Dinesh Arab

Cardiologist Dinesh Arab. (Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A citizen of the United States but a native of India, Dr. Dinesh Arab has seen the extremes of malnutrition, both the feast and the famine.

As a child in India, Arab could not believe there was a place where obesity could be an epidemic. In the United States, two-thirds of American adults have an unhealthy weight and half of Americans have one or more preventable chronic diseases, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The biggest problem for me growing up was constant hunger,'' the Indian American wrote in an essay about nutrition. “Even today, 195 million people in India go hungry every day.''

Malnutrition was something he treated regularly in his medical school in India.

“We would visit villages, to educate the population about balanced diets, and nutrition,'' he said. “The scenes in some of these places were akin to the concentration camps I had watched in movies. Most of the pediatric admissions were because of starvation.''

Arab experienced malnutrition himself when he was young, losing a tooth to a calcium deficiency. The tooth broke apart while Arab was biting into an apple. When he moved to the United States, he got his teeth capped.

He now treats conditions often related to overeating, such as heart disease. Arab is a cardiologist at Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center.

The abundance of food is a good problem to have, “because at least you don't know what hunger is,'' he said in an interview.

But whether it's “obesity or hunger,'' they are variations of the same, he said.

“They (both) lead to medical problems which are ultimately life threatening,'' Arab said. “Prevention is what it's all about.''

“Once you have (a chronic disease), there's no cure for half of this stuff,'' Arab said. “There's no cure for diabetes. There's no cure for hypertension. There's no cure for heart disease. We just control it.''

March was nutrition awareness month. Arab said the latest trend in nutrition is to get people to eat less processed and refined carbohydrates, such as pasta, white bread and white rice.

Arab also advises people to watch their sugar intake. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar to nine teaspoons a day for men and six teaspoons a day for women. This does not include the natural occurring sugar that is found in fruit or yogurt.

Arab, who calls himself a foodie, considers pizza and chocolate as rare treats rather than daily staples.

“I love chocolate,'' he said. “If I eat it, it's going to be good chocolate. I won't waste the calories on candy bars.''

— An AP Member Exchange

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