Doctors often lack adequate training in nutrition to give patients the care they need, concludes a group of the nation's leading physicians in the September 2014 issue of The American Journal of Medicine. Diet is the top risk factor for disability and premature death in America, yet physician accreditation standards don't even mention the word "nutrition" despite very specific requirements in other areas, including procedures.

"Nutrition is the low hanging fruit in medicine - a low cost intervention with untapped potential for optimizing health," says lead author of "A Deficiency of Nutrition Education in Medical Training." Dr. Stephen Devries, a cardiologist and executive director of The Gaples Institute for Integrative Cardiology in Deerfield. The Gaples Institute is an educational non- profit that advocates for greater emphasis on nutrition and lifestyle in medicine.

The paper is a statement from leading physicians and educators, including Drs. James Dalen, David Eisenberg, Victoria Maizes, Dean Ornish, Arti Prasad, Victor Sierpina, Andrew Weil and Walter Willett. It is estimated that at least one-third of the $315 billion spent annually in the United States on cardiovascular disease could be cut if Americans embraced modest dietary changes.

Physicians need adequate training to effectively help counsel patients to make needed changes. The experts prescribe a requirement for nutrition education in all phases of medical training - with a focus on the link between food, lifestyle, and common disease. They also recommend considering nutrition as a pre-med requirement. "Certifying examinations need to be modified to emphasize that nutrition education is no longer a garnish but is now served as the main course," the authors said.