Foods that harm, foods that promote health: A biochemical and nutritional perspective in health and disease prevention*

(How to promote health by understanding nutrition, lifestyle changes and stress management)

This ebook will help future/present family physicians to better understand the concepts of nutritional biochemistry as they apply to disease prevention through proper nutrition and sound lifestyle changes.

Stefan A. Hulea and Mirela Ahmadi, editors



There is a growing realization in the health care community that a healthy diet and lifestyle together with adequate rest, physical activity and stress management are of paramount importance in disease prevention and increased quality of life. The problem is that although many people are aware of that, most do not heed the good advice. The same holds true for many health care providers, i.e. physicians. For example, according to a recent survey (British Journal of Sports Medicine, Dec. 2, 2008) only 21% of the doctors in the Bedford Hospital in U.K. follow a moderate 30 min exercise regimen, 5-6 times a week.

It has become apparent that by adhering to a healthy diet and making appropiate lifestyle changes one can keep under control or prevent conditions such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, even cancer. By an increase in healthy fatty acids intake (omega-3) it is possible to improve the health status of patients with the above conditions. A healthy diet consisting in lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, beans, nuts and seeds together with a marked decrease in meat and processed meat consumption (especially after the age of 40) as well as food combining during a meal can have long lasting beneficial effects on health.

The health conscious consumer is nowadays faced with a countless number of nutrition-oriented commercial websites. Which one to trust? Hard to say. Ideally, the advice of a nutritionally-oriented medical doctor would put patients' mind to rest when it comes to explain the role of a proper diet and appropriate lifestyle changes or the need for nutritional supplementation in order to improve their health status or prevent the progression of a disease already present. Unfortunately, most medical schools in
North America and for that matter worldwide lack a coherent program to train their medical students in nutrition and disease prevention. Although the medical graduates take the Hippocrates' oath, they rarely heed it. Not long ago, Linus Pauling, the twice winner of the Nobel Prize said: "Optimum nutrition is the medicine of the future".

So why should medical students/physicians have training in nutrition and related fields? Although they smoke less, eat healthier than the rest of the population, by nature of their profession they are subject to a more stressful work environment that according to recent surveys, leads to a situation characterized by:

  • Overall physician mortality is higher than any other profession
  • Heart disease, depression and stroke are higher, per capita rates, for physicians than other working groups
  • The lifespan of physicians is shorter than comparable socio-economic groups
  • Women physicians live some 10 years less than the general population
(Factors related to physician burnout and its consequences: A review - Behav.Scie. 2018, 8 (11), 98)

As health care providers, physicians should be in the forefront of promoting healthy nutrition and lifestyle to improve health and overall quality of life. How can they give advice to their patients when they themselves did not receive proper training in nutrition? Case in point, Dr. Michael Klaper, MD is one of the physicians who admitted he did not get enough training in nutrition and related sciences during his years as an undergraduate medical student at the
University of Illinois in Chicago. In a recent video Dr. Klaper discusses the possibility that foods can either be a factor in the pathogenesis of certain diseases or can help in the treatment or more importantly in the prevention of disease. Although this book is primarily directed to medical students, residents, students in licensed practical or vocational nursing programs and associate degree programs (ADN, RN) and health care providers it may also interest life science professionals as well as those with a basic background in chemistry and biology, knowledge that will help understand why some foods are healthy and others not so.

Besides the peer-reviewed papers cited in this book we have searched the Net for meaningful information on topics of interest for both the learned and layperson. The information is discussed critically but the ultimate opinion rests with the reader since most of the science material available on the internet is not endorsed by the scientific community in the form of peer-reviewed articles published in science journals. It is worth mentioning however, that the history of science abounds in stories about how many new ideas or discoveries were not accepted right away by the contemporaries but eventually became widely accepted as self evident. Whether some of the amazing facts presented on YouTube such as the controversial "water memory" experiment will live up to its expectation remains to be seen.

The present book attempts to look at the effects of foods on health whether healthy or otherwise from a biochemical and nutritional perspective. Since it is primarily directed to medical students and health care practitioners the first few chapters kind of lay the foundation for the "main course", i.e. by refreshing the memory on the general principles of cellular metabolism, the role of water in biological systems, why essential fatty acids are so important in maintaining good health as well as an overview on low-grade systemic inflammation and its link to metabolic syndrome. The major killer diseases in the modern societies, i.e. cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes are discussed in relation to nutrition and lifestyle, which are central to their initiation and progression. More attention is paid today to the relationship between xenobiotics either from work environments or pollutants from air, water and foodstuff. Probiotics, represented by friendly bacteria, mostly the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species as well as nutritional supplements are joining forces to keep us disease free. However, supplementation should always be done under the supervision of a nutrition-oriented physician. Quite often many people take nutritional supplements based mainly on what they hear on news outlets or internet advertising without knowing much about the effects of these supplements in the body or the possible interactions with medication, which sometimes may have a negative impact on health. Not to mention the fact that adding supplements to a body paralyzed by toxic residues (enviromental pollutants, heavy metals and some of the food additives) is just a waste of money, time and energy.

A book on nutritional biochemistry would not be complete without the contribution of nutrition-oriented MDs who share their experience in treating patients using a combination of healthy diet, appropriate lifestyle changes, physical and mental activity and stress reduction. Although drug-based medicine is helpful in many cases we believe that there is a need to look at the root cause, which almost always is rooted in bad nutrition and lifestyle choices, too much stress and lack of physical activity. Quite often chemical drugs only mask the symptoms and do not address the root-cause of the disease. That is why an integrative approach has more chances to succeed than a prescription drug-based therapy. We hope that the present book will entice family doctors to try more often the integrative approach in their practice.

Last but not least, the recent Covid-19 pandemic has taught us a harsh lesson and has caught the Western world completely unprepared at both personal and societal level. Although epidemiology experts warned as early as 2009 that we can expect another serious pandemic no one paid attention, in particular health authorities. The utter disregard for proper nutrition and healthy lifestyle practices combined with a lack of vision on the part of government health agencies created the conditions for an almost total shutdown of economic activity in most parts of the world in the first half of 2020. The health and well-being of tens of millions could be in jeopardy. Unless we take this pandemic as a last wake-up call and draw the appropriate conclusions, future viral outbursts may leave us completely exposed.

More than ever before, health care professionals must focus on educating patients on the principles of preventive medicine, including healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices. A robust immune system and no co-morbidities such as obesity and T2D will make us better prepared to face the challenges of future viral attacks, which are bound to happen no matter our wishes.

* This book comes in print and electronic format (pdf). There is an additional executable file in html format available for download with the proof of payment from This file contains interactive quizzes for several chapters and additional material as an Appendix to the book. The file is passworded and the key is provided by writing to