LIANE HANSEN, host:

It's been said that laughter is the best medicine. But John La Puma suggests that food can be good medicine too.

Dr. JOHN LA PUMA (Internist; Chef; Author): With a whopping 460mg of potassium, a banana is really good for you.

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Dr. LA PUMA: Provided you're careful with the peels. So, how do you get more bananas in your diet? You eat them au natural, or you can try my great recipe for coconut banana tapioca pudding.

HANSEN: La Puma is known as ChefMD and has written the "Big Book of Culinary Medicine." In it, there are recipes that he says can help you prevent cancer, cure constipation, and lose weight. He in fact has lost 35 pounds. He also promises that the dishes are delicious. John La Puma, aka ChefMD, joins us from Clear Channel Studios in Santa Barbara, California. Welcome to the program.

Dr. LA PUMA: Thanks, Liane. It's great to be with you.

HANSEN: Give us a brief definition of culinary medicine.

Dr. LA PUMA: I say that culinary medicine blends the art of cooking with the science of medicine to give you what I think is a restaurant-quality food that, as you pointed out, helps to prevent disease and in some cases actually helps to treat it.

HANSEN: Were you a doctor that went to cooking school or a chef that went to doctor school?

Dr. LA PUMA: I still am a doctor who went to cooking school.

HANSEN: Why did - how did that happen?

Dr. LA PUMA: I was 35 pounds overweight. I was in a very high-stress position. And I loved the position, but I gained a lot of weight. And I found I wasn't able to keep it off myself, and I didn't know what to tell my patients about what to eat when they asked. So I decided to go to cooking school to learn how to make a healthy diet taste good. And I tried to give people the same message, tell them, look, you have more control than you thought. Seventy percent of all heart disease is preventable. Eighty percent of all cancer is preventable. Here is a food leverage roadmap to preventing disease with what you eat and losing pounds.

HANSEN: Were there foods that actually surprised you when you found out that they had health benefits?

Dr. LA PUMA: Nuts I think a lot of people are afraid of. Nuts still have that stigma about being fattening. And of course, if you eat too many of them, they're definitely fattening. But, in fact, almost every tree nut you can think of has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol, or what I call lousy cholesterol. And toasted almonds taste a lot better than cholesterol medication.

HANSEN: Now I've heard that green tea is supposed to help slow the aging process. Is this true?

Dr. LA PUMA: That depends who you ask. Green tea has a lot of benefits including reducing risk for heart disease and for breast cancer, interestingly. And as importantly, it can taste good.

HANSEN: But do you think it's really possible to eat foods that make us look younger?

Dr. LA PUMA: Well, I think, looking younger and feeling younger and actually becoming measurably healthier all work together. So in ChefMD, what we're trying to do is give people an easy new approach to what to eat, and simple small things. For example, if you store a watermelon properly on the kitchen counter and not in the refrigerator, it increases in beta-carotene and lycopene. And you need the beta-carotene and lycopene to prevent rusting in your arteries. And rusting in your arteries is what gives you impotence, gives you stroke, gives you a heart attack, gives you premature wrinkling for that matter.

HANSEN: So, it's easy to follow your plan even if I'm on a busy schedule. I don't really have the time to go out and buy fresh ingredients all the time. I - you know, get home from work, I'm real tired, and I just want something quick and easy.

Dr. LA PUMA: Everybody does. Heck, I have that kind of schedule too. I think people make eating right too hard. All the recipes in the book take 30 minutes or less. They have 10 ingredients or less. And they're made with simple cooking methods. A little bit of cooking carries a big benefit. Actually cooking carrots allows you to absorb more fiber from the carrot. Actually one of my favorite tips, Liane, is that if you add rosemary to a marinade, you reduce the cancer-causing chemicals that form in high heat grilling by 77 percent plus you get the deep Mediterranean piney tang of rosemary.

HANSEN: Forgive my skepticism but, you know, things seem to change every day. I mean, one day, oat bran is good for you, the next day it doesn't claim to do what it's supposed to do. Dark chocolate, red wine, I mean, every day there's something new. How are we to believe that these foods actually have medicinal properties?

Dr. LA PUMA: I think the way to understand it is that it is an evolving science, that nutrition is not perfect, and it does seem to change everyday. So the best things to do are to look at eating patterns. Eating patterns are like the Mediterranean diet, a low fat diet, a vegetarian diet. Foods are not pharmaceuticals. They don't have the pinpointed action that drugs do. But eaten together, and that's why I have recipes, frankly, I think the proof is in the individual pudding, as it were. So, follow a plan, try what I suggest for gout or arthritis, it's the best scientific data available, and it's going to taste way better than anything you find in a medical textbook, and give it a go.

HANSEN: Dr. John La Puma, also known as ChefMD, is the author or the "Big Book of Culinary Medicine." He joined us from the Clear Channel Studios in Santa Barbara, California. Thanks so much.

Dr. LA PUMA: My pleasure, Liane.

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