Food for Thought: Endocrinologist Uses Food Art to Teach Patients

Vicki Tedeschi

February 25, 2022

Most parents teach their children not to play with their food, but endocrinologist Malini Gupta, MD, encourages it. She actually plays with food herself, transforming it into edible works of arts that later turn into medical illustrations.

A life-long foodie, Gupta's foray into food art started as a science lesson for her two children, aged 15 and 12. "At the beginning of the pandemic, my older one was learning about cell biology. I was making pancakes and one looked like a cell going through mitosis," Gupta recalls. "My one child ate prophase and metaphase and the other anaphase and telophase.

Dr Gupta used red bell peppers, watermelon radish, and okra to create "Gut Instincts."

"After that I decided that food was very useful in teaching the kids about anatomy and...different science concepts, as I've always loved cooking," says Gupta, who is in private practice in Memphis, Tennessee.

Indeed, she has found that her artwork comes in handy when consulting with patients, too, especially when she has to explain particular endocrine issues in easy-to-understand language. "It helps them better visualize the issue," she explains.

Generally, her work is inspired by an idea or color — or even a topic, such as parathyroid. "For parathyroid, I would think of the word pear and then use a pear in the art," Gupta says. Often multiple ideas come to mind when she is working on a piece. For instance, she recently used lemons to visualize hypothyroidism.

Dr Gupta combines her love of art with her endocrine practice.

She now boasts over 140 food art pieces in her collection and is in the process of self-publishing Bone Appetit, a book that showcases her art. Proceeds will benefit the American Thyroid Society, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, and the Endocrine Society.

Since regularly posting her art on Twitter, she has gained worldwide attention. Her renal omelet, for example, was published as the accompanying figure in an article titled, "Nomenclature in Nephrology: Preserving 'Renal' and 'Nephro' in the Glossary of Kidney Health and Disease," which appeared in the Journal of Nephrology. Ten pieces were also published in Ophthalmologist.

"Eyeball Pizza," which appeared in Ophthalmologist, uses bell peppers, spinach noodles, mozzarella cheese, olive, spinach, white onion, green onion, and flatbread to demonstrate eyes.

In "Love Is a Pit in the Stomach," she uses beets, carrot, kale, and an avocado pit. In "You Are So Sweet: The Pancreas," she uses black carrot, pomegranate, kiwi, and candy-coated fennel. Many of her creations can be seen on her Twitter (@MaliniGuptaMD) or Instagram accounts (@g2endo and @g2endo_art).

From Artist, to Scientist, to Medicine, and Back to Media...

An artist since childhood, Gupta took one art class while attending Washington University in St. Louis, where she had a double major in English literature and biology. She then attended medical school in Pennsylvania and Ireland. After completing her residency at the University of Tennessee, she felt as if she was missing the artistic side. So, she took a media and medicine certificate program at Harvard Medical School.

Her artwork often features medical themes: one recent exhibit consisted of work she created using medical journals. This allowed her to tie together her interest in medicine with the visual and literary arts.

Then she evolved into producing food art, which she says pairs perfectly with her chosen field of endocrinology.

Red cabbage, brussel sprouts, bok choy, watermelon radish, pine nuts, and garlic turn into the brain stem in "Cerebral Sprouting."

"Endocrinologists are giant foodies," Gupta says. "I love to cook, which is what led me into endocrinology. The food art is a way to combine my love of the metabolic breakdown of nutrition with the science of how to eat to improve your metabolism and thyroid disease."

To ensure her food artwork is healthy, she makes sure to only use fruits, vegetables, and grains. "I don't use any meat products," Gupta says.

And when she's done playing with her food, she does eat it. "None of it goes to waste," she says.

The picture of the artwork becomes the final copyrighted image. Next, she plans to create sculptures using medical plastic waste.

Follow Malini Gupta on Twitter @MaliniGuptaMD or on Instagram @g2endo, @g2endo_art.

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