A Football Star’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Healthy or Not?

Tom Brady and Gisele BundchenEn español | No dairy. No caffeine. No sugar. No mushrooms, peppers or eggplant. Tomatoes, only rarely — maybe once a month. And lots and lots of green veggies.

If I told you this was the anti-inflammatory diet of some little-known nutrition expert, you might stop reading right now. But no, this is from the anti-inflammatory diet followed by Tom Brady, superstar quarterback of the New England Patriots who, at 38, is one of the oldest QBs in the NFL and still very much at the top of his game.

Inflammation is certainly a hot medical topic these days, with experts linking it to a variety of serious diseases from joint pain to heart disease to cancer. And obviously, there’s a lot riding on keeping a top athlete healthy, which is why he — and his wife, the model Gisele Bundchen, and their two children — avoid eating a list of foods that supposedly could contribute to inflammation, as his personal chef dished in a recent interview that triggered a lot of “he won’t eat what??” kind of buzz.

According to chef Allen Campbell, 80 percent of Brady’s diet is vegetable-based. “The other 20 percent is lean meats: grass-fed organic steak, duck every now and then, and chicken. As for fish, I mostly cook wild salmon,” he told Boston.com.

Other restrictions:

“No white sugar. No white flour. No MSG. [Tom] doesn’t eat nightshades, because they’re not anti-inflammatory. So no tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, or eggplants. Tomatoes trickle in every now and then, but just maybe once a month. I’m very cautious about tomatoes. They cause inflammation.

“What else? No coffee. No caffeine. No fungus. No dairy. The kids eat fruit. Tom, not so much. He will eat bananas in a smoothie. But otherwise, he prefers not to eat fruits,” Campbell said.

CBS Sports called the diet “bizarre.” Vanity Fair termed it “kind of miserable.” Time.com labeled it “super strict.”

But preventive medicine expert Roxanne Sukol, M.D., with the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, strongly disagrees.

“He’s doing a great job of protecting his health,” she said in an interview. “He’s eating a very nourishing diet that’s primarily whole food–based.” Not everyone needs to follow all of his restrictions, she added: “He may have set the bar higher because the stress and strain on his system is much higher than for the rest of us.”

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Still, there are lessons to be learned from Brady’s choices, Sukol said, from eating lots of fresh vegetables to not overindulging in meat or sweets. Here are some of her anti-inflammatory diet rules for those of us non-football stars — of any age:

 

  • Cut processed foods from your diet. The biggest amount of inflammation — maybe 90 percent — comes from processed foods. If you reduce the amount of processed foods you eat, you will cut inflammation.
  • Slash sugar. If you want a sweet treat, it’s better to eat something homemade than something processed. A homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookie is going to be better for you than one that comes in a package.
  • Try eliminating one food for at least two weeks. People have different sensitivities. Some are sensitive to tomatoes, or get headaches from broccoli, or diarrhea from dairy, or their skin breaks out. If you think a particular food is bothering you, stop eating it completely for two weeks. If you feel better, you’re probably on to something.
  • Try improving half of your food decisions. You don’t have to be 100 percent perfect. We probably make a thousand food-related decisions a day. If you can improve half of those decisions — more fruits and vegetables, for example — you’ll feel better and your pants will fit better.

 

Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

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