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Introduction

Sometimes diets can be created on a flawed premise, yet still be effective in spite of that fact. For example, if somebody told you not to jump off a bridge because doing so would turn you into a goat that would be good advice, even if the premise was flawed. Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet could well be an effective and healthy diet, but does it cure the actual issue that it claims to?

In this article we are going to take an in-depth look at Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet, assessing whether it works as a diet, whether it actually reduces inflammation, what we like about it, what we don’t like about it, and whether you should consider attempting it.

Who Is Dr. Weil?

The dieting world is filled, absolutely FILLED with people claiming to be doctors when they aren’t or using a doctorate in one field to give advice in another (Dr. Phil we’re looking at you). But Andrew Weil is an actual qualified physician. He studied ethnobotany (medical practices of local people using plants) at Harvard University and received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1968.

Whilst there he performed numerous studies on marijuana which led to opposition from the University. At the time his work was very controversial, but looking back, he was clearly on the right side of history in that respect. Medical marijuana is now legal, and science is continuing to find benefits from its use. Imagine how much further we would have been ahead if more research had been allowed in the 50s and 60s.

Weil joined the National Institute of Mental Health during the early 70s where he wanted to continue researching the effects of narcotics on health. He then travelled the world looking at the local medical practices of indigenous people.

The more he learned, the less faith he appeared to have in conventional, evidence-based medicine. He has continued to promote alternative medicinal practices, while disparaging modern medicine. While there are many potential benefits to some alternative medicine, modern medicine is clearly put through more vigorous tests, and is therefore more trustworthy.

Weil clearly has a cognitive bias when it comes to alternative medicine and modern medicine. If you spend your entire life looking at traditional, holistic, and alternative medical techniques you are going to end up favoring them over modern medicine.

He would of course argue that modern medicine suffers from the same cognitive bias, however thanks to peer-reviewed studies, it’s not quite the same thing.

In 2001 Dr. Weil published the book “Eating Well for Optimal Health”, it was here that the anti-inflammatory diet was first brought to the public’s attention. The idea behind this diet is to avoid foods that can cause inflammation, while eating foods that actively lower inflammation. Because inflammation is behind many diseases, this diet should theoretically help reduce the risk of suffering from them.

Weil has since written several other books, including “Spontaneous healing: How to discover and enhance your body’s natural ability to maintain and heal itself”, and “Cannabis Pharmacy: The practical guide to medical marijuana”.

He is now seen by the media as the go-to expert when it comes to inflammation, though whether this is justified or not is a matter of debate.

How Does The Anti-Inflammatory Diet Work?

The anti-inflammatory diet is not designed for weight loss, though for some people with bad diets there is a possibility of weight loss. Followers of the diet are expected to eat between 2,000 and 3,000 calories depending on the individual [1]. Unless you have a very active life (or were previously eating much more than that) you may even gain weight.

It is important to remember that this diet is based entirely around improving your health rather than your waistline. This is both a strength and a weakness of the diet. It is refreshing to see a diet that focuses on actual health rather than getting badass testimonial photos, but the reason most people go on diets is to look leaner.

There are no gimmicks, no periods of fasting, no cleanses. The anti-inflammatory diet is basically the Mediterranean Diet with a few minor tweaks.

This is not by any means a bad idea. The Mediterranean diet is seen by many to be the healthiest diet on earth. But no diet is perfect, so why not take some of the good parts of other diets and add them in?

Weil adds dark chocolate and green tea, he has also taken the time to create amazing recipes that showcase the best of his foods. Something that almost no other diet has bothered with.

Where he moves away from the Mediterranean diet is that he has removed a lot of meat. Now, the Mediterranean diet does prioritize fish and seafood over red meat, but Weil has taken it a step further. Only 1-2 servings of meat are allowed per week, and this meat should either be poultry or skinless meat.

While cutting down red meat may be a good idea for many people, there are still benefits to eating red meat, and lean protein from poultry, game etc are excellent sources of protein. You are also only allowed 1 egg once or twice per week. Eggs are amazing for diets as they are full of healthy fats, protein, and they are also extremely satiating.

Dr. Weil has created an anti-inflammatory food pyramid [1]. It’s quite a cool concept. At the bottom of the pyramid is fruit and vegetables. These make up the largest part of the pyramid and this shows that they should make up the largest part of your diet.

Next comes whole and cracked grains/pasta/beans and legumes. Then there are healthy fats (extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados), fish and shellfish, whole soy foods, cooked Asian mushrooms (you can eat as many of these as you want).

As you go further up the pyramid the amount of servings of each food gets smaller and smaller. The next group is “Other sources of protein”. Eggs, lean meat, cheeses, yoghurt. Then there is healthy herbs and spices, followed by supplements (multivitamins), red wine – no more than 1-2 per day. Finally, there are healthy sweets such as high cocoa dark chocolate.

Other than red meat, there are quite a few other foods that are to be avoided at all costs. You are supposed to avoid fast food, fried food, and overly processed foods completely.

Interestingly, alcohol is not banned. In fact, the diet book actually contains some cool recipes for cocktails! This is a refreshing attitude to have as 1) alcohol such as red wine can actually have some antioxidant benefits, and 2) people enjoy drinking, telling them that they basically have to become teetotal is going to affect motivation.

The Pros & Cons Of Dr Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Below is a list of what we like and dislike about this diet plan:

The Pros

There is quite a lot to like about Dr Weil’s anti-inflammation diet. It is based on a well-researched, effective diet (Mediterranean diet), prioritizes fruit and vegetables and oily fish – which all have health benefits.

The recipes are excellent, Weil teamed up with a top chef to create meals that can actually be enjoyed. This is vastly different to most diet books, particularly fad-diets where like the Master Cleanse where you are stuck with a horrible tasting drink and some broth!

The addition of dark chocolate, red wine, and cocktails is also a masterstroke. Structured desserts and structured drinking is 1000x better than a ban on “bad” food. Because eventually even the most motivated of people is going to be tempted. If you aren’t allowed ANY alcohol, then you’re more likely to turn 1 illicit drink into 20.

The idea that this diet is aimed at reducing inflammation and therefore reducing your risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and illness is great. There are too many bad diets out there that will actually put people’s health at risk just so that they lose a large amount of weight in a short period of time.

The anti-inflammatory diet is all about the long-term, rather than short-term benefits. You are looking to make lasting changes to your diet, there is no peaking and then rebounding. No yo-yo dieting.

The Cons

While we like the fact that the anti-inflammatory diet is concerned about improving your health rather than concentrating on weight-loss, that doesn’t mean it could not be improved with a weight-loss process.

Many people in the West (the target market for this diet) are overweight or obese. Being overweight is the single biggest cause of inflammation. So why not have a 12-week weight-loss period, followed by the normal diet?

Another issue is the lack of exercise involved here. Weil mentions that you should lead an active life while on his diet, but some more specific advice would be a good idea. If you’re consuming close to 3,000 calories per day, you will need more than an “active” lifestyle. You’d need organized resistance training and a daily step count target wouldn’t go amiss.

The amount of time and money that is required to follow this diet properly is also problematic. When you ban all processed and fast food you then place a lot of pressure on people to cook everything from scratch.

Now, we’ve mentioned in the past that just because a diet involves hard work, it doesn’t make it a bad diet. Cooking food from scratch is not as difficult as people seem to imagine. However, there are some people (particularly those with young families) who struggle to find the time to cook.

There aren’t many options for speeding things up here. This is not a weakness in the diet really, all diets take time and can be expensive – but long-term they work out saving you money and improving your life.

Conclusion

Studies have shown that anti-inflammatory diets may help to reduce CVD and cancer [3]. But so do all diets. A well-structured weight loss diet will be more effective at cutting inflammation than the anti-inflammatory diet.

This diet is still a great diet though, and we would not want to dissuade anyone from trying it. You will see many health benefits if you follow it, and if you enjoy doing so then this diet can stick with you for life.

Matthew Smith, BSc
Matthew Smith, BSc
Staff Writer & Fact Checker at DietProbe
Matthew Smith is a qualified sports scientist and registered exercise professional. He's a fitness and nutrition enthusiast and has a background in coaching and personal training.
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Fact Checked


This article has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified nutritionist, and only uses information from credible academic sources.