What if you could curb inflammation in your body, and lose weight as a bonus? That's the idea behind Eating Well for Optimum Health by Andrew Weil, MD.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet emphasizes choosing and preparing foods that help keep you healthy. It's not a weight-loss plan, although some people do lose weight on it. On this diet, Weil says, you'll get steady energy and meet your nutritional needs in a way that you can live with for years to come.
As for whether it will keep you healthy, what you eat definitely matters. But so do other things, including your genes, being active, and not smoking.
What You Can Eat and What You Can't
Carbs make up 40% to 50% of your daily calories on this plan. They should come from whole grains (such as brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, and whole wheat bread), beans, fruits, and vegetables (such as winter squash and sweet potatoes).
Good-for-you fats take up another 30% of your daily calories. Stock your fridge and pantry with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like avocados; nuts and nut butters; fortified eggs; flaxseeds; hemp seeds; and fish such as salmon, sardines, black cod, and herring. Oils made from safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, and mixed vegetables are off-limits. Extra-virgin olive oil is the preferred oil.
Protein accounts for 20% to 30% of your daily calories. Animal protein is limited, except for fish, some cheeses, and yogurt. Load up on protein-rich vegetables such as beans, soybeans, and soy products instead.
Processed foods like chips and cookies, products made with high-fructose corn syrup, and any food made with partially hydrogenated oil are off the list.
Tea is preferred over coffee. Wine lovers, fear not: A glass or two a day of red wine is OK. You can also have plain dark chocolate in moderation, as long as its cocoa content is at least 70% (it should say so on the label).
Level of Effort: Easy to Medium
As long as you’re not a big fan of red meat, this eating plan offers a fair amount of flexibility and variety.
Limitations: The Anti-Inflammatory Diet restricts animal protein. Lean meat, including skinless chicken, and dairy products are limited to twice a week. But you can have fish and seafood almost every day.
Cooking and shopping: You may need to make more trips to the grocery store to buy fresh produce and seafood. Cleaning and preparing fresh produce can take time. So can planning and preparing meals, until you get used to cooking this way.
Packaged foods or meals: None. Weil does recommend taking daily supplements including:
- vitamins C and E
- mixed carotenoids
- a multivitamin containing vitamin D and folic acid
- calcium (for women only)
- fish oil (only if you aren’t eating oily fish twice a week)
- coenzyme Q10
- ginger supplement
- turmeric supplement
In-person meetings: None.
Exercise: Weil doesn’t recommend a specific workout, but he does encourage being active.
Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?
Vegetarians and vegans: This diet absolutely works for you. It's already almost meat-free, and you can completely eliminate animal products.
Gluten-free: The diet recommends cutting back on wheat products, but it doesn't ban gluten. Still, you can easily include gluten-free products into this eating plan.
What Else You Should Know
Costs: None except for your groceries and any supplements you buy.
Support: You can get a free customized health plan to follow for 8 weeks after you take an online assessment. Weil’s website includes videos, recipes, and a section where you can ask Weil a question.
What Dr. Melinda Ratini Says:
Does It Work?
Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet is not a weight loss diet, but you will likely shed extra pounds if you follow this healthy eating plan.
As far as decreasing inflammation, some research has shown that people who follow a diet similar to Weil’s were able to reduce inflammation, increase their energy, and improve their physical functioning.
Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish and fish oil, have been shown to reduce pain and tenderness in inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammation is also suspected by many experts to be at the core of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. But how diet factors into their prevention and treatment is still unknown.
Being overweight is also tied to inflammation, so it makes sense that losing excess weight may help decrease inflammation in the body -- though more studies are needed to confirm that link.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet also recommends certain vitamins and supplements, but there isn’t much science behind that.
Is It Good for Certain Conditions?
Avoiding processed foods and cooking your own meals will help you to eat less salt, which can help your blood pressure. But you will have to keep a close eye on sodium and make some adjustments in the recipes if you are on a salt-restricted diet. Advice to avoid red meat and animal fats fit well into any low-cholesterol diet.
If you have diabetes, you should talk with your dietitian or doctor about how many carbs you need each day to be sure that this diet plan is right for you.
The Final Word
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet offers a wide range of delicious foods. As long as you are willing to give up your hamburgers and cut way back on your dairy and poultry, you will have tons of great foods to choose from. But be ready to learn how to prepare fish and seafood. Unless, of course, you are vegetarian or vegan -- and then your options are equally plentiful.
Whatever your dietary preference, you will need to be highly motivated to shop for and prepare your own foods. Having an adventurous palate can help you cope with the dietary changes you will likely need to make. If you are not comfortable around the cutting board or saute pan, then this may not be the plan for you.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet encourages but does not offer a lot of guidance for staying physically active. Exercise is proven to help in the fight against heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some types of cancer.
Experts recommend at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity such as walking. And you should do some strength training at least twice a week. Talk to your doctor first if you have medical problems or have been inactive.