Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet Overview

Scorecard

Overall
Weight Loss Short-term
Weight Loss Long-term
Easy to Follow
Nutrition
Safety
For Diabetes
For Heart Health

Scores are based on experts' reviews

Pros & Cons

  • Nutritionally sound
  • You shape your diet
  • Moderately pricey
  • Can be lots of work

Do's & Don'ts

Do: Enjoy plain dark chocolate See more Do's & Don'ts

Overview

Type:

Balanced.

Resembles these U.S. News-rated diets:

Vegetarian Diet, Mediterranean Diet, Flexitarian Diet

The aim:

Optimum mental and physical health, along with disease prevention.

The claim:

Chronic inflammation causes chronic disease. Reducing inflammation prevents age-related disease and promotes overall wellness.

The theory:

Developed by Andrew Weil, the Harvard-educated doctor and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, this diet reflects Weil’s belief that certain foods cause or combat systemic inflammation. Unlike the redness or swelling that occurs when your body fights a chronic or low-grade infection, inflammation can lead to serious conditions like heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Stress, environmental toxins, physical activity, and diet all play a role in one’s inflammatory state, Weil says. His diet aims to boost physical and mental health, provide a steady supply of energy, and reduce the risk of age-related diseases by serving up healthy fats, fiber-rich fruits and veggies, lots of water, and limited amounts of animal protein—except when it comes to oily fish.

How does the Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet work?

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet is based on a daily intake of 2,000 to 3,000 calories, depending on your gender, size, and activity level. About 40 to 50 percent of your calories will come from carbs, 30 percent from fat, and 20 to 30 percent from protein. Weil suggests striving for a mix of all three nutrients at each meal.

It’s based on the Mediterranean diet, Weil says, with a few extras like green tea and dark chocolate. The program calls for a variety of fresh foods, with a heavy emphasis on fruits and vegetables, which Weil says provide phytonutrients that fight cancer and other degenerative diseases. In addition, he recommends routine consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and avoiding fast and fried foods at all costs.

The guidelines get more specific by dietary component. For example, when it comes to carbs, you want the kind that will keep your blood sugar low and stable. Toward that end, opt for less processed foods, filling up on healthy carbs like whole grains, beans, squashes and berries. 

You’ll cut down on saturated fat, which is found in butter, cream, and fatty meats, and steer clear of margarine, vegetable shortening, and partially hydrogenated oils. Instead, your dietary fat will come from extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, and omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation. The plan stresses substantial intake of omega-3s from cold-water fish like wild salmon, sardines, and herring. If you’re not eating oily fish twice a week, Weil recommends a daily fish oil supplement that includes EPA and DHA. Protein sources include fish, yogurt, cheese and beans, especially soybeans.

You’ll aim for a variety of colorful produce, especially berries, tomatoes, orange and yellow fruits, cruciferous veggies, and dark leafy greens. Whenever possible, choose organic to avoid pesticides. (Weil helps promote the Environmental Working Group’s list of produce that’s most and least contaminated with pesticides—the so-called “dirty dozen” and “clean 15,” respectively.) Along those lines, Weil suggests drinking only purified water to avoid toxins like chlorine and chloramine. Opt for tea over coffee, particularly the white, green, and oolong varieties. He also permits plain dark chocolate (with a minimum cocoa content of 70 percent), which contains antioxidants, and red wine, in moderation, which has been linked to cardiovascular health.

Will you lose weight?

Probably. Weil’s approach is based on the Mediterranean diet, which has been linked to weight loss and a lower likelihood of being overweight or obese. While it’s well-documented that inflammation and related diseases are caused by obesity, whether the reverse is true—that reducing inflammation induces weight loss—is less substantiated. However, some studies suggest that inflammation itself increases the risk of obesity.

Does it have cardiovascular benefits?

Yes. A Mediterranean-style diet has been associated with a decreased risk for heart disease, and it’s also been shown to reduce blood pressure and “bad” LDL cholesterol.

According to the American Heart Association, inflammation is not a proven cause of cardiovascular disease, but it is common among heart-disease patients.

Research has shown a correlation between heart disease and elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a protein in the blood that signals inflammation. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this measurement is at least as predictive as cholesterol in assessing cardiac risk. The Anti-Inflammatory Diet is also high in fiber, which has been shown to lower CRP levels.

  • The Harvard Women’s Health Study found that CRP levels were a stronger indicator of cardiac risk than cholesterol. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002, measured CRP and LDL cholesterol among nearly 28,000 healthy American women over an eight-year period. The study advised testing patients for both cholesterol and CRP levels as they provide different data.
  • A small study published in a March 2007 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that fiber intake reduces CRP levels. The trial enlisted 28 women and seven men whose typical fiber consumption was about 12 grams per day. (The government recommends 28 grams of fiber in a 2,000-calorie diet.) Participants were randomly assigned to follow either a high-fiber DASH diet or take a fiber supplement. Both programs provided about 30 grams of fiber per day. On average, CRP levels dropped from 4.4 to 3.8 mg/L in the DASH group and to 3.6 mg/L in the group taking supplements. More specifically, CRP levels dropped among the 18 lean participants in both studies, but not significantly among obese participants. After three weeks, CRP levels dropped in both groups, but significantly among the lean participants.

Can it prevent or control diabetes?

The diet appears to be a viable option for both.

Prevention: Being overweight is one of the biggest risk factors for type 2 diabetes. If you need to lose weight and keep it off, and the Anti-Inflammatory Diet helps you do it, you’ll almost certainly tilt the odds in your favor. Plus, research suggests that following a Mediterranean-style diet may stave off or reverse metabolic syndrome, which can lead to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Control: This diet is primarily vegetarian, which the American Diabetes Association considers a healthful option that can help prevent and manage diabetes.  Nearly all of the group’s top 10 “superfoods” for diabetes are well-represented on Weil’s diet. These include beans, dark green, leafy vegetables, citrus fruit, sweet potatoes, berries, tomatoes, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, nuts, and fat-free milk and yogurt.  And because there are no rigid meal plans or prepackaged meals, you can ensure that what you’re eating doesn’t go against your doctor’s advice.

Are there health risks?

No indications of serious risks or side effects have surfaced. However, if you have a health condition, talk with your doctor before making major dietary changes.

How well does it conform to accepted dietary guidelines?

Fat.  Weil’s diet calls for about 30 percent of calories from fat.  That’swithin the government’s recommendation that between 20 to 35 percent of daily calories come from fat. A random daily menu, however, exceeded his limits, with 55 percent of calories coming from fat.

Protein. The sample menu provided 14 percent of calories from protein. That’s within the government’s recommended range of 10 to 35 percent.

Carbohydrates. The government recommends that 45 to 65 percent of daily calories come from carbs. A sample daily menu provided 31 percent.

Salt. The majority of Americans eat too much salt. The recommended daily maximum is 2,300 milligrams, but if you’re 51 or older, African-American, or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, the limit is 1,500 mg. A sample daily menu provided 3,317 mg.

Other key nutrients. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines call these “nutrients of concern” because many Americans get too little of one or more of them:

  • Fiber.  A fiber powerhouse, Weil’s diet calls for 40 grams of fiber a day, which surpasses the recommended daily amount of 22 to 34 grams. Veggies, fruits, beans, and whole grains—all major sources of fiber—are encouraged on this diet to help you feel full and provide health benefits. The sample daily menu met the government’s guidelines, with a total of 23 grams.
  • Potassium. A sufficient amount of this important nutrient, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, counters salt’s ability to raise blood pressure, decreases bone loss, and reduces the risk of developing kidney stones. It’s not that easy to get the recommended daily 4,700 mg. from food. (Bananas are high in potassium, yet you’d have to eat 11 a day.) The majority of Americans take in far too little. A sample daily menu of this diet provided 1555 mg.
  • Calcium. It’s essential not only to build and maintain bones but to make blood vessels and muscles function properly. The government recommends 1,000 to 1,300 mg. of calcium per day. A sample daily menu provided 833 mg.
  • Vitamin B-12. Adults should shoot for 2.4 micrograms of this nutrient, which is critical for proper cell metabolism. Fish like salmon and trout, along with eggs and yogurt, are good sources. A sample daily menu provided 9.3 mcgs.
  • Vitamin D. Adults who don’t get enough sunlight need to meet the government’s 15 microgram recommendation with food or a supplement to lower the risk of bone fractures. An average day on this plan provided no vitamin D.

Supplement recommended? Yes. A whole bevy of them.

Weil suggests taking a multivitamin that provides 200 milligrams of vitamin C, 400 units of vitamin E, 200 micrograms of selenium, 10,000 to 15,000 units of mixed carotenoids, 400 mcg. folic acid, and 2,000 units of vitamin D.  Look for one without vitamin A and, unless you’re menstruating, iron. Weil advises that women take 500 to 700 mg. of supplemental calcium. Additionally, he recommends 60 to 100 milligrams per day of coenzyme Q10 to promote heart health and other benefits, and talking with your doctor about starting a low daily dose of aspirin.

If you’re not eating oily fish twice a week, Weil stresses taking 2 to 3 grams of a daily fish oil supplement that includes EPA and DHA, which he says protects against heart attack, stroke, cancer, and other diseases. And if you’re at risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes, take 100 to 400 mg of alpha-lipoic acid. Finally, if you don’t routinely consume ginger and turmeric, consider getting the anti-inflammatory properties of these herbs through supplements as well.

How easy is it to follow?

Very. Since there are no strict meal plans, the Anti-Inflammatory Diet provides plenty of flexibility. You’ll simply have to adjust your regimen to adhere to the key principles of the diet: plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lots of fish or fish-oil supplements.

Convenience:

Weil’s website is full of detailed information and recipes. Meal prep may be time-consuming. Eating out, however, is doable, and alcohol is allowed.

Recipes. True Food, Weil’s newly published cookbook, provides recipes from his restaurant chain by the same name. A concept Weil built in coordination with award-winning restaurateur Sam Fox and executive chef Michael Stebner, the True Food restaurant is meant to show that healthful food can be delicious. The book lists ingredients for stocking your “True Food” pantry and features a full range of recipes. Nutritional breakdowns are not included in the book, but are noted in the recipes featured on Weil’s website.

Eating out. Allowed. Check out restaurant menus beforehand to find meals that most closely resemble those in the book. When in doubt, Weil advises opting for Japanese food.

Alcohol. Allowed. Several cocktails are included in True Food.

Timesavers. Stock up on the pantry items recommended in True Food so you’re prepared to create an inspired and approved dish.

Extras. Membership in Weil’s online guide to the anti-inflammatory diet provides nearly 300 recipes, videos, nutrition advice, and additional support. After a two-week trial period, the service costs $3.99 per week, with a four-week minimum.

Fullness:

Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. You shouldn’t feel hungry on the Anti-Inflammatory Diet, which allows for 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day. Plus, you should be getting lots of fiber, which helps stave off hunger.

Taste:

Among the offerings in True Food, there’s spaghetti with tuna puttanesca, Southwestern bison meatball soup, chocolate pudding, and even cocktails, like the Acai Mojito.

How much does it cost?

You don’t have to purchase anything except, of course, fresh ingredients. If you want to buy True Food, it’s $29.99. However, there are plenty of free recipes available on Weil’s website.

Does the diet allow for restrictions and preferences?

Most people can customize the Anti-Inflammatory Diet to fit their needs—pick a preference for more information.

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet is primarily vegetarian, aside from an emphasis on fish for obtaining essential omega-3 fatty acids.

People who can’t tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, can easily follow this diet, which features other kinds of whole grains, such as rice and quinoa.

Doable. It’s up to you to stay under your limit, but the diet’s emphasis on fruits and veggies should make it easier.

Yes, you can make sure your diet is kosher.

Yes, but it’s up to you to ensure your food conforms.

What is the role of exercise?

Weil takes a holistic approach to wellness, and exercise is part of his overall regimen. Although it’s not explicitly outlined in this diet, Weil encourages it for physical and mental health. Walking is one of the best exercises, because it boosts bone, organ, and immune health, he says, but he also plugs the benefits of yoga, belly dancing, and tai chi. For his part, Weil swims laps in his home pool.


Last updated by Rachel Pomerance Berl | January 03, 2014

Best Diets Rankings

Best Diets Overall
Diets ranked by across-the-board effectiveness.

Best Weight-Loss Diets
Diets ranked by effectiveness for both quick and lasting weight loss.

Best Diabetes Diets
Diets that can prevent diabetes or help diabetics.

Best Heart-Healthy Diets
Diets that lower cholesterol, blood pressure or triglycerides.

Best Diets for Healthy Eating
Diets ranked by how safe and nutritionally complete they are.

Best Commercial Diet Plans
Brand-name diets ranked by overall effectiveness.

Easiest Diets to Follow
Diets ranked on whether they're a snap to stick to.

Best Plant-Based Diets
Plant-based diets ranked by overall effectiveness.

Connect with U.S. News Health