[COLUMN] Food as medicine

TODAY’S column on food contains some data contributed by my classmate and wife, Farida I. Chua, MD, a retired Northwest Indiana pediatrician, an avid reader/researcher, and a fellow in our annual medical missionary in the rural areas of the Philippines.

As I have written in this column in the past, unless we eat food as medicine today, we shall be eating medicine as food tomorrow.

The body: A chemical factory

Whatever food we eat or beverage we drink turn into chemical ingredients, nutrients, after our gastrointestinal tract digests and absorbs them, and our body metabolizes them. Our entire body is run and controlled continuously, non-stop, by chemicals and chemical reactions our own body produces from sustenance we ingest. This is why it is essential that we eat healthy.

Our body is almost a perfect machine, compared to any man-made devices, including artificial intelligence. When we are in pain, the body automatically produces painkillers (natural intrinsic opioid substances) to reduce our discomfort. When we are scared, it produces adrenalin to prepare us (fight or flight) for any danger. When we are bleeding, it instantly “creates” ingredients to promote clotting to stop the bleeding. When given vaccination, it reacts by fortifying our immune system and builds a “special army” to fight (specific) future viral/bacteria invaders. And so on and so forth.

Indeed, God has gifted us with a super-wonderful body…which, unfortunately many of us abuse…leading to diseases and self-destruction…thru unhealthy lifestyle and behavior. The food we eat and liquid we drink determines whether we stay healthy or develop illnesses, from simple common cold, or serious ones, like diabetes, heart disease, or even cancer.

Our body is a large, always active, complex, amazing, and mind-boggling chemical laboratory. It automatically produces whatever chemicals we need. Of course, we must provide it the proper and healthy quantity and quality of food as its source of energy to run the chemical factory well. If we use alcohol, tobacco, and/or illicit drugs, no matter how little, the chemical composition is altered, and the negative effects take its toll, many times, in the “background” and may not be immediately obvious, until years down the line. By then, the harm to our health is done.

Inflammatory food items

Some food items cause inflammation when ingested. Other foods, the anti-inflammatory ones, cause the opposite – good, healthy, effect of fighting inflammation. Most illnesses start with inflammation (represented by the letters “itis”), as in sinusitis, gastritis, hepatitis, appendicitis, diverticulitis, arthritis, etc.

Inflammatory food items include foods with gluten, lectin, sugars (table sugar, all soft drinks, candies, cookies, bread, most desserts), most carbohydrates, foods made of wheat flour, pasta, processed foods (hot dog, hamburger, bacon, most deli items), burnt meat (from grilling at high heat), soybeans, most fast foods, trans-fats, red meats, alcoholic beverage, tobacco, and foods high in the bad omega-6 and low in good omega-3. These food items are not healthy for any of us, but especially bad for people with gout or arthritis.

Fishes to avoid

Fishes to avoid because of contaminants in them: King mackerel, marlin, swordfish, albacore tuna (high mercury content, but small light tuna fish is healthy), orange roughy, big-eye tuna, shark, swordfish, tilefish (from Gulf of Mexico). The big fishes eat the smaller fish, resulting in higher mercury and other contaminants in the big fishes.

Cancer fumes

High heat, as in grilling food items like meat, causes the oil to drop to the charcoal below, which causes dangerous (cancer-causing) fumes to rise up and “attach” to the meat, which results in advance glycation, making the meat more inflammatory and potentially carcinogenic.

Cooking oil

The recommended cooking oil is light olive oil, and the extra virgin oil for (bread) dips. Avocado oil is also healthy. The 8 harmful seed oils to avoid are corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, rice bran oil, soy oil and safflower oil.

Nightshade vegetables

For those with arthritis, nightshade vegetables (solanaceae) are to be avoided as they cause more joint inflammation and pain. These veggies include tomato, potato, eggplant, pepper and paprika. They contain glycoalkaloids (for their protection against predators, like insects, bacteria, fungi, animals), which, unfortunately causes inflammation and pain for people with arthritis.


Those with gout and/or arthritis should avoid purine, which aggravates pain quickly. Food items high in purine are venison and red meat and fried foods in general, liver, tongue, kidney, tripe, mackerel, bonito fish, sardines, anchovies,  spinach, mushroom, asparagus, cauliflower, kale, arugula, and cabbage.

Healthy nuts

The recommended healthier nuts for regular daily intake are walnut, pecan, and pistachio. Almond, macadamia, peanuts, and others, for occasional consumption. About 1.5 to 2 ounces of any or a combination of those 3 nuts are healthy daily snacks. Nuts provide fibers, nutrients, vitamins and minerals, protein, and they help lower the LDL, the bad cholesterol.

Anti-inflammatory foods

Besides what has been stated above, here are some of the healthy, anti-inflammatory foods: Fish (ad libitum), chicken without the skin, salmon, small light tuna, pompano, pacific cod, halibut, sole, red snapper, flounder, monkfish, sandfish, sardines, mahi-mahi, unagi (eel), herring, shrimp, oyster, scallops, clams, crabs, wild Alaskan pollock, and occasional tilapia. From the produce aisle: Papaya, pineapple, avocado, pomegranates, jackfruits, apples, sweet potato, celery, onions, garlic, lettuce, radicchio, artichoke and carrots.

Proteolytic enzymes

Items that reduce inflammation and pain among those with arthritis include Bromelain (pineapple), Papain (in papaya), Rutin, Apple, Turmeric, Devil’s claw, Boswellia, and Ginger extract, Mojave Yucca, etc.  Together with avoiding foods bad for arthritis, and eating anti-inflammatory food items, these ingredients above may be tried if pain is still significant. Google this or check on amazon.com.

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The main objective of this column is to educate and inspire people live a healthier lifestyle to prevent illnesses and disabilities and achieve a happier and more productive life. Any diagnosis, recommendation or treatment in our article are general medical information and not intended to be applicable or appropriate for anyone. This column is not a substitute for your physician, who knows your condition well and who is your best ally when it comes to your health.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, Health Advocate, newspaper columnist, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian foundation in the United States. He was a recipient of the Indiana Sagamore of the Wabash Award in 1995, conferred by then Indiana Governor, later Senator, and then presidential candidate, Evan Bayh. Other Sagamore past awardees include President Harry Truman, President George HW Bush, Muhammad Ali, and Astronaut Gus Grissom (Wikipedia). Related websites: FUN8888.com, Today.SPSAtoday.com, and philipSchua.com; Email: [email protected].


Dr. Philip S. Chua

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States.

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