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
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.
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 amyshahmd.com.