Why Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid May Be The Best Diet
With all the debate about what constitutes the best diet, who – or what – should you believe? The official U.S. Dietary Guidelines is now “MyPlate”, but Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Pyramid is, I think, the better bet. Here’s why…
On June 2, 2011, a colorful plate replaced the food pyramid as the official icon representing U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Dietary pundits generally have applauded “The Plate” thinking it an improvement over “The Pyramid.”
But there are some conceptual chips and cracks in this new dinnerware.
My sense is that another opportunity has been lost to give Americans the best up-to-date information about what constitutes an ideal diet.
The food recommendations of “MyPlate,” (http://www.choosemyplate.gov/) surpasses the widely reviled “MyPyramid,” the confusing, rainbow-hued version of the food pyramid that the U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled in 2005. But is it good enough, accurate enough?
Let’s take a peek at the new “Plate” and consider how it compares to renowned integrative medical doctor, Andrew Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid.
What’s In MyPlate?
The new, simple, plate-shaped graphic is split into four sections:
1. Red for fruits,
2. Green for vegetables,
3. Purple for protein, and
4. Orange for grains.
A separate blue section, shaped like a drinking glass, represents dairy foods. I like the fact that the green section is largest, providing a visual reminder of the most fundamental nutrition truth: Vegetables, the foundation of a healthy diet, should fill most of a plate at every meal.
The MyPlate graphic also lists general dietary principles, and I agree that they’re superior to the old Pyramid that it replaced. I particularly like “Drink water instead of sugary drinks.” If Americans would heed that advice alone, the obesity and diabetes epidemics would begin to abate overnight.
And speaking of sugar, in the “Fruits” section, no distinction is made between fruit juices and fruits — a half cup of fruit juice is listed as equivalent to a half cup of fruit. This ignores the fact that the glycemic load — an indication of how quickly a food is converted to blood sugar — is far higher in fruit juices than in fruits.
Metabolically, the difference between a glass of filtered, pasteurized apple juice and a glass of soda is minor. It is far better to eat the whole fruit, as the accompanying fiber dramatically slows digestion, leading to more stable blood sugar and a longer-lasting feeling of fullness that can help prevent overeating.
Similarly, in the “Grains” section, there’s no difference cited between intact grains — I term these “true whole grains” — and grains that are ground into flour. As with fruits, keeping grains intact, rather than pulverized, slows digestion and stabilizes blood sugar.
In the “Protein” section, I appreciate the fact that fish is emphasized — we are urged to eat eight ounces per week, which would help Americans improve their woefully deficient consumption of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. But it’s unfortunate to see swordfish among the recommended species. Not only is it vastly over-fished, but also as a predator species, it tends to bioaccumulate toxins such as mercury.
I recommend striped bass, wild Alaskan salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, mackerel and Alaskan halibut, as these meet the dual criteria of abundant stocks and low toxic residues.
In the “Dairy” section, I’m disappointed to see a strong emphasis on low-fat and fat-free choices. This advice is becoming outdated, as new research has revealed full-fat dairy does not pose a heart-health risk, and may offer unique benefits. In fact, given the evidence, it’s now pretty clear that the girth of Americans over the past 40 years has not been due to eating too much fat, but to eating too many simple carbohydrates, aka – sugar.
And if you have any doubt about that assertion, simply check out the data in my post, What’s Making Us Fat and Sick?
The Essence of the Anti-Inflammation Food Pyramid Diet
Eating according to the dictates of MyPlate would almost certainly improve the average American’s nutritional profile, but the Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid, as fabricated by Dr. Andrew Weil, remains the superior choice.
Given that most adults in the U.S. are consuming between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day and, based on Dr. Weil recommended that the average diet should consists of the following macronutrient proportions:
– 40 to 50 percent carbohydrates,
– 30 percent from fat (particularly omega-3 fatty acids), and
– 20 to 30 percent from protein (particularly low mercury fish and grass fed meat).
Here I must underscore that there’s nothing set in stone about these proportions. Some individuals will do better with relatively more of any particular macronutrient, the common examples being the weight lifer who will require proportionally more protein, and the marathoner who will require proportionally more carbohydrates.
The fundamentals of the anti-inflammatory diet include boosting fruit and vegetable intake, seeking out fresh food, avoiding refined sugars, eating healthy fats from extra-virgin olive oil and cold-water, oily fish such as wild-caught salmon, choosing foods high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, and decreasing processed foods.
It provides abundant vitamins, minerals and fiber; facilitates stable blood-sugar levels; and helps to control the inappropriate inflammation that underlies many of the developed world’s chronic diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, heart conditions and many cancers.
Indeed, many health professionals consider inflammation to be the major underlying cause behind all chronic, degenerative diseases.
Until the USDA incorporates all of the latest science in its official recommendations, I encourage you to rely on the Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid as the most comprehensive graphic guide to how to eat for optimal health.
The Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid
[Click image to enlarge]
Hopefully, you’re intrigued enough to go check out the interactive site, as there you can scroll over and click each food category for more information.
What you’ll discover is that Dr. Weil’s Pyramid is:
- A practical eating guide that consumers of all ages can use, with tips on how to reduce risks of age-related diseases and improve overall health through diet.
- An interactive educational graphic to help today’s families prevent disease while eating well.
- A simple tool that promotes optimum health and healthy aging by providing dietary advice that addresses inflammation.
For instance, if you’re interested in knowing about “Healthy Sweets” at the top of the Pyramid, you click on it and, viola, get this:
Similarly, get some insights about Dr. Weils suggestions for “Healthy Fats” when you click on that section of his Pyramid, which looks like this:
[Click image to enlarge]
- 1. The U.S. “Plate” is better than the old U.S. Pyramid, but better still is Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Pyramid.
- 2. Foods that reduce inflammation, or do not introduce them at all, will help you avoid many chronic and debilitating diseases, because inflammation is considered to be a precursor to many such ailments.
- 3. Sugar is a killer. Sugar is dominant in fruit juices and simple carbs, like white grains and processed foods, so avoid them. Check out Dr. Weil’s “Whole and Cracked Grains” section in his Pyramid for his suggestions for low glycemic whole grains that digest slowly, and thus do not spike your blood glucose level. Over time, insulin resistance can cause adult-onset diabetes.