Local physician advocates vegan diet | CLARE HOWARD | 04/16/10

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Dr. Michele Couri was preparing roasted winter squash and apple soup for dinner. Daughter Elle, 5, rinsed lentils in the kitchen sink. Daughter Mia, 5, pushed a Hot Wheels truck around and around the kitchen island, grabbing a slice of apple as she played.

The room occasionally throbbed to the beat of a drum lesson downstairs with daughter Lauren, 8. Couri's husband, Tim, was in the family room supervising the 2-year-old twins who occasionally burst into joyful trills for mom.

Meal preparation in the Couri household involves six children and a philosophy that vegan and vegetarian cuisine prepared from scratch is better for health.

Couri has expanded her traditional medical training with studies in food, nutrition and diet around the world.

Health care in America, she said, is inescapably bound to the poor American diet with too much meat, dairy and processed foods and not enough vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

In her obstetrics and gynecology practice, she counsels her patients about a vegetarian diet and recommends a macrobiotic diet for her cancer patients. She and her husband are vegan, eating no animal products. Their six children are moving toward a vegetarian diet.

Couri is one of the first physicians from central Illinois enrolled in the fellowship in integrative medicine at Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil. Much of that program is focused on nutrition research.

"Integrative medicine is truly the wave of the future right now in America," Couri said. "America pays more on medical care per capita than any country, and our health outcomes are far worse than many countries. Integrative medicine will reshape how we as physicians look at health and healing."

Integrative medicine combines traditional mainstream medicine with critical consideration of alternative medicine. Practitioners of integrative medicine still require scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness, but they are interested in shifting the focus from treating disease to preventing disease.

Couri encourages her patients to record everything they eat and drink for a week or two. She reviews that log and makes recommendations for change.

"Patients tell me they are surprised by how much better food tastes. I have even taken a patient to the grocery store to walk the aisles and review basic education," she said.

"Our health care system creates dependence on prescription medications. You can't turn on TV and not see ads for prescription medications. That is driving our health care costs. The reality is we're using prescription medications rather than lifestyle changes."

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