Dr. Andrew Weil recently visited New Orleans for the opening of True Food Kitchen, a restaurant chain he cofounded. The restaurant’s food is based on his eating program, which he designed to combat inflammation in the body that he believes is linked to illnesses ranging from heart disease to certain cancers. Weil is a leading advocate for integrative medicine, and his platforms include a column in Prevention magazine, cookbooks and television appearances. He spoke with Gambit about anti-inflammatory eating and his health-driven dining philosophy.
Gambit: How would you describe your anti-inflammatory diet approach?
Weil: Avoid all processed, refined, manufactured food. Eat lots of vegetables across the color spectrum and fruits. Keep animal food low, [eat] healthy dairy products, things like that. Common sense.
I’m a big believer in olive oil and fish as a source of omega-3 fatty acids. I use cashew milk a lot in cooking. You can make the best cream soups and frozen desserts with it, and that’s mostly mono-unsaturated fat.
I think it’s good to keep sugar low, though I don’t tell people to avoid it. I think you want to avoid deep-fried food, and you want to keep things made with flour in general at a minimum.
I also recommend Asian mushrooms, which have a lot of medicinal benefits, over button mushrooms. Button mushrooms are grown in the dark on manure, so a lot of fly larvae develop, and to kill them [growers] use pesticides. Asian mushrooms are grown in light on wood, so they’re healthier. Button mushrooms also have some natural carcinogens, some of which are broken down by heat, some not.
As for the restaurant, it’s just really good food that looks and tastes great, and it happens to conform to very good nutritional principles. I think one reason these are successful is that there’s something for everybody here – vegan, vegetarian, meat eaters, gluten free, keto, paleo.
G: Do you encounter skepticism about the idea of food as medicine?
W: Certainly in the medical community, but that’s changing rapidly. Integrative medicine is becoming so mainstream. Yeah, there are still these voices saying it’s unscientific, blah, blah, blah, but that’s fading away. There’s also increasing recognition of the deficiency of nutrition education. Medical schools are just beginning to come on board, but it’s amazing that for so long it’s been omitted.
There’s a high degree of consensus on the big questions. We know what are good and bad fats, but somehow that information is not getting out into the public.
There is also a common misconception that heathy food is expensive or difficult to make. The most expensive items in the grocery are meats and animal foods. Beans and grains are cheap. The biggest challenge, and one of the missions of this restaurant, is to convince people that healthy food and delicious food are not in opposition.
G: True Food Kitchen serves alcohol. Can it be part of a healthy diet?
W: There’s a fair amount of evidence that a moderate amount of drinking is associated with good health. It certainly is a major stress reliever for many people. But I think the key is moderation. One piece of advice I give to people who drink is to give yourself two or three alcohol-free days a week. And it’s interesting that in most restaurants, alcohol sales are a huge percent of the profit. We have a much lower percentage of alcohol sales in the restaurants. Our nonalcoholic refreshers are some of the best-selling items.