Feature Archive

Dr. Andrew Weil

What It Is

No hocus-pocus here, no quick weight-loss promises from wellness guru Andrew Weil, MD. Weil sums up his philosophy in four words: "Eat less, exercise more." Weil urges readers of his several best-sellers, including the latest, Eating Well for Optimum Health, and his popular Web site (www.drweil.com) to look upon eating with a sensibility that is more Eastern than Western.

Naturally he points out that what we eat does influence our health in a big way. But he adds this caveat: Diet is only one aspect of our lifestyle, and lifestyle is only one variable in the mix of factors that determines whether we are blessed with well-being or whether we feel out of sorts.

That said, Weil claims that diet can positively impact numerous health concerns, from allergies to body odor, from ear infections to irritable bowel syndrome, from arthritis to sinusitis, as well as make it easy to control our weight. He urges readers not to seek solutions promising quick weight loss (since it will almost certainly come back) but to set realistic goals: say, losing one to two pounds a week, max -- the amount that nutritionists and most medically sponsored weight-loss programs counsel as safe, sane, and reasonable.

The science is straightforward. Weight-loss success can be accomplished, according to Weil, by properly balancing the amount and type of food we eat. The trick then is determining the kinds of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins -- the building blocks of food -- to put on our plate.

What You Can Eat

Weil's approach is somewhat similar to the recently touted Mediterranean Diet, a composite of the cuisines of Spain, southern France, Italy, Greece, and parts of the Middle East. That diet does include red meat, but you can be sure that Weil isn't a fan of meat. His inclination can be sensed in how he lists red meat in the index: flesh foods.

Qualifiers aside, Weil's diet plan breaks down the three food groups this way:

  • Carbohydrates. They should account for 50-60% of your calories, and as much of these as possible from unrefined grains and vegetables (higher in complex carbohydrates). These release glucose (sugar) into the bloodstream more slowly, and therefore won't as readily cause rapid spikes after meals. Good carbs include apples, baked beans, oatmeal, and stone-ground whole-wheat bread, among others. Interestingly, while low-carb diet books insist that white rice is banned, Weil contends that basmati and brown rice are acceptable because, once again, they release glucose at a reasonable rate when eaten with other foods.
  • Fats. Up to 30% of calories can come from fats, as long as most of that amount is from monounsaturated oils such as olive oil and foods high in what are known as omega-3 fatty acids: oily fishes (salmon, sardines, mackerel), flax seeds, and walnuts.
  • Protein. This should be limited to 10-20% of your diet, and vegetable proteins (from beans and soybeans, for example) should be substituted for animal ones as often as possible.

Weil also recommends that we eat 40 grams of fiber a day, which isn't hard to achieve if you eat fruits (especially berries), vegetables (especially beans), and whole grains in the percentages above. He tells us to avoid milk and consume limited amounts of cheese and other dairy products. That is because a great many of us -- particularly those of Asian and African-American descent -- have some degree of difficulty digesting these (usually from lactose intolerance), and others may be allergic to milk protein.

Weil argues that even without dairy products, we can keep up with our calcium needs with this diet. Ingesting too much protein leeches calcium out of the body, says Weil, so if less protein is consumed then less calcium is required. Non-dairy sources include sardines (which are usually canned without removing the bones), leafy greens, broccoli, and various sea vegetables, such as nori, dulse, and kombu. In addition, tofu, sesame seeds, calcium-fortified orange juice, and fortified soy milk can be good calcium sources.