Dr. Rupy Aujla on a mission to improve health in UK
Dr. Rupy Aujla at market stall.

Dr. Rupy Aujla on a mission to improve health in UK

Gill McShane

We all know fruits and vegetables are good for us. But do most of us understand why exactly? Would we eat more if there was an easy-to-digest explanation of the science behind good nutrition? That’s what NHS GP Dr. Rupy Aujla is striving to achieve via his debut cookbook and blog The Doctor’s Kitchen, through which he explains the clinical research behind the ingredients in his recipes. Having been confirmed as the Show Ambassador of The London Produce Show and Conference 2018, PBUK speaks with the London-based doctor to find out what the fresh produce sector stands to gain.

Essentially, Dr. Aujla is practicing ‘culinary medicine’ – the optimisation of patients’ nutrition by combining the art of cooking with the science of medicine. The movement may not be new, but awareness in the UK remains relatively low, even among health care practitioners. 

At the same time, there remain high incidences of chronic illnesses that doctors believe could be reversed or simply avoided through improved lifestyle and nutrition, particularly by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. Those include: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke and angina. 

Dr. Aujla is a firm believer of culinary medicine or lifestyle medicine, having himself overcome a heart condition by making changes to his lifestyle, especially his diet. As one of the most exciting new names on the UK health and food scene, he is determined to spread the word about the importance of nutrient-dense diets, particularly plant-focused diets that naturally feature high levels of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“I believe that what you choose to put on your plate is the most important health intervention you can make, and that nutrition is the most important thing we can do in health care,” Dr. Aujla tells PBUK.

“As a doctor, my USP [unique selling point] is that I go by the science, and what you find in all the research articles and all the clinical and academic studies looking at the longest-living, healthiest, happiest populations is that they have a largely plant-based diet. This is music to the ears of the produce industry!”

“All the nutritional studies show that when people eat more fruit and vegetables, there are lower cancer rates, fewer incidences of diabetes, fewer mental health issues – the list goes on. If we’re going to be true preventative health practitioners who are insightful then nutrition is where we should be focusing our efforts.”

Of course, ‘plant-based eating’ is one of the latest health trends to hit the UK, but Dr. Aujla is quick to point out that the scientific evidence behind the concept has been in the public domain for decades. Rather, it’s the access to this information that is new, thanks to platforms such as social media and the Internet that are heightening people’s awareness and interest in the subject.

“We’ve been sitting on research like a heart study that’s over 30 years which shows that eating a Mediterranean-style diet after having a heart attack reduces the chance of a second heart attack by 25 per cent,” he exclaims. “That is definitely better than any pill that you can prescribe.” 

Indeed, Dr. Aujla says people often mistakenly think the Mediterranean diet is all about oily fish, when, in fact, it is largely a vegetarian way of eating that is based around whole grains, pulses, legumes, and fresh produce of all different colours.

“Plant focused is how I believe most people from a health point of view would benefit from eating,” he states. “The different phytochemicals in these foods have various positive biological effects on a number of different bodily processes, such as thinking and brain health.

“Essentially this is what we need to be promoting to most people, and this is why being the Show Ambassador of The London Produce Show and Conference is an amazing opportunity for me to heighten awareness.”

The bigger picture

In his cookbook ‘The Doctor’s Kitchen’, Dr. Aujla dedicates an entire chapter to eating ‘plant focused,’ which pulls on the evidence looking at the impact of fresh fruit and vegetables on human health.

Although there are stand-out foods or so-called ‘super foods’, Dr. Aujla believes every single fruit and vegetable deserves a mention. “The bigger picture is the cheap and accessible ingredients that we already have on our supermarket shelves that are the most nutrient-dense ingredients we can eat,” he points out.

“I’ve dedicated a whole chapter about why healthy eating is accessible to everyone up and down the country. Beetroots, carrots, asparagus, rocket, Tenderstem broccoli and purple sprouting broccoli are all fantastic ingredients and they cost less than a quid [£1.00]. 

“These are some of the most well-studied in terms of their effects on improving your body’s ability to limit toxins. It’s pretty astounding when you look at the qualities of these types of produce.

“In my book, there’s also a whole section dedicated to individual foods, like parsley, broccoli, sprouts and celeriac, etc.,” he continues. “I went through all of them because every single food is essentially a superfood. Every fruit and vegetable absolutely deserves a platform because it’s beautiful as well as healthy.”

Bringing culinary medicine to the profession 

Although many people are interested in nutrition, in reality, Dr. Aujla claims they don’t know where to start. With that in mind, he has designed his cookbook to be a culinary journey of food and nutrition through which he shares clinical research in a useful and digestible manner.

“I talk about the new and exciting information about why healthcare should appreciate nutrition, and I’ve backed that up with research,” he explains. “That’s why there are 200 academic references at the back of the book. I want people to know that I’ve done my homework and that the cookbook is a reflection of the science.”

Considering the burden of lifestyle-related illness and disease on the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK, Dr. Aujla aspires to bring the practice of culinary medicine to the health care profession nationwide, starting with teaching doctors the foundations of clinical nutrition, as well as how to cook.

“Type 2 diabetes costs the NHS at least 10 per cent of its budget for something which is essentially reversible – not with drugs, not with social intervention, but with lifestyle changes,” he states.

“Pick any medical specialty – cardiology, dermatology, ophthalmology, psychology, psychiatry – and there is a link between illnesses in those respective fields and poor nutrition. 

“All the nutritional studies show that when people eat more fruit and vegetables, there are lower cancer rates, fewer incidences of diabetes, fewer mental health issues – the list goes on. If we’re going to be true preventative health practitioners who are insightful then nutrition is where we should be focusing our efforts.”

With more and more drugs needed to treat lifestyle-related illnesses, Dr. Aujla says his goal is to try to prevent patients from needing to see a doctor in the first place by enabling them to be more intuitive about the choices they make on a daily basis. 

Through his role as a clinical advisor to the Royal College of GPs, Dr. Aujla is seeking to establish the mechanism to enable that change to happen. Initially, he is organising an accredited course for medical doctors to interact with chefs and food producers at London-based cookery college Westminster Kingsway.

“When you get a doctor and a chef in a kitchen, you create normality; it makes people realise there’s a connection between what you eat and how you live,” he suggests. “If general practitioners at the front line of the NHS know how to cook, they could teach their patients how to better take care of themselves and that would be a massive cost benefit.”

Dr. Aujla’s big idea, however, goes one step further. He proposes whether fresh fruit and vegetables should be made free to patients on the NHS.

“If I could prove that someone with hereditary diabetes could come off medicine by using a food-focused approach, in my mind that would be more cost effective,” he claims.

“To provide someone with the right food, at the right time for months at a time would be a lot easier, a lot better for that patient and much cheaper than giving them 12 months supply of anti-diabetic medicine. Plus they would experience positive side effects.”

Jumping on the bandwagon

Making healthy eating as accessible as possible is one way in which Dr. Aujla suggests the fresh produce industry can get on board the culinary medicine movement. 

“Focusing on quality and showing that healthy food isn’t expensive is one way in which the industry can promote itself,” he recommends.

“Also, inspire people about how they can use fresh produce in the first place. When you educate people, that’s how you engage them and empower them to eat healthily.”

He also believes the industry should continue to raise awareness of the efforts that go into producing food, especially among the younger generation, which is becoming a lot more savvy about their food.

“Tell the story about where your produce comes from and a truthful story about the people that work on the farm,” he adds. “Explain where you grow your produce or source from, and what kind of standards you put in place above and beyond the norm.”

Supporting the produce industry

In his role as LPS18 Show Ambassador, Dr. Aujla is looking forward to further inspiring the fresh fruit and veg supply chain about its role in health care and in creating a proactive healthy nation. 

“My role as an influencer, not only through my book but my social media platform, and my growing presence on traditional platforms, is about representing all these different industries and understanding all the caveats of all of them,” he explains. 

“This is something that everyone needs to be part of. It’s about aligning a whole chain of people and organisations for one unified objective of improving the health of the nation. That’s my big aspiration, and that’s why I’m very proud to be the LPS18 Show Ambassador.”

To see Dr. Rupy Aujla in action, come to
The London Produce Show and Conference on 6-8 June. 

Dr. Aujla will share more of his thoughts as a speaker on The Perishable Pundit’s Thought Leader Breakfast Panel.

Dr. Aujla will also demonstrate his recipes in the Chef Demonstration Kitchen, and will be signing copies of his debut cookbook. 

Register here for The London Produce Show and Conference 2018.



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