively, reverse already existing disease. 

Closing the education gap 

As a lifestyle medicine-certified registered dietitian, I believe that the healthcare team of the future must be educated and trained to collaboratively apply not just FAM but also the other five interconnected pillars of lifestyle medicine: physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, positive social connections and avoidance of risky substances. Physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician associates, pharmacists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, certified health coaches and registered dietitians must work together seamlessly to incorporate elements of lifestyle medicine with a clinical goal of achieving health restoration. It is what patients, exhausted by increasing quantities of costly pharmaceuticals and procedures, want and deserve 

Many may assume or even expect their health provider to be adept at nutritional counseling. But education in FAM in the medical community is sorely lacking. U.S. medical students report only receiving an average of 5 hours of nutrition education despite the National Academy of Sciences recommended 25 hours minimum of nutrition education in 1985. Nutrition is insufficiently incorporated into medical education regardless of the setting or year, and that knowledge deficit affects the skill and confidence of health professionals at utilizing nutrition in patient care. 

As momentum to integrate FAM into health care grows, physicians and other health professionals who have developed the knowledge and skills to make evidence-based lifestyle behavior interventions in areas such as nutrition will become increasingly sought after by health systems, payors and patients. Since certification in lifestyle medicine began in 2017, almost 6,700 clinicians have become certified as of 2024.

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ACLM is your FAM education home 

ACLM is a trailblazer in comprehensive and evidence-based education that equips health professionals with the knowledge to integrate FAM into patient care. Courses are designed with a multidisciplinary approach, ensuring the content is evidence-based, up-to-date, relevant and accredited for a broad range of healthcare specialties and clinicians with diverse backgrounds.  

ACLM has created an extensive compilation of FAM educational and practice resources in one place at Food as Medicine – American College of Lifestyle Medicine. Examples of ACLM’s educational offerings relevant to FAM: 

  • FREE Lifestyle Medicine & Food as Medicine Essentials Course Bundle offered in support of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health.     ACLM committed to offer 5.5 hours of complimentary CME/CE to 200,000 physicians and other health professionals until September 2025. Register here 
  • Food as Medicine CME/CE courses are available on topics such as nutrition for prevention and longevity, nutrition for treatment and risk reduction, calorie density and preconception, pregnancy and postpartum. In development are courses on nutrition and heart disease, diabetes, cancers and brain health.  
  • A Type 2 Diabetes Remission Certificate Course that prepares clinicians to use intensive lifestyle medicine therapies to put type 2 diabetes into remission and reverse insulin resistance. 
  • The Lifestyle Medicine Residency Curriculum, a comprehensive, applicable, and flexible curriculum that prepares residents to make evidence-based, lifestyle behavior interventions and become certified in lifestyle medicine by the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine upon residency completion. 

Review ACLM’s full catalogue of educational courses and curricula here 

Other FAM resources from ACLM 

ACLM emphasizes the evidence-based practice of FAM, ensuring that health care professionals receive tools and resources grounded in the latest scientific research.  

Examples of ACLM resources relevant to FAM: 

  • A complementary download of useful practice tools and patient education handouts in FAM and the other pillars of lifestyle medicine are available at Food as Medicine – American College of Lifestyle Medicine 
  • A first-of-its-kind study published in Advances in Nutrition that found consistency in clinical practice guidelines regarding the benefit of consuming minimally processed whole plant foods to treat and prevent chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.  
  • An expert consensus statement, endorsed by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinology (AACE), supported by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) and co-sponsored by the Endocrine Society, to assist clinicians in achieving remission of type 2 diabetes in adults using diet as a primary intervention. 
  • A webinar on medication deprescribing and type 2 diabetes.  An ACLM qualitative case series research study provided valuable insights into the protocols that can guide clinical decision-making on medication deprescribing for type 2 diabetes patients. 

More information about ACLM research projects are available here 

Get involved 

For those who have been ringing the bell about the crisis of diet-related disease and the promise of FAM, the time is now to engage in the FAM discussion and promote the value of lifestyle medicine. Become a member of ACLM for full access to the organization’s inventory of resources and to engage with Member Interest Groups devoted to a full range of topics, including FAM, culinary medicine and group medical visits. By joining ACLM, you become part of the galvanizing force for change in healthcare. 

February Insider
Addressing the physician shortage through lifestyle medicine

Tools and Resources of Interest

FREE 5.5 CME/CE for Clinicians: Lifestyle Medicine & Food as Medicine Essentials Bundle

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Remission of T2 Diabetes & Reversal of Insulin Resistance

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Food As Medicine Courses & Resources
Food As Medicine Courses & Resources