Gwyneth Paltrow and Tom Brady preach anti-inflammatory diets. Is it a health fad? Experts weigh in.
Earlier this month, Gwyneth Paltrow took to the Goop Podcast to share that she has changed her diet to address a specific health issue: inflammation.
"At the moment, I'm Paleo; that's changed things for me recently because I used to eat a lot of lentils and garbanzo beans and rice and quinoa and things like that," she said. "All of that, for the time being, is off my menu. I’m still dealing with a little bit of long-haul COVID stuff and some inflammation, and so I’m really focused in bringing those inflammation levels down."
Paltrow isn't the first star to talk about using food to combat inflammation. NFL star Tom Brady famously sticks to a strict diet that centers around eating anti-inflammatory foods. He even avoids foods like tomatoes and eggplants — part of the nightshade family — because they may cause inflammation.
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback wrote in his book The TB12 Method, "Some younger players don’t give too much thought to nutrition. They think they can eat anything they want and their bodies will burn off the damage. The problem is that by eating inflammatory foods, they’re eating things that create inflammation on top of the weight lifting they’ve done on top of the football game they just played on Sunday. That's an inflammation response times three."
For those of us who aren't elite athletes or extreme wellness enthusiasts like Paltrow, it may be hard to comprehend exactly what inflammation means — and whether you should be thinking about it as you plan your meals.
Talk of anti-inflammatory eating is hardly new: In 1995, biochemist Barry Sears published the book The Zone, which preached the importance of reducing inflammation not only to live a healthier life but to lose weight.
"Classical inflammation is the easiest to spot since it's usually in the form of redness, heat, swelling or pain. It's the inflammation we can't feel that becomes problematic for our health. You need some inflammation to survive as it is the first step in healing from injuries and your initial protection against infectious disease," Sears told Yahoo Life." Chronic inflammation is the underlying cause of all chronic diseases. Chronic inflammation is residual inflammation below the perception of pain. It is a consequence of not being able to turn off your initial inflammatory response."
While many medical professionals understand that certain food choices can increase inflammation, not everyone agrees on the right method to combat it effectively. Sears, who created the Zone Diet, recommends a balance of macronutrients (a percentage of the correct protein, fat and carbs) to keep inflammation in check.
"Every eating decision we make can either heal our bodies through good nutrition or hinder it by promoting inflammation," he explained. "You want to follow an anti-inflammatory eating plan that focuses on eating the right combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat at every meal and snack. Unlike traditional anti-inflammatory diets that focus on specific foods, you want to focus on food choices and macronutrient balance to maximize the diet's anti-inflammatory benefits."
He adds that a diet "rich in fruits and vegetables" and low in fat are his recommendations for managing inflammation. Restricting things like nightshades, Sears says, is more "marketing hype" than anything else.
Marissa Meshulam, a registered dietitian, agrees that balance may be the key to reducing inflammation and points to the Mediterranean diet — which was recently ranked as the best overall diet by U.S. News and World Report — as one path.
"The Mediterranean diet is extremely anti-inflammatory and a very nutritious and health-promoting way for all of us to eat. The basis of this diet is fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats and lots of herbs and spices," she tells Yahoo Life. “In the U.S., we eat mostly protein and starch, like meat and potatoes. The best thing you can do from an anti-inflammatory sense is to challenge this norm and start incorporating more vegetables on our plates, with a goal of at least half of our plates coming from produce.”
Still, Meshulam stresses that there is "no perfect diet."
"We are all very different individuals with very different lifestyles and all of this emphasis on perfection when it comes to diet can create more harm than good," she says. "Everyone has different opinions because nutrition research is a relatively young science and there is a lot of conflicting information out there. Additionally, it is hard to have 'perfect' studies in this field due to all the confounding variables with human error."
While balance may help the average person with managing inflammation, Meshulam points out that those suffering from specific issues may want to refine their diet more toward anti-inflammatory foods.
"Some people who are dealing with an extremely inflammatory condition, like arthritis, may try to remove nightshades to see if they have fewer symptoms," she says. "There is not really great evidence to suggest this actually works; however, every single body is unique and you know your body best. I encourage everyone to experiment with what works best for them."
She concludes: "We must recognize there is a lot of noise out there in regards to nutrition and wellness and a lot of people are trying to overcomplicate the matter. To those people, I say take it all with a grain of salt. I would never recommend removing nightshades until you have exhausted many options, as they are nutritious foods that can have many separate health benefits."
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