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Five Things I Wish I Knew About Food Before Becoming a Doctor (by Amy Shah, M.D.)

This is a guest post written by Dr. Amy Shah, a member of my Advisory Council.  Dr. Shah is a practicing physician, specializing in Allergy & Immunology and Internal Medicine. I reached out to Dr. Shah and asked her to cover a topic that she thought you all would find really impactful and interesting from a doctor’s point of view, and she came up with this great idea to discuss the food that she used to eat that was messing up her health while she was in medical training. Now that she knows better, she has changed her ways and hopes to inspire you also!  


Before becoming a doctor, I had NO IDEA the impact that processed food could have on our health.

What I mean is – we learned a lot about the differences between carbohydrates, protein, and fat – the biochemistry and the metabolism. But we practically never talked about additives, fillers, or artificial colors/flavors. In fact, I had no idea that there is a world of a difference between the “coffee drinks” I was getting from the medical resident lounge and real coffee.

I made so many mistakes because I didn’t know the consequences of bad food or the power of good food.

I want to tell you about the 5 foods (and drinks) that were messing up my health so you don’t make the same mistakes!

1. Mixing Alcoholic Drinks with Diet Soda

So in medical school – we had this mantra “work hard, play hard”!  By “play hard” I mean go out after a big exam and celebrate until 2 am. Although, I was never a big drinker, I would order diet mixed drinks and I thought I was being healthy by drinking this.

Turns out that the alcohol was not the worst thing about this combo – it was the diet soda!  Not only is diet soda toxic to our bodies, it also gets into your bloodstream faster! Two studies came out about this recently. This one found that when people at a bar were given breathalyzer tests after drinking, those who drank alcohol mixed with diet sodas had a higher breath alcohol concentration. This is thought to be because the way our gut processes artificial sweeteners vs. real sugar. And, of course diet coke was messing up my health for countless reasons: aspartame, caffeine, GMOs, preservatives, coloring, etc. All this caused me to get (and stay) so inflamed.

2. Sugar-Free Gum

Chewing sugar-free gum seems like the safest, most innocuous thing you can do, right? Pop a piece that has like no calories – and it gets you through studying or other boring tasks. No big deal. I had no idea what I was chewing. Turns out sugar-free gum is jammed full of a ton of – again – artificial flavors and colors. A few may be cancer-causing either by themselves or when they break down.

Other ingredients that make the gum chewy are the same ones used in plastic products. Some chemicals are used in sugar-free gum to manipulate your mind into thinking you’re eating something “sugary”, and aren’t exactly recognizable to your body – let alone digestible. So they hang out in your GI system and cause major bloat, not to mention inflammation!

3. Subway Sandwiches (which we got for free once a week during my training years)

Subway has always seemed like a healthy fast food alternative, right? The ads show sandwiches with veggies spilling out of them and we considered it our “healthy lunch”. In fact, it was given out free during our medical resident meetings at the hospital. Turns out the bread I was eating all those years had a chemical called azodicarbonamide in it. As you probably know Vani led a successful campaign to get azodicarbonamide out of Subway sandwiches. Now, she has a petition to get them to stop the use of routine antibiotics in their meat. I wish I knew all this about Subway and I am glad you won’t make the same mistakes I did! I can’t believe that doctors, students, and hospital administrators’ were all fooled by these big companies.

4. Chocolate, but not just any chocolate… Snickers, Hershey’s Bars, ect. 

Chocolate is full of antioxidants and other ingredients that help to dampen inflammation and help with mood and disease prevention. Let me clarify: Good quality, dark chocolate does that.

I wasn’t eating that before. I was eating those candy bars like Snickers and Hershey bars that are literally full of genetically modified and artificial ingredients. To name a few:

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Partially Hydrogenated Oils (a.k.a. Trans Fat)
  • Artificial colors
  • Artificial flavors
  • GMOs

Little did I know then what a world of difference there was between good quality dark chocolate and those processed ones.

5. Coffee Drinks 

So, we had one of those machines in our physician training lounges that dispensed things like a white mocha, or cappuccino – all of which were FILLED with disgusting ingredients. I remember having one of those every morning and sometimes up to 3 times a day when I was on call. It’s just coffee you’re getting out of that vending machine, right? Maybe a little flavoring like white mocha is added, but it’s harmless, right?


Like almost every other artificial ingredient on this list, coffee drinks are hugely inflammatory to the body and have a long list of potentially harmful ingredients.

  • Propylene glycol
  • Caramel color (4-methylimidazole – potentially cancer-causing, also in those chocolate bars I loved!)
  • High fructose corn syrup – so much sugar! Artificial, inflammatory, disease-causing sugar!
  • Artificial colors
  • Artificial flavors

So, that’s my round up of toxic, gross, processed things I used to eat and drink ALL THE TIME! I think it’s so important to spread the word on how harmful these foods really are because of the misinformation out there.

Now, I still enjoy coffee – but REAL coffee or tea with some raw stevia and almond milk.

I still enjoy alcohol once in a while but it’s now tequila with club soda and lime.

I LOVE dark chocolate but now it’s organic, non dairy chocolate coconut oil truffles from Whole Foods.

Now, I try to only chew gum if it’s made with xylitol. (Note from Vani: I stopped chewing gum altogether to save my digestive enzymes – here’s why.)

See, it’s easy to make changes once you know what you are doing wrong. I really hope you can learn from ALL the crazy mistakes I made and spread it to your family and friends.   

Amy Shah, M.D

Dr. Amy Shah is a specialist in Allergy & Immunology and Internal Medicine. She pursued her medical training at Columbia University Medical Center, Beth Israel Deaconness/Harvard Medical School, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and Cornell University. Prior to graduating with honors in research, she worked in the Channing Laboratory at Harvard University looking at the health effects of heavy metals on the body. She is now in a private medical practice. To learn more about Dr. Shah, visit


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46 responses to “Five Things I Wish I Knew About Food Before Becoming a Doctor (by Amy Shah, M.D.)

  1. Very interesting! I have noticed lately that when I chew sugar free gum, I can only chew it for a few seconds before it starts to make me feel sick.

    I have a long way to go in improving my diet, but posts like this are very encouraging to make the effort.

    1. It was the gum comment that really stood out to me as well. I only chew gum with Xylitol as well and in fact, now use Xylitol instead of white sugar in every single recipe. I cannot even notice the difference and am so pleased with this product! It’s perfect even for baking, a wonderful substitute. Another idea when you are craving something sweet or gum (in lieu of sugar free) are Ice Chips (hand crafted candy sweetened by Xylitol). Very pricey but delicious and save me from eating other stuff that is complete junk. Thanks Dr. Amy for a great post. It never ceases to amaze me the junk some Doctors eat! And what else bothers me in when I see doctors and nurses smoking. I just don’t get it1

      1. I’m glad xylitol is helping you, I just hope you don’t have a dog because it is toxic to them. I have 2 dogs and it is not allowed in my house.

      2. I think the flavoring in most of the Ice Chips (except peppermint) is synthetic biology derived.

      3. Michelle, I don’t allow dogs or any other animals in my house but xylitol is okay !!!

    1. Besides that, the commercial almond industry in Calif. is helping to decimate the honeybees.

  2. Great success story and we hope many people read your story and understand HOW IMPORTANT it is to avoid toxic foods, and see how easy it is to avoid and make the right choices. The Food Babe Team has been ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL, helped us make the healthy changes, and continues to fight to expose the food industry. Thank you!

  3. Great insight into toxic food substances. Good thing Dr. Shah avoided the dreaded killer, cigarettes, as well. I used to enjoy a 6 inch meatball hero from Subway 3 times a week myself. Those days are long gone. Thanks for this article.

  4. Hi Vani,

    Please consider starting a campaign to remove the Planned Parenthood “products” from food sources.


    1. Pardon my ignorance, but what on earth do you mean by “Planned Parenthood food products”?

      1. Hmm. I’m having difficulty finding the article; I remember having read it a few weeks (months?) ago when the recordings of Planned Parenthood directors were exposed, where they were selling the abortions as products to companies.

        It’s possible I was confused, but I recall a soda company being one of the purchasers and put two and two together, perhaps inappropriately. (Perhaps the soda company was only financially supporting them, not buying from them?)

        I can’t find it now, so perhaps it’s my mistake.

      2. Ken, perhaps what you had in mind was a news report that Planned Parenthood was providing aborted foetal cells for research purposes. While some people find this abhorrent, I think it is better than incinerating them. Abortion is such a pity – the average fifth grader (unfortunately) could name several mentions to prevent pregnancy (all of which could be provided by Planned Parenthood) – but once a woman decides to dispose of her unborn child, using it for medical research is perfectly reasonable.

        I don’t think we’ve descended to cannibalism, yet.

  5. So glad you mentioned propylene glycol. My grandmother and I are both severely allergic to it, it’s actually damaged the lower half of her heart now. The doctors said they can’t do anything for her including surgery because everything they would need to us has PG in it!

    1. Jackie,

      Check with a holistic Dr and ask about CoQ10 and Hawthorn. I don’t have a heart issue, but take CoQ10 every day, the hawthorn combined with it is great for some heart issues.

  6. So my comment was erased by the FB police because I expressed surprise seeing the doctor removes all chemicals she deems toxic from her diet but still drinks alcohol, a known carcinogen?

    Where’s the open debate if we can’t even ask questions to the FB’s advisors??

    1. Good grief, anything in moderation. It’s not like she’s recommending that anyone start drinking that does not, only offering her educated opinion of one of the safer choices out there if you do choose to imbibe, and she clearly stated that she only consumes alcohol “once in a while.” Get over yourself. I also doubt your comment was “erased by the facebook police.”

      1. You can use that same moderation argument for everything that Vani fights against. Scared of Subway? Don’t eat it everyday. Scared of diet soda? Don’t drink it everyday. Scared of a Pumpkin Spice Latte? It is seasonal so enjoy it while it is here.

        Something for everyone to think about…..

      2. Huh? There are better options of the things you list if you do want to have them often and want better options, and there surely are people who DO have them every day or very often, and would benefit even more from choosing better options. No one ever claimed that you’ll blow up or turn purple if you eat Subway once in a while or drink diet soda once in a while. Sure, have those in moderation too if it makes you happy (and pumpkin spice anything without a ton of added sugar and artificial flavorings are certainly a better option too). Good grief, what’s YOUR point? If drinking occasionally isn’t right for you, DON’T DRINK! No one suggested that you should. If you do, and you want possibly “better” options for you, here are some suggestions. If you want soda sometimes, all accounts show non-diet is better. If you want Subway sandwiches sometimes, there are certainly some options at Subway that are better than others (and a large part of Vani’s work regarding Subway has been to remove potentially harmful chemicals from their bread, and to get them to use antibiotic free meat, which affects ALL of us, regardless of whether you eat there). If you like actual pumpkin spice, find or make options without a ridiculous amount of sugar or artificial colors. If you want the fake stuff in the while, that’s on you, SO EAT IT! What on earth is the point of your post? I still have no idea.

  7. Hurrah for Dr. Amy!
    How can you have any confidence in a doctor that drinks diet sodas , eats junk food or smokes? I think you should drop the alcohol too, but you are doing much better than most doctors already.
    I’ve been looking for a new doctor recently. Before even making an appointment I visit the office. If I see candy snacks or non organic coffee with artificial creamer and sweeteners served in styrofoam cups, I walk out. I don’t bother saying anything. I’ve gotten too many comments like, “Excuse me, Where did you get your medical degree?” LOL.

    1. She said she used to drink diet soda while in medical school, and does not any more – a person, even if a doctor, isn’t allowed to learn more and improve their choices without having their choices damning them for life? (Also, what junk food are you referring to, and I don’t see anywhere that she smoked? If so, it would appear that she changed these habits too, as above?)

      Regarding the second half of your comment, unfortunately, doctors’ offices are generally run as businesses, with little or no knowledge by the doctors themselves to refreshments available to patients or receptionists, etc. Rather than not saying anything because of past snarky comments (probably by the same people who bought and chose the items, if you made the comments to receptionists), I would suggest writing letters or e-mails. These may be better catalogued and may eventually help change practices.

  8. Good to know why I have never felt good after chewing gum. All those marketing claims, using dentists, to promote sugar free gum worked. Thanks for educating us all otherwise.

    1. Ditto!
      I had NO IDEA why some gum made me feel sick. Ugh.

      I’ve been chewing gum after meals for years. Not anymore. Live and learn.

      Thanks for reporting!

  9. Vani is sharing a better choice for those of us who want to live healthy and gives us the needed information on all of them. If you really want to know more you should read: Excitotoxins, The Taste That Kills. Just put it on your computer and sites will come up and you can order the book. Boy will you be enlightened. You could actually become healthy, or even save your own life from all these harmful foods, if you think food companies care about any of us you are living in a dream world, their interest is in the profit margin. Do know that when you see “calcium sulfate” that you are eating plaster of Paris, no wonder boxed food has a long shelf life. It is your choice and you could actually enjoy good health.

  10. Thanks for this article, Vani and Dr. Amy! I’m a pharmacist. I have friends that are nurses, dietitians, PA’s, & other health care professionals. And we all feel the same way. We were supposedly learning all about health, yet killing ourselves with the food we were putting in our mouths. No one mentioned that to us.
    Fast-forward 15-20 years, and I finally come across Vani & 100 days of real food, Lisa. And they opened my eyes & changed my life for the better. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  11. Great article! I wish I had known how important it is to eat organic fresh fruits and vegetables before I suffered from rheumatoid arthritis- began 10+ years ago. At my worst point, I needed a walker to move now I can play golf again and walk with no pain. I discovered Nutrition, Exercise, Water, Supplements were my keys to success. So happy with my recovery, I dedicated my life to helping and mentoring all autoimmune disease sufferers around the world. To help me accomplish this goal, I wrote my book – Arthritis: How I Conquered It! Now on We need to educate many more people about the effects of poor food eating on health! Thanks Vani and Dr. Amy ! [email protected]

  12. Chewing gun and drinking hot liquids causes amalgams (silver fillings) to release large amounts of mercury vapors into the mouth. I stopped chewing gum when I learned this. Getting the amalgams removed soon by a biological dentist.

    1. Wow, I never thought of that. Thanks for mentioning the amalgams, I want to get mine taken out even more now!

  13. Gail: I hope u realize ur swapping out one carcinogen for another. Mercury in amalgams is not ideal, but ur swapping it for a plastic if ur putting white fillings in ur head. Do ur research and quit spouting half-truths/fear monguering about something u know only part of.
    PS the average life span of a white filling is 2-5yrs. An amalgam is 7-15. Amalgam releases the most Mercury when it is REMOVED. Best advice? Brush, Floss!! No (little) sugar. This includes honey, agave, maple syrup. Plaque only eats sugars. Fats have some “protective” effects on caries

  14. I wish more research would prove that “Dutch process cocoa with alkali” removes the benefits of Dark Chocolate that so many rave about. I can tell a difference in the taste too.

    1. I believe it does reduce the amount of flavanoids but not signifantly so it is not a reason to avoid cacoa with that process.

  15. Hey, I’m curious about the adverse effects of sugar-free gum. Do you have any scientific sources about them? Thanks.

  16. You Americans amaze me!
    You create a culture of ‘all-you-can-eat buffets’ and gorge yourself on all sorts of crap and then complain about have the audacity to complain that you’ve got health problems!

    Your targeting the wrong people.
    It’s not companies you should be complaining and demonstrating against, go and get those buffet resturants that let you eat lord knows what till you explode.
    You need to educate the people at the core, not companies.
    Start with getting your message across at schools, the educators, boards.
    Once kids and families learn what they are eating you won’t need to bother the companies because no one will want their products so they and your government will be forced to introduce the honest labelling you crave.

    1. So all Americans are the same? Thanks.

      (Also, doesn’t it look like this website and most people posting on it ARE working to reach and educate people AS WELL AS get companies to adopt better policies and ingredients?)

  17. Hi Dr. Shah,
    I’m a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and a Physician Assistant with a background in food chemistry-I also studied heavy metals in food in addition to mycotoxins and pesticides. I have dedicated a great deal of my life to learning about foods and how they function in the body. Because of my heavy research background, I have found myself wanting more evidence before making statements about foods in the body-especially to patients. I can’t tell patients, with a clear conscience, that certain foods are toxic when I have no proof.
    My sincere question for you is, as a fellow medical provider, what grounds are you using to support your statements when your patients and colleagues ask you about diet soda, for instance (or any of the above, really)? Vani has been under fire for her statements by much of the scientific and medical community because of her lack of evidence to support her claims. As a medical provider, what is your rationale for supporting the claims? I want to know genuinely. My background has trained me to reject her claims right now due to lack of evidence so I am curious about how another medical provider can get passed that. Help me see what you see to support these claims. I want to share good health information with my patients, I feel my nutrition background has a Physician Assistant is a great combination and I genuinely want to lead patients on the right health path, but I can not do that without proof of what I am saying.
    I would love your personal insight from one medical practitioner to another. Thanks!

  18. Along this same line of consideration, the gals on the Healthy Nature Show on 1360 am have been teaching me some wonderful things about herbal vs patented medicines. The money in medicine is finding a combination within nature, that solves an ailment, recreating this via synthetic form, patenting it, and making a fortune. Meanwhile, the same natural and organically sourced herb cannot be called medicine, and it is illegal for herbal suppliers to refer to any ‘cure’ or ‘medicinal property’ with their items. It’s a big sham to legitimize patented synthetics for profit, propogated by the FDA for decades upon decades now, and the restrictions on herbal suppliers are only getting worse all the time. One doctor in NY tried to prescribe organic foods to her ailing patients whom had digestive issues, most likely caused by their diets. She was officially reprimanded and a new judgement came forth that doctors cannot prescribe healthy foods, since they’re not ‘approved medicines’. You cannot trust the safeguards in place, because the major governmental and chartered institutions are completely unquestionably corrupted. Just search FDA whistleblower on Startpage. I’m very thankful for this website, and the myriad of other websites out there taking the place of the FDA, with their growing networks of individually researched food and chemical disclosures. Want the best script for any one? Plant an apple tree in your own front yard, along with other food producing trees, and start getting some actually healthy and actually fresh food on your plate. Despite the presence of organic labelling and such, most foods are not fresh, if purchased at the store. The future of organics is not going to be sourced from a store, it will be sourced from our own backyards, and aquaponic and hydroponic tower type of systems. Ever wonder why cities and counties do not plant food producing trees in public spaces? So they can rake more tax money from produce sellers. Be a friend to your community, and contra plant apple trees in public spaces, your own front yard, and your neighbors yards, all free. Save the seeds, and plant the seed or saplings you grow. The future is bright for food safety, if we consumers can buck off the existing system in favor of more localized and subsequently more ethically controlled food supplies. Yours truly; Colorado GMO free, chemical free consumer family.

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