What do a new restaurant in River North, the anti-inflammatory diet and a Harvard-trained holistic health expert have to do with one another?
True Food Kitchen, a restaurant that opened in Chicago last month, puts into place the nutritional philosophies of Andrew Weil, MD, an integrative medicine physician and wellness expert. Inflammation may be behind many chronic diseases from heart disease to asthma, Weil says. The menu at True Food Kitchen reflects Weil’s philosophy, offering selections that stay true to the principles of an anti-inflammatory diet.
“It looks as if chronic low-level inflammation is the root cause of most of the serious chronic diseases that kill and disable people prematurely—heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer,” Weil says. “Keeping inflammation in check is your best overall strategy for longevity and optimum health.”
Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet minimizes refined flours and sugars, emphasizes whole grains and oily fish, and includes an abundance of vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices.
“The mainstream North American diet is pro-inflammatory. It gives us the wrong fats, the wrong carbs and not enough of the protective elements that are mainly found in fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices,” Weil says.
Acute inflammation is part of the body’s immune response as it tries to heal itself after injury, fight off bacteria or repair damaged tissue. But chronic, low-grade inflammation can weaken the immune system and possibly play a role in asthma, autoimmune disease and cardiovascular disease, according to the Mayo Clinic Health Letter.
It’s possible to fight inflammation with food, Weil says. “I think I’ve come up with a way of eating that gives you maximal protection against the kind of inflammation that causes harm,” he says.
The dishes at True Food Kitchen, including recipes that Weil has developed or approved, follow his anti-inflammatory guidelines. “This in no way robs eating of pleasure,” he says. “It’s possible to design very delicious dishes that conform to these good nutritional principles.”
Weil offers the following tips for an anti-inflammatory diet:
— Cut down on processed foods. “Stop eating refined, processed and manufactured foods. That’s the most important,” Weil says. “[Processed foods] have the wrong fats in them. They give us the wrong kind of carbohydrates. Products made from refined flour and sugar cause spikes in blood sugar, which promotes inflammation.”
— Consume whole, intact or cracked grains. “There’s a big difference between [whole grains] and pulverized grains,” Weil says. “When you pulverize a grain as a flour, you drastically change the carbohydrate in a way that promotes inflammation. You change the starch into a material that has an infinite surface area, so it’s very easy for digestive enzymes to convert that to sugar. That causes spikes in blood sugar. And whenever you have spikes in blood sugar, there are abnormal reactions between sugars and proteins that result in pro-inflammatory compounds.”
“You want to try to keep blood sugar steady,” he adds. “The easiest way to avoid spikes in blood sugar is to reduce consumption of products made from flour and sugar.”
— Eat loads of fruit and vegetables, particularly fiber-rich veggies. “Eat a variety of vegetables, especially. And try to eat across the color spectrum every day so you’re eating red foods, orange foods, green foods and so forth,” he says. Weil recommends spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, beets, peas and squash. For fruit, he points to raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, pink grapefruit, pomegranates and blackberries as being rich in flavonoids (plant nutrients), carotenoids (red and yellow plant pigments) and antioxidants.
— Include oily fish. Weil is a big proponent of sockeye salmon as well as steelhead and black cod for omega-3 fatty acids. “There are certain fats that we absolutely have to have. There are two main classes of them: omega-6s and omega-3s. We need both of them in the right balance,” he explains. “Most people are eating vastly too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3s.” Omega-6 fats are found in vegetables, seeds and oils. Omega-3 fats are found mostly in oily fish.
— Use olive oil as your main cooking fat. Among other health benefits, “Olive oil has a unique anti-inflammatory compound in it that’s not found in any other oils,” he says. “The peppery bite or finish to good olive oil comes from this anti-inflammatory compound.”
— Use a variety of herbs and spices. Turmeric, garlic, ginger and cinnamon enhance cooking and act as powerful anti-inflammatory agents. Herbs and spices add flavor and health benefits to foods.