Jan. 15, 2016 -- What does Tom Brady eat to stay at the top of his game?
The NFL quarterback’s personal chef, Allen Campbell, recently gave the media a peek inside mealtimes with Brady and his wife, supermodel Gisele Bündchen. The New England Patriots star, 38, begins his bid for a fifth Super Bowl win this weekend.
"Eighty percent of what they eat is vegetables," Campbell said. "The other 20% is lean meats: grass-fed organic steak, duck every now and then, and chicken. As for fish, I mostly cook wild salmon."
Brady and Bündchen stick to a firm set of dietary rules: No white sugar. No white flour. No nightshade vegetables (peppers, eggplant, tomatoes) for Brady. Only whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and millet. And no dairy -- Brady says he eats an ice cream made from an avocado base.
Just about every columnist with a blog or media outlet has weighed in on the diet. Some have called it "uber-restrictive." Others have used words like "miserable" and "insane."
Is Brady's diet too strict? Or is it a healthy way to eat? WebMD asked two sports nutritionists for their takes on this sports superstar's eating plan.
Sports nutritionist Barbara Lewin, RD, LD, CSSD, has worked with NFL players and other serious athletes for over 20 years. Overall, she thinks Brady's diet is a good approach.
"This is a wonderful way to eat to stay healthy and fit and young," says Lewin, who is also the owner of Sports-Nutritionist.com.
Kelly Pritchett, PhD, RDN, CSSD, also praises aspects of the diet. "It's high in vegetables and lean protein and low in sugar," says the assistant professor of sports nutrition at Central Washington University.
Brady's way of eating is a big shift from the typical American diet. Most of us eat much more sugar, saturated fat, and refined grains than the Patriots QB does, and more than experts recommend. Let's break down his diet to see which parts are worth trying, and which are better skipped.
"I like the idea that there's a heavy focus on plant-based foods," Lewin says. “Plants contain phytonutrients (plant nutrients) that protect against disease while supporting optimal health and athletic performance.”/
Vegetables are rich in nutrients like vitamins A and C, folic acid, potassium, and fiber. Plus, they're low in fat and calories. A diet high in multi-colored vegetables can help control your weight, lower blood pressure, and protect against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. The USDA's Choose MyPlate guide recommends 2 to 3 cups of veggies per day, but more never hurts.
The amount of protein Brady eats falls well within the 10% to 35 % recommended daily for adults. Yet everyone's needs are different based on their body and the intensity and length of their workouts. "If someone is looking to build muscle, they're growing, or pregnant, they need more protein," Lewin says.
Brady eats steak, duck, wild-caught salmon, and sometimes chicken. Other protein sources are lower in fat than red meat and duck, including fish, beans, nuts, and seeds.
Fruit has lots of vitamins and minerals, Pritchett says. Don't remove it from your diet, but do choose fruits that are low in sugar and high in vitamins. Raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries are all good choices.
When it comes to grains, Brady is right -- whole is the way to go. Brown rice, whole wheat, quinoa, and bulgur contain the entire grain kernel, where all the nutrients reside. Processed white rice, bread, and pasta have had most of the nutrients stripped away.
Going whole grain involves a few simple swaps. "There are pastas made with red and black beans. You can use quinoa in place of white rice, or switch to black rice, which has more nutritional value than white rice," Lewin says.
Sweets like cakes, cookies, pies, and candy clearly aren't good for you. Too much added sugar leads to weight gain and all the diseases that go along with obesity. Brady avoids white sugar, but it's not clear whether he uses other sweeteners.
Pritchett says any type of sugar has the same effect on your body. "Really there's no evidence that agave or coconut nectar or things like that are more beneficial or healthier, because they get broken down and metabolized the same way." Whatever your sugar source, stick to the 6 teaspoons or less per day for women and 9 teaspoons or less for men that the American Heart Association recommends.
Dairy isn't necessarily bad for you. Milk, yogurt, and cheese are high in bone-strengthening calcium and vitamin D. The USDA calls for 3 cups daily. But if dairy doesn't agree with you, get your daily calcium and D from other sources, like salmon, soy, and leafy greens.
The jury is still out on coconut oil. It’s high in saturated fat (which is bad), but it also raises levels of HDL cholesterol (which is good). Still, olive oil may be a better option.
"With olive oil, you actually get a lot of healthy unsaturated fats. If you look at guidelines and recommendations for Americans, we should eat more unsaturated fat," Pritchett says. To get the most health perks, she recommends that you cook with a variety of oils, including coconut, olive, flax, and walnut oils.
Brady skips these veggies -- like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants -- because "they're not anti-inflammatory," according to Campbell. Some people with diseases like arthritis have claimed these vegetables aggravate their symptoms.
Yet there's no proof nightshade vegetables trigger inflammation, Pritchett says. "Actually, if you look at a lot of the foods that are considered nightshades -- the eggplant, the tomatoes -- these foods tend to be high in vitamins and minerals and antioxidants."
"I don't think his diet is going to harm anyone. The question is: Is it necessary to go to this extreme? I would say no," Pritchett says. "If you're cutting stuff out of your diet and you can't enjoy food anymore and you're obsessing about it, then there's an issue."
Eat a variety of foods, she says, because that's the ideal way to get the mix of vitamins and minerals you need each day.
You don't need to chow down like a super athlete or a supermodel to have a superstar diet. The plan you choose should include all the good stuff -- fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. And, it should be realistic enough for you to stick with long-term.
Do what works for you. Eat the healthy foods you enjoy, and allow yourself a treat from time to time.
"It's what you do every day that counts," Lewin says. "The occasional splurge is not going to make or break your plan."