You may remember the scene from the 1976 movie Rocky, when the boxing hero Rocky Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone, dragged himself out of bed and downed a glassful of raw eggs in his quest for greatness. Raw eggs might be an excellent source of muscle-building protein, fats and micronutrients to fuel the body, but not the best choice for many reasons, least of which is their slimy consistency.
Fast-forward 40 years to 2016, when football hero Tom Brady launched his line of vegan snacks, TB12 Snacks. That's when Andy Levitt, founder of the Boston-based vegan meal kit company Purple Carrot, sat up and took notice. "I reached out to them [Brady's company] and found a quick alignment between our mission and values and theirs," Levitt said. "Tom is doing such incredible things on the football field; it made sense to leverage his hero status as a model for nutrition."
A partnership was forged in 2017, and Purple Carrot launched TB12 Performance Meals, consisting of protein-rich plant-based foods, with an emphasis on vegetables (except nightshades like potatoes, peppers, eggplant and tomatoes), whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans and other plant foods. For some, the alkaloids from nightshades promotes inflammation in the body. The meals are gluten-free and lower in soy than Purple Carrot's original line of plant-based meals.
This year Purple Carrot, which has grown 400 percent since 2017, is on track to ship more than 5 million plant-based meals. The cost for an order of three meals per week — two servings each — is $78, with free shipping.
Brady claims to avoid things like dairy, gluten, white sugar and flour, alcohol and salt in favor of mostly fresh, local and organic fruits and vegetables to allow his body to fight inflammation and better absorb nutrients.
It's a question more people are asking as autoimmune diseases like Crohn's, Lupus, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis are on the rise. The National Institutes of Health estimates 23.5 million Americans suffer from autoimmune disease, and that number is increasing every year. Studies have shown that additives common to processed foods may be one cause.
More from Modern Medicine:
Diabetes defeated by diet: New fresh-food prescriptions
The key to weight loss may be right in the palm of your hand
One-third of Americans are headed for diabetes, and don't know it
Last year 59-year-old Queens, New York, resident Helen Lazos developed an insatiable thirst. "No matter how much I drank, it was never enough; I had bottles of water lined up on my nightstand," said the school secretary, who moonlights as a personal fitness trainer. "I thought it must be diabetes." (Excessive thirst is one of the most common symptoms of diabetes).
Her doctor confirmed a different diagnosis: Sjogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that attacks the glands responsible for making tears and saliva, causing dry mouth and dry eyes. The classic sign of autoimmune diseases, which are more common among women, is inflammation, and Lazos' gynecologist suggested that an anti-inflammatory diet might eventually help reverse hers.
It didn't take long for Lazos to embark on the diet, forgoing dairy, gluten and sugar with the hope of taking back her health. "It was tough at first. I was very lethargic and had headaches on and off for the first week. But then, I began to feel different: I had more energy and mental clarity."
As a bonus, the arthritis that plagued Lazos' foot also disappeared, and she lost some weight.
Several experts, like registered dietitian Annessa Chumbley, support the diet, while others have their doubts. Chumbley is a fan of eating not just to prevent disease, but to promote health, energy and a higher quality of life. "The great thing about this diet is that by addressing inflammation, many answers manifest for people: energy increases; brain fog and achy joints decrease."
There's a certain appeal to having guidelines to follow, said registered dietitian Carolyn Williams. If you're going to choose a diet to follow, this is one of the better ones, in her opinion. "Any time you cut out added sugars, processed foods and refined grains, you'll achieve some weight loss and an increase in energy," Williams said. Since chronic inflammation is thought to be the underlying cause of many diseases, including arthritis, coronary artery disease, diabetes and cancer, "everyone would benefit by following a more anti-inflammatory eating regimen," she said.
Nutrition consultant Bonnie Taub-Dix , author of "Read It Before You Eat It" and founder of BetterThanDieting.com, said that you need not be an athlete, strict dieter, or Super Bowl winner to include beneficial anti-inflammatory foods in your diet. "Foods like seafood, whole grains, nuts, seeds, tofu and an array of fruits and vegetables can make any diet shine," she said.
Yet, Taub-Dix is mixed on Brady's avoidance of nightshade foods (like potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant). "These do have anti-inflammatory nutrients, such as lycopene and beta-carotene, which for some, could reduce inflammation," she said.
Susan Roberts, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Tufts University and author of more than 200 research studies on nutrition and weight management, has a different view. The causes of autoimmune diseases are not well understood, but what is known is that obesity increases its risk by about four times, she said. The evidence that meals like this will solve inflammation is "little more than hype," Roberts said. "The most helpful thing to avoid an immune disorder for someone with a family history is to be careful about their weight."
Katherine Patton, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, points out that there's lots of debate regarding Brady's diet. "Brady's diet is full of buzzwords, not science," she said. Besides being extremely restrictive, it's not very realistic for the average person to follow, she said.
In the end, a plant-based diet like Brady's is an easy and approachable way to incorporate more clean eating into your weekly meals, Levitt said. He adopted this way of eating six years ago, following his diagnosis with Crohn's disease.
Will the diet help people perform like Brady? For most, that's not realistic. But they can at least eat like Brady with their own bowl full of super foods.
This story has been updated to reflect that 5 million plant-based meals are expected to be shipped this year from Purple Carrot.