Interview with Berry Sears, the famous American biochemist and President of the Inflammation Research Foundation
The evolution of our diets, rich in omega-6 fatty acids and refined carbohydrates and low in fermentable fiber, has led to a perfect nutritional storm characterized by a form of inflammation called "silent" which, unlike the known forms of inflammation that they produce easily recognizable symptoms, give no symptoms until chronic diseases appear.
A little inflammation is still natural and serves our body, but if it becomes too much we are susceptible to external attacks by viruses and bacteria. It must therefore be kept within optimal levels, and this is possible through the choice and combination of the foods that we bring to our tables every day. Dr. Barry Sears, Ph.D., President of the Inflammation Research Foundation, considered one of the leading experts in the field of dietary control of hormonal responses.
Dr. Sears is the pioneer of the anti-inflammatory nutritional strategy, which is based on the Zone Diet, supported by the skilful integration of omega-3 and polyphenols, controlling silent inflammation and genes, respectively, and is the author of over 50 scientific articles and 17 books on anti-inflammatory nutrition. which have been translated into several languages. Recently, for Verduci Editore, he published "Zone of resolution", a scientific volume written in a popular way in which he reveals how to reduce, resolve and repair the damage caused by inflammation and regain a state of well-being.
- What is inflammation
- What are the causes
- How does the Zone diet work in reducing inflammation
- The allies against inflammation: omega-3s and polyphenols
- How a Zone meal is made up
- The food day
- The typical menu of the Zone diet
What is inflammation
"Inflammation – explains Barry Sears – is the first necessary step to contain the effects of any injury in our body. In this process, the signs already described by the ancient Romans develop: in fact, swelling, heat, redness and pain occur precisely in the area affected by the lesion which becomes the scene of a biological war. However, to allow the body to reach complete healing, it is necessary to deactivate this initial inflammation. The process of extinguishing the inflammation is called resolution. If this deactivation is not completed, the unresolved residual inflammation will continue to attack the body and will eventually cause obesity, early onset of chronic diseases and acceleration of aging ".
What are the causes
"Although it is generated by infections (bacterial and viral) and physical injuries, the main cause of unresolved inflammation is nutrition", warns the author. In recent years – reads his book – we have witnessed an exponential increase in the consumption of omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids, if taken in excess, increase the possibility that our body will convert them into AA, arachidonic acid, causing inflammation.
At the same time, the consumption of refined carbohydrates has also increased, responsible for an overproduction of insulin (a hormone also involved in the transformation of omega-6 fatty acids into arachidonic acid) and a reduction in fermentable fibers, essential for intestinal health, especially for maintaining a strong barrier between intestinal bacterial flora and blood. If the barrier is damaged, we are in the presence of "leaky intestine": the situation in which bacterial fragments and large protein fragments enter the blood and induce an increase in inflammation.
But the solution exists and, as the famous American biochemist assures, is represented by the Zone diet.
How does the Zone diet work in reducing inflammation
"First of all – explains the expert – the Zone diet allows you to limit calorie intake without feeling hungry or fatigue, thanks to the better hormonal control of blood sugar. Calorie restriction is essential since an excess of calories causes inflammation induced by what we eat. A person with excess body fat is an already inflamed person. Secondly, the Zone diet induces a decrease in those hormones that increase the intensity of inflammation and increase the sense of hunger. Thirdly, it improves intestinal health and prevents microbial fragments from entering the circulation and causing inflammation ”.
The allies against inflammation: omega-3s and polyphenols
The Zone is effective because it deactivates the inflammation of the organism. However, for a complete recovery it is necessary to achieve a total resolution of the problem and repair the damage it has caused. "The omega-3 fatty acids found in the oiliest fish are the building blocks for the synthesis of hormones essential to resolve inflammation", points out the biochemist. Without adequate levels of these substances in the diet, it will not be possible to completely resolve the inflammation.
Other useful substances are represented by polyphenols found in fruits and vegetables. "They play an essential role in repairing tissues damaged by inflammation and mitigating the effects of aging. They intervene by activating the main switch of the metabolism that promotes processes at the genetic level that slow down aging, "adds author Barry Sears.
The ideal doses? “On average – he replies – an individual will need 2.5 grams of omega-3s and 1 gram of polyphenols per day. These quantities can be obtained by eating one serving of fatty fish and ten servings of non-starchy vegetables and fruit daily. It is not always easy to reach these levels with any diet (even with the Zone diet); for which it is often necessary to resort to supplements ".
How a Zone meal is made up
But let's get to the practice. What to bring to the table and in what quantities? “All you need is a hand, an eye and a watch,” suggests the biochemist. “Always put a lean protein source on your plate like white meat or fish, for example. The quantity of this protein food must not be greater, but neither should it be less than the size of the palm of your hand. In this way we occupied more or less a third of the pot ”.
"The remaining two thirds, and here we need the eye to see, will have to be filled with non-starchy vegetables. It ends with a small portion of fruit (ideal choice: berries). At this point, if we managed to balance the plate correctly, we will not feel hungry for the next five hours: this is what the clock is for ".
The food day
"Advice valid for everyone that should be personalized based on the age, sex and physical activity carried out by the subject", adds Dr. Maria Assunta Ciacci, nutrition biologist and Zone consultant, who for more than 20 years has experience in anti-inflammatory nutrition in the states of physiology and pathology of the human organism. "The primary evaluation for personalization – points out the nutritionist – is the calculation of the lean mass and from there the number of daily meals starts, which normally are 5 (3 main meals and 2 snacks), but which, for example, can be reduced based on above parameters ".
"In general – he explains – the main goal is to achieve and maintain a precise hormonal balance by using in a balanced way carbohydrates, proteins and fats. This is why in the three main meals and snacks, 40% of the calories must come from “favorable” carbohydrates, such as non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, cauliflower, black cabbage and mushrooms or seasonal fruit; 30% from proteins (yogurt, ham, ricotta, fish rich in omega 3, eggs, cheeses, lean red meat …); and 30% from fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado, olives and oily fruit and its derivatives ".
A proportion that did not come by chance … "Maintaining a constant balance of the protein / carbohydrate ratio at each meal – says Dr. Ciacci – allows you to stabilize blood sugar and the consequent production of insulin so as not to feel hungry or being mentally tired between meals. Then, based on the personal level of insulin resistance, it is possible to balance meals with your nutritionist and add other sources of carbohydrates, such as black rice or other cereals ".
Although the Zone diet was not born for the purpose of losing body weight, it allows to reduce abdominal fat in a consistent and targeted way, consequently also optimal weight control is achieved. Visceral fat is the most dangerous for health because the abdominal adipose tissue produces cytokines, extremely inflammatory proteins that we have recently learned about due to the Covid-19 infection. The problem is aggravated since not only the adipose tissue generates inflammation, but the inflammation itself discourages fat loss: a vicious circle from which it is difficult to get out except with a targeted diet.
The typical menu of the Zone diet
BREAKFAST: 1 low-fat protein white yogurt or 1 low-fat white yogurt with 0.1% fat to which always add polyphenols such as cinnamon, cocoa, blueberry powder; seasonal fruit (or 1 cup of blueberries); 1-2 nuts. If you prefer a savory breakfast: 1 slice of wholemeal bread with fish rich in omega 3 (or ham or ricotta) and avocado mousse
MORNING SNACK AND SNACK: 1 knob of Parmesan cheese and 1 small fruit
LUNCH AND DINNER: 2/3 of the dish consisting of non-starchy vegetables and 1 medium-sized fruit; lean protein (fish rich in omega 3, eggs, cheeses, lean red meat …); based on physical activity, rice; extra virgin olive oil or oil seeds, olives or avocados can be added