With so many diets out there, it’s tough to sort out what’s effective, what’s safe, what’s realistic for the long term and what simply isn’t any of the above. The anti-inflammatory diet–as it was developed by integrative medicine guru Andrew Weil, M.D.–isn’t a diet meant to help you shed pounds, though weight loss is a likely side effect. It’s a comprehensive lifetime eating plan designed “to prevent age-related disease and promote overall wellness.” Experts agree that more research is needed to verify claims of disease prevention, but overall, the diet is sensible, flexible, and includes a variety of foods known to be nutritious.
What does the anti-inflammatory diet look like?
An anti-inflammatory diet consists of healthy fats, plenty of fibrous fruits and vegetables, and limited amounts of animal protein (except for oily fish). The recommended ratio of these foods is 40-50% carbs, 30% fat, and 20-30% protein with a calorie total somewhere between 2,000- 3,000 per day. More specific guidelines tell you to eat plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids (found in cold-water fish, fish-oil supplements, and walnuts). Not surprisingly, whole grains such as brown rice and bulgur wheat are preferred over refined carbs like pasta. Processed and refined foods should be limited, especially those with added sugar, while spices such as ginger, curry, garlic, cinnamon and turmeric are used liberally.
What are the benefits?
The diet’s premise is that chronic inflammation leads to all sorts of health issues that arise as we age. Reducing inflammation prevents disease and promotes overall wellness. We know that chronic inflammation plays a role in autoimmune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis as well as Crohn’s disease, IBS, and asthma. In fact, studies have demonstrated that Omega-3 fatty acids alleviate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. What is less understood is the relationship of inflammation to heart disease and cancer. The anti-inflammatory diet is widely claimed to reduce the risk of both, yet its actual impact is still to be conclusively researched.
It’s encouraging to note that the anti-inflammatory diet is a close cousin to both the Mediterranean and Asian diets. These two dietary styles have been studied for their long-term health benefits and show a positive effect on cardiac health. By enjoying a diet that is low in saturated fats, levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels have been shown to fall.
Other known antidotes to inflammation are maintaining a healthy body weight, smoking cessation, and limiting alcohol consumption. Stress, environmental toxins, and physical activity also play a role in chronic inflammation.
Who advocates it?
What about Supplements?
Weil’s version of the anti-inflammatory diet conforms to U.S. Government’s dietary guidelines but it is low on Vitamin D and calcium, so he recommends a large variety of supplements. Many advocates advise maximizing anti-inflammatory benefits of the diet by taking fish oil supplements rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Phytochemicals – naturally found in plant foods and available in supplement form — are also believed to help reduce inflammation.
Brent Bauer, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic writes: “My best advice concerning chronic inflammation is to stay tuned. This is a huge area of interest in the medical world and there are bound to be discoveries down the road that can improve well-being and the quality of health.” In other words it seems we’re on to something, but the jury is still out. Anti-inflammatory foods are without exception healthful choices recommended by nutritionists and health professionals. Include them in your diet sensibly and you may well be strengthening your body against age-related disease.
Livestrong.com, Basics of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Mayo Clinic Health Letter, Buzzed on Inflammation
U.S. News and World Report – Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet
WebMD, Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Road to Good Health?
Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid
The Zone Diet