You don’t have to follow any AI diet perfectly to make a big impact, say our experts. A healthy body is built to handle the occasional onslaught of inflammation (like having a cupcake at a party); it’s the regular, consistent consumption (and overconsumption) of inflammatory foods like sugar and saturated fat that’s linked to serious disease, says Sonya Angelone, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A 2012 study of nearly 2,000 people, for example, found that those who ate the most sweets over two years had significantly higher levels of interleukin-6 than people who ate more veggies, fruits, and whole grains.
That’s why it’s more important to eat an overall “super” diet rather than focus on individual superfoods, says Angelone. “If you’re regularly eating a bunch of doughnuts along with a bunch of anti-inflammatory veggies, you’re still harming your body,” adds Dr. Hyman. Follow these AI guidelines on most days:
1. Aim for half to two-thirds of your plate to be nonstarchy vegetables (think: greens of all kinds, mushrooms, summer squash, beets, cauliflower…the list goes on and on)—ideally at breakfast, too, says Dr. Hyman. They’re packed with gut-balancing fiber and powerful antioxidants.
2. Limit added sugar and sweet drinks. That includes fruit juices and natural sweeteners like honey, says Dr. Hyman. In a small 2005 study, people who were fed a high-sugar diet for 10 weeks had significantly elevated blood levels of haptoglobin—an inflammatory marker that in high concentrations is associated with diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and obesity— compared with controls.
3. Eat fish, especially fatty kinds like salmon, mackerel, herring, and anchovies. (Or take omega-3 supplements—at least 1,000 milligrams daily, says Dr. Hyman.)
4. Nix white flour and limit other flour-based foods. Focus on whole, intact grains like quinoa, brown rice, and bulgur wheat instead of loading up on whole-grain crackers, breads, and tortillas. Even 100 percent whole-grain flour will cause a spike in blood sugar that exacerbates inflammation, especially for people with insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome (i.e., prediabetes), or diabetes, so use them moderately, says Sears.
5. Choose fats carefully. The most abundant saturated fats in our diet contain the same fatty acids as do fragments of the cell walls of many bacteria—no wonder your immune system sees a bacon cheeseburger as a threat! Limit saturated fats like butter and skip vegetable oils that are high in omega-6 fats, such as safflower and corn oils. Go for olive, avocado, or walnut oil instead. Our experts were split on sat-fat-rich coconut oil: Dr. Hyman is a fan, but Angelone notes that the American Heart Association recently released a report stating that it may be as harmful as animal fats.
“It might sound tough, but if you think about it, it’s exactly how your grandmother probably told you to eat!” says Sears. A diet endorsed by supermodels and your nana? Now that sounds like a plan.