As a topic, inflammation is everywhere lately, but it's also an elusive foe. You can't see inflammation, and while there are signs to know, there's no single test that can tell you if it's an issue for you.
Here's what we do know, though: Certain foods can either encourage or reduce inflammation in the body, and these foods are part of an overall healthy way of eating. That's where Dr. Weil's anti-inflammatory diet comes in.
What Is Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
The anti-inflammatory diet created by Andrew Weil, MD, a celebrity doctor and integrative medicine specialist, is no crash diet for weight loss. Instead, it's designed to be a lifelong way of eating focused on whole, nutrient-dense foods that help minimize or reduce inflammation in the body.
Inflammation is part of your body's natural response to infection or injury, according to the Mayo Clinic. But while an acute bout of inflammation is helpful to fight off infection, the body can also produce a low-grade, consistent inflammation that can undermine your health. This chronic inflammation — which might be the result of stress, obesity or a combination of other factors, according to a June 2019 article in StatPearls — can cause damage to healthy tissues because the body doesn't have a foreign invader to direct its efforts toward.
At its core, this anti-inflammatory diet plan is an adaptation of the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to help right inflammation as well as reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
How Does It Work?
So, what's the connection between inflammation and your diet?
Although the experts are still unraveling the hows and whys, research has shown that what you eat can affect the levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) — a marker for inflammation — in your blood, according to the Mayo Clinic. Some foods, like processed sugars and refined carbohydrates, seem to encourage the body to release more of these inflammatory messengers, while other foods have the opposite effect.
Foods to Eat
Dr. Weil's website offers the following guidelines for the anti-inflammatory diet:
When it comes to calories, Dr. Weil suggests most adults consume between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day. He notes that men and more active people may need more calories, while women and those who are less active may need less.
The diet was not designed for weight loss, so these calorie amounts are meant to help followers maintain their weight.
In terms of macronutrient breakdown, the diet suggests the following:
- Carbohydrates: 40-50% percent of calories
- Fat: 30% of calories
- Protein: 20-30% of calories
This is in line with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Balancing macronutrients at each meal is recommended.
Dr. Weil recommends getting 30 percent of your daily calories from fat. This breaks down to about 600 calories if you're eating 2,000 calories per day.
When following the anti-inflammatory diet, though, the type of fat you're eating is as important as the amount. The diet focuses mainly on consuming monounsaturated fats like extra-virgin olive oil while reducing saturated fat like butter and fatty meats.
You should include:
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Nuts and nut butters
- Hemp seeds
- Fatty fish like salmon
- A daily fish oil supplement
Dr. Weil recommends reducing animal-based protein sources — especially meat — and increasing the following:
- High-quality cheese and yogurt
- Nuts and seeds
- Soy-based proteins like tofu
It's recommended to get 80 to 120 grams of protein when eating 2,000 calories per day.
Carbohydrates are not restricted on the anti-inflammatory diet, but Dr. Weil recommends reaching for unrefined carbs such as:
- Whole grains like oats, brown rice and bulgur
Carbohydrates are crucial for sustaining energy on the anti-inflammatory diet as well as providing an excellent source of fiber. You should aim to eat around 40 grams of fiber a day on this plan. Increasing beans, berries and whole grains will help you hit this number every day.
Dr. Weil recommends eating whole-grain pasta in moderation because it is more refined than other whole grains such as brown rice.
Choose Nutrient-Dense Food
Because reducing inflammation is the main goal of this diet, eating a variety of plant-based foods is important. Fruits, veggies and whole grains provide phytonutrients that help our body fight inflammation, according to a September 2014 study in the Journal of Complementary & Integrative Medicine.
Dr. Weil suggests the following to maximize the amount of phytonutrients in your diet:
- Eat the rainbow. Choose fruits and veggies from all parts of the color spectrum. Each color is the result of different phytonutrients in the food. And be sure to eat cruciferous vegetables regularly.
- Drink tea instead of coffee, and opt for white, oolong or green tea.
- Enjoy chocolate in moderation. Just make sure it's dark chocolate that's at least 70 percent cocoa.
- Choose red wine over other types of alcohol, and drink in moderation (that's up to one drink per day for women and two per day for men).
- Opt for organic when possible to avoid pesticide residue.
It's recommend to drink pure water or drinks that are made of mostly water. Good options include:
- Unsweetened tea
- Diluted fruit juice
- Sparkling water with lemon
Dr. Weil suggests getting an at-home water purifier if your tap water contains chlorine or other potential contaminants.
Foods to Avoid
The diet recommends limiting or avoiding foods that may cause or worsen inflammation.
- Palm kernel oil
- Vegetable shortening
- Partially hydrogenated oil (found in many processed foods)
You don't have to cut out meat and animal-based products completely, but you should prioritize plant-based proteins and limit the following:
- Red and processed meat
- Skin-on chicken
- High-fat cheese (think: full-fat and whole-milk varieties)
Limit refined carbs (that is, processed products stripped of fiber and sometimes high in added sugar and trans fats) such as:
- White bread and bagels
- Breakfast cereals
- White rice
- Desserts and baked goods
- Granola bars
- Flavored yogurt
- Store-bought smoothies
- Sports drinks
Water is the best option on a low-inflammation diet, but you can work in some teas and juices. You should avoid drinks with added sugar, including:
- Sports drinks
- Sweetened teas
- Sweetened coffee drinks
Benefits of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
1. May Lower the Risk of Certain Diseases
Inflammation plays a role in almost every major disease, according to the Cleveland Clinic, including:
- Alzheimer's disease
- Heart disease
But many studies have shown that certain foods can have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, per Harvard Health Publishing, and lowering inflammation helps reduce your risk for these serious health issues.
2. Might Help Manage Certain Conditions
An anti-inflammatory diet plan isn't a cure for any disease, but it can help manage the symptoms of certain inflammatory conditions, such as:
3. Could Lead to Weight Loss
An anti-inflammatory meal plan isn't designed specifically to help you lose weight, but it might be a bonus if you're someone who has overweight.
As we mentioned, the diet is very similar to the Mediterranean diet, which has been linked to weight loss. Indeed, in a March 2019 Nutrients review, researchers linked a Mediterranean way of eating with a lower body mass index and waist circumference (although they noted that weight loss occurred at a relatively slow pace).
Potential Drawbacks to Consider
1. May Be Challenging for Some People
This kind of anti-inflammatory diet is generally a healthy way of eating for almost everyone, but if it's very different from how you've eaten in the past, it may be hard to follow the diet and stick with it. This is especially true if you are used to eating foods specific to your culture — such as white rice or noodles — that are on this diet's "do not eat" list.
2. Food Prep Might Be Time-Consuming
Because the diet consists of mainly whole foods that are minimally processed, these are ideally prepared at home and can take considerable time in the kitchen if you're not accustomed to cooking meals regularly.
When you're first starting out, it's recommended to start slowly, to ensure you'll stick with it in the long term. Following the anti-inflammatory diet guidelines for three to five meals per week initially is ideal. Gradually increase this amount as you get used to using minimally processed foods as your mainstay.
The anti-inflammatory diet doesn't limit calories or food groups, which makes it safe for most people. With that being said, it's always important to check with your doctor before making any dietary changes, to make sure your individual nutritional needs are being met.
Sample Anti-Inflammatory Meal Plan
If you're ready to try Dr. Weil's anti-inflammatory diet, the menu below will get you started on the right foot:
- Baked Salmon
- Lentil Pasta With Creamy Red Pepper Sauce and Spinach
- Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore with bulgur and sautéed spinach