The Science and Symphony of Food

by Jacqueline Bull June 26, 2018


group-nutrition-finalDr. Neal Malik, the Chair for the Department of Nutrition and Basic Sciences at Bastyr talked with me about this program that combines the science of nutrition and the practicality of the culinary arts.

“When I was working as a nutrition counselor and as a dietician, the question that I would often get asked is ‘So you want me to eat 90 grams of protein a day, but what foods should I eat? And do you have any recipes for me that taste good and are cheap and would be easy to make?’” Dr. Neal Malik said.

He explained that he would tell them to wait a week for him to have found some recipes on the internet.

“There is this need. People want to know about food. They want to know what they can eat that will taste good and at the same time know that what they are eating is good for them. So we felt like this program needed to be created. We have to have that union otherwise we have no way of communicating this kind of idea of healthy eating and nutritious eating,” he said.

“We think of our students as nutrition translators. And again, having gone through a traditional dietetics program, I didn’t get that. I got the focus on the macro and micro nutrients and don’t worry how that translates into food. And so I think they are really unique because they can do both and they walk away with both of those skills,” he said.

The program is unique and so is the university it comes from. Bastyr University is the only accredited school of naturopathic medicine in California. They have Masters of Science in Nutrition for Wellness, and Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine programs.

“Those that have a natural medicine focus, those that graduate with a doctorate in naturopathic medicine are essentially physicians. They go through med school,” he said.

There is a lot of mystery around what naturopathic medicine actually is and means and for Dr. Malik, he explained it as the focus on treating the whole person. “When you think about going to urgent care, or just seeing your normal doctor, they may give you 20 minutes because they have that pressure to see more patients. And they can’t spend that kind of time. But with natural medicine, they really want to know the root cause of the problem and so they’ll spend at least 45 minutes up to 90 minutes with just a single patient to really assess what is going on and make sure they don’t miss anything. And they use, when necessary, natural remedies, but at the same time there is they emphasis of ‘When antibiotics are needed, let’s give them antibiotics,’ there is that acknowledgement as well,” he said.

Reading through the materials about the university, the phrase “science-based” comes up frequently and you won’t find any mention of spirituality or chakras. The idea that is conveyed is the idea of alternatives (or accompaniments) to allopathic (drugs and surgery) medicine.

“A lot of it is meeting the patient where they are. So it’s not necessarily about ‘Do this, do that, I’m going to direct you to do things.’ A lot of it is ‘Tell me your story. Let’s figure out what is going on and what can I do to support you and make you feel your best’… So it’s really meeting them where they are and addressing the root cause of them not feeling their best,” Dr. Malik said.

Dr. Malik shared his own story of struggling with a chronic illness that was linked to nutrition and lifestyle and by focusing on some of those preventable problems – chiefly on improving his diet – he was able to gradually get off his medication. This won’t be the case for every person and every illness, but the approach to treating the whole person in a relaxed and patient way is a far cry from spending 11 minutes with a doctor for them to scribble out a prescription.


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