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Overview of Anti-Inflammatory Diets

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[T]he anti-inflammatory diets as a whole differ significantly from the current recommended “choose my plate” recommendations currently supported by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The following is the second half of a two-part article on nutrition that addresses chronic inflammation. Click here to read the first half of the article.

Most anti-inflammatory diets agree on many of the foods to include, however, the “not allowed” foods may differ, sometimes dramatically.

For example, the Autoimmune Protocol nixes nightshade vegetables, nuts, seeds and eggs. The Paleo diet is fine with grass-fed meats, eggs and seeds but rules out grains, as well as dairy and legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, beans and peanuts. The Zone allows some low-fat dairy and an occasional egg white, but discourages all refined grains. And Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet echoes the nod given to leafy greens and salmon, but encourages whole grains and adds the importance of anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric and ginger.

Dr. Joseph Mercola warns that refined sugars, processed fructose, trans fats and grains encourage inflammation, while fermented vegetables, traditionally cultured foods, leafy greens, animal-based Omega3-fat and nutrient rick green teas are anti-inflammatory, as are garlic, blueberries, shiitake mushrooms, cloves, ginger, rosemary, turmeric, cinnamon, oregano, sage, and thyme.1

Following is a bare-bones summary of the basics of a few of the more popular anti-inflammatory diets, along with current medical opinions about them. Anti-inflammatory diets as a whole differ significantly from the current recommended “choose my plate” recommendations of the United States Department of Agriculture.2

The Anti-inflammatory Diet3 4
Based on both the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and the Mediterranean diets, Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet suggestions offer a few revisions and additions, including the addition of green tea, omega-3 fatty acids and natural anti-inflammatory spices, such as turmeric and ginger.

Dr. Weil emphasizes that his approach to eating is aimed at supporting a healthy life and reducing chronic inflammation in the body, which he agrees is at the base of many chronic diseases today. He recommends that approximately 40 to 50 percent of daily calories should come from carbohydrates, 30 per cent from fat, and 20 to 30 per cent from protein.

Atkins5 6

If the Mediterranean Diet could be considered the mother of the anti-inflammatory diet movement, then Atkins may be the father of it. Quoting from the Atkins website, “The ‘Atkins Diet’ started as a fad, but quickly became a counter-conventional movement that reset people’s understanding of nutrition and weight loss, and its link to health.”

Developed in the 1960s by cardiologist Robert Atkins, MD, the new low-carb approach to eating was embraced by a population sick of fat-shunning, calorie-counting diets that left them hungry and did nothing to curb the growing epidemic of obesity in the U.S. Although his early followers may have delighted in the diet’s permission to fill up on bacon, butter and heavy cream, the diet has evolved and been modified since then.

The Atkins diet is divided into four phases, beginning with near-total abstinence from carbohydrates and gradually incorporating healthy and nutrient-rich carbs from vegetables, nuts, seeds and, eventually, starchy vegetables, fruits and grains as tolerated.

Research does support health benefits for the Atkins and other so-called ketogenic diets, which restrict carbohydrates in an effort to encourage the body to shift from using glucose as the main fuel source of energy and instead burn fat stores and produce ketones for energy.7

Some ketogenic diets have been used to successfully reduce the numbers of seizures suffered by children who have seizure disorders.

In addition, there is evidence that high-fat, low-carb eating can modify symptoms of other neuro-immune disorders, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, sleep disorders, and autism, as well as some types of cancer and diabetes. In his new book Fat for Fuel, Dr. Mercola highlights the importance of diet in helping the body to use fat instead of glucose for fuel in the prevention and healing from cancer and other diseases marked by inflammation in the body.8

Most of the scientific evidence for ketogenic diet benefits is focused on short-term use of the diet, and research is ongoing to evaluate and produce more scientific evidence for the health benefits of long-term use of different types of modified ketogenic diets.

Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet9 10

Similar to the Paleo diet but more restrictive, the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet is aimed specifically at healing leaky gut in order to treat inflammatory bowel syndrome and other autoimmune or immune-mediated diseases. Leaky gut occurs when the gastrointestinal wall becomes increasingly permeable and absorbs toxins, bacteria, fungi, and parasites, which leads to gastrointestinal dysfunction and can lead to allergy and autoimmunity.11

Adhering to Hippocrates’ 200-year-old admonishment that “all disease begins in the gut,” the AIP diet eliminates all grains, legumes, dairy, nuts, seeds, eggs, nightshade vegetables, almost all oils, processed foods, alcohol, non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs, sugars, starches, most fruit, yeasts, gums, seed herbs and tapioca. Whew!

What’s left are primarily animal proteins, vegetables other than the nightshades, and limited fruit. Admitting it can be a difficult diet for many to follow long term, Dr. Sara Gottfried says, “The AIP is very difficult for many people to follow, but sometimes it’s temporarily necessary to fully heal a very leaky gut.”

GAPS12 13

The GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Nutritional Program was created by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride as a refinement of Dr. Sidney Valentine Haas’s Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), originally designed to naturally treat chronic inflammatory conditions in the digestive tract as a result of a damaged gut lining.” The GAPS diet is individually tailored for each patient and focuses on “healing and sealing” the gut lining, and optimizing the gastrointestinal ecosystem to better support the immune system and bran function. Although few studies have shown a consistent benefit from diets like GAPS in healing disorders with an inflammatory component, the principals have shown promise in some children.

The mainstays of the GAPS diet are introduced in a specific order in the six-stage initiation stage and continued in the full GAPS protocol.  The detailed list of allowed foods—and the even more exhaustive list of prohibited foods—focuses heavily on bone broth, animal fats and fermented foods, with an emphasis on using the healthiest choices available and avoiding additives. The GAPS diet is extremely restrictive, especially at first, but personal testimonials abound from parents suggesting it may be beneficial for some children with autism spectrum disorder.

Mediterranean14 15

Probably the mother of all the well-publicized anti-inflammatory diets, the Mediterranean diet, is based on the common eating habits of people living in Spain, Italy, France, Greece and the Middle East. The diet was introduced to the U.S. in the early 1990s and featured a reprisal of the standardized food pyramid.

The foundation of the Mediterranean pyramid includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds and nuts, beans and legumes and olive oil to replace animal fats. An important difference is that meat is grouped at the top with sweets in the “rarely or never” category, instead of being grouped with fish and poultry.

Long-standing research supports the principals of eating the Mediterranean way, showing a clear benefit in terms of reducing risk for cardiovascular disease as well as cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. Although it may not be as interesting as some of the newer diets, proponents point out that it represents a traditional healthy way of eating for life, rather than a short term diet to be kept until a specific goal has been reached.

Paleo16 17 18

Designed on the concept that modern humans could be healthier if we ate like our “pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors” did, the Paleo diet focuses on “whole, unprocessed foods that resemble what they look like in nature.” The diet is based on seasonal and regional availability, with an emphasis on pasture-raised and grass-fed animal proteins and fats.

Permitted foods include meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, animal fats and oils. Foods to avoid include all processed foods, sugar, soft drinks, grains, most dairy products, legumes, artificial sweeteners, vegetable oils, margarine and trans fats.

Raw Food19 20

Taking the idea of eating like our ancestors did to its extreme, the Raw Food Movement holds that, “our biological and physiological requirements were in place long before the practice of cooking food began [and so]…the closer we can get to those ideals in our modern lives, the higher the level of health we will enjoy.”

Emphasizing the cumulative damage caused by the chemical changes that occur when food is cooked, “raw foodists” subsist on a diet that looks much like that of a wild primate: The emphasis is on consumption of fruit (75 to 80 percent of the daily intake), and all types of fruit are encouraged, as well as green, leafy vegetables (10 to 20 per cent) and small amounts of nuts and seeds (5 percent). Unlike other diets that eschew the nightshade vegetables, tomatoes and peppers are considered “optimal foods” in a raw food diet.

Other followers of a raw food diet add unpasteurized dairy foods, raw eggs, meat, and fish, as long as the temperature of the foods never exceeds 118 degrees. Followers claim a raw food diet can help cure inflammatory conditions such as headaches, allergies, arthritis and diabetes and can improve memory and support the immune system. Medical authorities tend to agree that the focus on high-fiber, low-salt, low-fat foods may provide a benefit in terms of risk for stroke, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, kidney disease and diabetes, primarily because it promotes weight loss. There is also considerable debate over the need to compensate for the diet’s limited supply of nutrients such as protein, vitamin B12, iron and calcium.

Whole3021 22

Based on the assumption that eating specific food groups such as sugars, grains, dairy and legumes creates an environment conducive to the development of such conditions as skin issues, digestive troubles, allergies, and chronic pain, the Whole30 diet proposes to reset the body in 30 days. The diet does not involve measuring or counting calories but encourages eating moderate portions of whole, unprocessed foods: meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, some fruit and natural fats. It is basically an elimination plan and totally prohibits all sugars, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, baked goods and processed foods. For 30 days. After the initial period, food groups are added back in gradually, one at a time, with the expectation that newly acquired awareness of how foods can affect one’s health will allow for healthier choices moving forward.

Some nutritionists have misgivings about the Whole30 plan, questioning its lack of independent scientific study and alleging that it is based instead on general anecdotal anti-inflammatory theories. The diet also has been criticized for allowing high levels of sodium and processed meats like cured pork (read, bacon) while prohibiting nutrient-rich foods like legumes and dairy. The biggest criticism seems to be that a temporary plan tends to lead to temporary results.

The Zone23 24

Developed over 30 years ago by Dr. Barry Sears, the Zone diet was designed not as a weight-loss tool but as a “a life-long dietary program based on strong science to reduce diet-induced inflammation.” The basic tenets of the Zone diet can be put simply: Every meal and every snack follows the ratio of one third protein (egg whites, fish, poultry, lean beef or low-fat dairy); two thirds carbohydrates (in the form of non-starchy vegetables and a little low-sugar fruit), with a little monounsaturated fat such as olive oil, avocado, or almonds).

The Zone food pyramid looks a little different from the Mediterranean diet, with vegetables in the primary foundation tier and grains relegated to the top of the pyramid, to be consumed only rarely. The Zone also recommends the addition of supplements including Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) and polyphenols.

Again linking back to the idea of returning to evolutionary roots in terms of dietary habits, the Zone was designed specifically to reduce diet-induced inflammation by avoiding inflammation-producing processed carbohydrates and keeping specific physiologic markers in balance. Some medical doctors have questioned the Zone’s restrictions on certain fruits and vegetables and the difficulty of adapting the Zone diet for vegetarians.


Note: NVIC would like to hear from readers who may have had experiences—good or bad—with these or other diets that address chronic inflammation in the body.

References:

1 Mercola J. The Anti-Inflammatory Foods, Herbs and Spices. Mercola Newsletter Feb. 3, 2015.
2 USDA. Choose My Plate. Choose My Plate.gov. 2018.
3 What Is The Anti-Inflammatory Diet And Food Pyramid? Dr. Weil.com.
4 Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Dr. Weil.com.
5 The Benefits of a Low Carb Diet: How Does Atkins Work? Atkins.com.
6 Atkins Diet: What’s Behind the Claims? Mayo Clinic. Aug. 16, 2017.
7 McIntosh J. Ketosis: What is ketosis? Medical News Today Mar. 21. 2017.
8 Mercola J. Fat for Fuel: A Revolutionary Diet to Combat Cancer, Boost Brain Power and Increase Your Energy. Hay House 2017.
9 Gottfried S. Is the Autoimmune Protocol Necessary?
10 Flanigan J. What is Autoimmune Paleo or AIP Diet? AIP Lifestyle. C 2018.
11 Barbara G, Zecchi L et al. Mucosal permeability and immune activation as potential targets of probiotics in irritable bowel syndrome. J Clin Gastroenterol 2012.
12 West H. The GAPS Diet: An Evidence-Based Review. HealthLine. July 23, 2017.
13The GAPS Diet. c 2018.
14What Is the Mediterranean Diet? America’s Test Kitchen. C 2018.
15Mediterranean diet: A Heart-Healthy Eating Plan. Mayo Clinic. Nov. 3, 2017.
16 Cordain L. The Paleo Diet Premise. 2018.
17Paleo Diet 101. Paleo Leap. 2018.
18 Gunnars K. The Paleo Diet – A Beginner’s Guide Plus Meal Plan. Health Line. June 16, 2017.
19 Lenz, N.  Basic Raw Food FAQ. Raw School. C 2018.
20 Robinson KM. Raw Foods Diet. WebMD. Nov. 21, 2016.
21 Hartwig M. The Whole30 Program. Thrity & Co. C 2018.
22 London J. 6 Things You Need to Know Before Trying Whole30. Good Housekeeping. Jan. 4, 2018.
23What Is the Zone Diet? Zone Labs. C 2018.
24 Nordqvist C. The Zone Diet and Inflammation: All You Need to Know. Medical News Today. July 14, 2017.

8 Responses to Overview of Anti-Inflammatory Diets

  1. Melinda DeGier Reply

    May 17, 2018 at 6:24 pm

    My husband and I cured our daughter’s autism using the GAPS nutritional protocol. She was diagnosed in 2010 and had her diagnosis officially removed in 2017. It has helped me with anger and depression and I no longer have crampy clotty periods. It helped my husband with his eczema and anxiety. My husband also was a heart attack waiting to happen (high triglycerides, high bad cholesterol, family history of heart attacks) and it all reversed on this diet. We both lost 20-30 lbs. when we started. It helped my second child with allergies, eczema, and asthma. It has helped my fourth with anger and tantrums. My third was never vaccinated and she has little to no issues. I don’t understand the down playing of the GAPS diet. It helps people with serious psychological issues including schizophrenia. It helps babies with FPIES. I don’t need supposed “science” that says this diet doesn’t work or will cause a heart attack. The proof was we did it and it worked.

  2. Patrick LaChance Reply

    May 14, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    I am surprised to NOT see the ketogenic (high fat, low carb, moderate protein) diet listed among this group of other similar diets.

  3. JD Reply

    May 14, 2018 at 8:55 am

    You were either born beautiful, or not–though perception of beauty varies, some. Dieting to recover from chemical attack is different.
    Because mankind ate good meats and weeds & veggies a-plenty throughout history, your immune system can handle any diet or lifestyle choice, today —including long-term tiny dangerous chemicals.
    Yet because of the for-profit “medical” AND “health” industries–including grocery store chains picking & shipping totally-green produce; allowing all vendors to cheat and do a bad job; AND THE PROLIFERATION OF UNREGULATED CHEMICALS—MFRS some of whom paid the gov to be marked as if foods; you won’t last as long.
    Even if you live on your own farm and raise stuff healthy, Monsanto or some other gov agency will bomb your property with chemicals, at the least. The rich filthy might buy into certain diets (and any stock thereof) but will have your same diseases. Only their wealth can ferret out the remains of any healthy food.
    Regardless, the difference in your life span might change by some years, but is unmeasurable–so you can’t sue, and in some cases the gov has indemnified the producers —since the gov gets a profit cut.
    Consumers have a chance to research and choose healthy more-like-foods, without gov attack, should they keep a low profile.
    However, YOU ARE NOT “REPRESENTED,” and the longer “yours” are in office, the more corrupted absolutely they become.

  4. Elizabeth Reply

    May 14, 2018 at 7:14 am

    I have done Atkins, Paleo (which is my personal favorite) and low-lectin (no complaints here…I eat Millet which after being grain free seems like a treat). On low-lectin I dropped 10 lbs quickly and lowered my anti-inflammatory meds immediately(my A1C also decreased). I am nearly off the meds now. Dx with Hashimoto’s and polymyalgia rheumatica. I hurt anytime I go off the low lectin protocol. My friends have tried low-lectin with little results so this is not for everyone but it IS working for me wonderfully.
    My genetic make-up is filled with rheumatoid arthritis factors and obesity and the low-lectin diet is turning around those gene expressions. I am so pleased!

  5. Lucas Reply

    May 14, 2018 at 7:01 am

    For anti inflammatory diets the science is heavily on the side of a whole food plant based diet. Check out the mountains of evidence at nutritionfacts.org and please stop promoting health diminishing diets like Atkins and keto.

  6. JoAnn Reply

    May 14, 2018 at 6:28 am

    I think most of these diets that you have covered here have serious negative consequence over the long term and overwhelmingly the science supports that.

    Heart Disease remains the leading cause of death and disability but the symptoms are gradual and can be silent until there is a horrific event. Most of these diets you mentioned put one at INCREASED risk of heart disease (and many cancers!)

    The reason however that many of these diets you mentioned have such evangelical followers is because they typically eliminate GLUTEN! Studies show that that alone results in beneficial outcomes on mood for many people (and has other benefits too). A growing body of evidence suggests that many more are harmed by gluten then any of the current diagnostic tests can catch.
    .
    PROCESSED carbs (including sugar) and dairy are also very harmful and most of these diets you mention also eliminate these — so many of the benefits are due to that too. But meat, dairy, eggs and fish not only increase inflammation. They promote a gut micro biome that also up regulates inflammation. But even worse — animal agriculture is ruining the future health of our planet. If you want a livable future for our children, we need to end animal agriculture.

    All the longest lived populations on the planet have been bean eaters. The science is pretty clear that removing beans from the diet SHORTENS life. They feed good gut microbes, modulate insulin response and provide tons of fiber and phytochemicals.

    Dr. Gregers Book, How Not to Die covers the nutritional science of quite well, I highly recommend it.
    .
    This short youtube on the myths of the Keto diet is very good too:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bU2ByJ-zxfg

  7. Carol Hiltner Reply

    May 14, 2018 at 2:15 am

    The diet that brought me back from a disastrous overdose of solvents in my 40s while remodeling my house, and caused me to balloon 100 pounds in 6 months, was to cut way back on carbs. The result was instantaneous: I lost 35 pounds in 15 days and the rest melted away in 2 years. I’ve since modified the diet to be most similar to a keto diet, but with a lot more veggies and dark leafy greens. On that diet, now in my late 60s, my life-long migraines disappeared, my allergies and osteoarthritis abated, my weight and vitals are the same as when I was a teen, and I never get sick.

  8. Cari Alter Reply

    May 13, 2018 at 10:12 pm

    I have been chronically ill for 10 years. I currently have been diagnosed with RA and Hashimoto’s and SIBO. The one thing that has helped me more than any doctor is following the diet recommendations of Anthony William, the Medical Medium. I did his 28 day cleanse and felt dramatically better. For 2 years since then I’ve been on his maintenance diet (mostly fruits and vegetables, much raw) and I’m continuing to get better. I’m now beginning a loose version of the cleanse again by going vegan, trying to get the stupendous results again that I got when I did the cleanse 2 years ago. Other diets I’ve tried are the Paleo Diet, the Mediterranean Diet and the Low Lectin Diet.

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