Until very recently, a physician was more likely to reach for the prescription pad than a cookbook when treating a patient illness. But with the food-as-medicine movement finally starting to take hold in the U.S., and as stories of preventing cancer and reversing diabetes with food continue surfacing, parts of the healthcare and culinary sectors are finally starting to come together to not just treat illness but in many cases hopefully prevent it altogether.
Of the many, many areas in medicine, gastrointestinal (GI) disorders are especially full of potential for food-as-medicine treatment. Not only are these disorders widespread (an estimated 60–70 million Americans have one), they’re also directly tied to the digestive system, and therefore inherently connected to the food we eat.
All of this information served as Richard Bennett’s inspiration when he started Epicured in 2015 with cofounder Renee Cherkezian. The company caters its meal kit service specifically to people with GI disorders who are in need of gluten free and/or low-FODMAP diets, both of which are unwieldy diets to tackle if you’re not a nutritionist.
For example, a low-FODMAP diet permits raspberries but not blackberries. Quinoa is permitted, but wheat is to be avoided. Espresso is fine, chamomile tea, not so much. It doesn’t exactly make planning your next meal easy, or as Bennett says, “You can’t just walk through the grocery store aisle and know what you can buy.”
And even if you could, it’s probably not going to taste that great, at least not without a lot of practice and therefore a lot of time.
That’s where Epicured comes in. The service takes the guesswork out of gluten free and low-FODMAP diets by offering prepared meals for sale via a subscription service. Bennett told me all meals get vetted and reviewed by a dietitians to ensure they comply with low-FODMAP standards and are also 100 percent gluten free. He says Epicured currently addresses Crohn’s disease, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), colitis, celiac disease, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
As a service, it’s straightforward process for users. Upon signing up, they choose their meals for the week from a rotating menu. (Note: Epicured’s FAQ page makes it clear the service is not substitution for physician advice.) All meals are pre-prepared, so users need only heat them when they arrive. While individual meal prices vary, the average works out to about $15 per dish.
In that sense, Bennett, who has a background in healthcare, considers Epicured less of a food company and more of a way to extend care from the doctor’s office into the home by delivering meals that both meet dietary requirements for these GI disorders and still taste good. “I didn’t wake up and want to deliver a food or meal delivery company,” he told me. “I wanted to develop a health company that could bring the best of the culinary world and the best of the healthcare world [together].”
A key piece of what makes this work is that meals are conceptualized by Michelin-star chefs — that is, people who will know how to make food taste good even under restrictions as stringent as a gluten-free or low-FODMAP diet. “Chefs understand the impact of ingredients on the human system,” says Bennett, adding that the truly great chefs know how to create restaurant-quality food that needs to also be medicinal.
So far Epicured has enjoyed a positive reception. The service has investments from major medical centers like Mount Sinai, and Bennett told me the company is launching its first-ever clinical study with a major partner (he can’t say who yet).
Epicured has had suitors outside the healthcare realm, too. Amazon approached the company a while back to feature their prepared meals in its Amazon Go stores.
The Amazon partnership could give Epicured a major boost in terms of visibility in a meal-kit-as-medicine market that’s starting to become more populated, with the likes of BistroMD, BeWellEats, and Phood Farmacy all bringing versions of the meal kit to market.
Bennett couldn’t say whether this partnership will head to other Amazon Go locations in future, just that, his company hopes “to be aligned with their growth” and that Epicured can “deepen the partnership.”
In the meantime, Epicured will continue serving the Northeastern U.S. and focusing on the importance of marrying the idea of medicinal meals with food you’d actually want to sit down and eat.