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Tom Brady – the man, the myth, the legend.  His performance year after year is awe-inspiring, and leaves us all asking – how?
The answer to that question might lie in this Boston.com interview with Brady’s personal chef, Allen Campbell. But many parts of the interview leave us with more questions than answers. We’ve partnered with Tufts Medical Center nutritionist Alicia Romano to get some feedback on the good, and the bad, of the Tom Brady diet.

Allen Campbell feeds Tom Brady and his family an all-organic, plant-based diet that is 80% vegetables and whole grains, and 20% lean meats. Is this an optimal diet?

The plant-based approach to eating is an excellent takeaway from Tom Brady’s eating style.  This type of diet is limited in processed Tom-Brady-FIfoods and has been associated with decreased risk of chronic disease (think cancer, heart disease, diabetes).
It is great to see that Campbell incorporates nutrient-rich and high fiber whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, millet, and beans.  Whole grains often get a bad rap as a “carb” but these minimally processed grains are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and micronutrients.

Is it always better to eat organic?  What about cooking seasonal foods?

Eating organic, local and sustainable should be acknowledged as a positive element of Tom Brady’s diet. But, it’s not always an option for your average consumer – whether because of access or finances.  Buying local produce that is in season will get you the freshest options and highest nutritional quality (essentially, the most bang for your buck). If you have to pick and choose organic versus conventional produce, focus on buying organic from the list of “Dirty Dozen” foods, which tested with the highest level of pesticide residue.

Are tomatoes and nightshades really as bad as Campbell says?

stocksy-lumina-chopping-veggiesNightshades (white potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers) are certainly demonized here.  The misconception about the “inflammatory” properties of nightshades comes from inconclusive research related to Rheumatoid Arthritis, which suggests nightshades may play a role in chronic inflammation.  However, this research is lacking and isn’t applicable to inflammation in a healthy individual without Rheumatoid Arthritis.
In fact, eliminating these vegetables might remove vital phytonutrients from your diet, which help prevent disease and keep your body working correctly.  For example, cooked tomatoes are one of the richest sources of lycopene, which can reduce the risk of prostate cancer, lower blood pressure and protect against free radicals that can damage the cells in your body.  Eggplants are rich in phenolics, which are powerful antioxidants that lower the risk of cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Campbell says that if you eat sugar and carbs or processed foods, your body becomes acidic and that causes disease. Can you explain?

This is a common myth that has been debunked.  The idea is that when you eat certain foods – particularly processed and sugary foods–your body produces acid which changes the pH level in your blood and causes disease. Eating “alkaline” foods like fruits and vegetables supposedly balance the pH level of your body, therefore protecting against disease. However, our body is a well-oiled machine that has built in mechanisms to tightly regulate the pH of the blood.  What we eat is not lowering or raising our blood pH level and resulting in chronic disease.
That being said, processed foods that contain high amounts of sodium, added sugar and refined carbohydrates are not very nutritious. Eating these empty calories DOES contribute to weight gain and is linked to chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
You do want more of the “alkaline” foods and fewer of the “acidic” foods in your diet – just not for the reasons Campbell claims!  The most recent USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend Americans limit added sugar consumption to less than 10% of their calorie intake. This will help you increase your intake of more nutrient dense foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, etc.) and limits the amount of empty calories (from added sugars and processed foods) with little to no nutrition that you consume.

Our advice?

It’s a great idea to eat a little more like Tom Brady. Eating a diet filled with foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and some lean meats is a great way to maintain your health and prevent chronic disease. Just don’t go crazy cutting out nightshades and fruit and emptying your bank account to buy only organic foods.

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