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The Perricone diet is an anti-inflammatory and anti-aging diet that emphasizes salmon and nutritional supplements. It is designed to promote weight loss, maintain a healthy weight, and slow or reverse the visible aging process. The cornerstone food in the diet is fish, primarily salmon.
The Perricone diet was developed by dermatologist Nicholas Perricone. It was first published in Per-ricone’s 2001 book, The Wrinkle Cure which claims that proper nutrition is the key to preventing and eliminating wrinkles from the skin. It advocates eating foods rich in antioxidants and low in carbohydrates. It was followed in 2002 by The Perricone Prescription, which continued and expanded on the role of diet and nutrition in maintaining a healthy and youthful appearance. In 2005, Perricone published The Perricone Weight-Loss Diet which adapted his anti-aging diet into a weight loss program.
The Perricone diet is promoted for weight loss, improving physical appearance, and slowing the aging process. The diet is laid out in six major books by the author from 2001 through 2007. In general, each book emphasizes a different aspect of the diet: the first book is about the diet’s effect on diminishing wrinkles and slowing or reversing the visible aging process; his second book focuses on skin care, his third book targets acne, and his fifth book deals with weight loss. Regardless of what it is used for, the basic components of the Perricone diet are foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and antioxidants. Above all else, the diet emphasizes eating fish, especially wild Alaskan salmon. He suggests eating salmon at least five times a week but as often as two or three times a day. Other fish allowed on the diet include tuna, cod, shellfish, sole, flounder, swordfish, trout, and halibut. Among the other foods allowed on the diet are nuts, green vegetables, beans, berries, egg whites, low-fat milk and cottage cheese, citrus fruit, olives and olive oil, apples, cantaloupe, kiwi, honeydew melon, nectarines, peaches, pears, tomatoes and tomato juice, tofu, and yogurt.
Foods to be avoided include bread (and anything with flour), pasta, rice, cereal, popcorn, sugar, coffee, red meat, pizza, most cheese, butter and margarine, grapes, watermelon, bananas, carrots, corn, potatoes, and diet and regular soft drinks. The glycemic index (GI) is used by the Perricone diet as a basic guide for eating. Under the diet, foods that have a glycemic index of more than fifty should be avoided while those with a GI of 50 and under are acceptable.
The Glycemic Index
The glycemic index measures the quality rather than the quantity of carbohydrates found in food. Quality refers to how quickly blood sugar levels are raised following eating. The base of the GI is glucose, which is assigned an index value of 100. Other foods are compared to glucose to arrive at their ratings. The higher the GI number, the faster blood sugar increases when that particular food is consumed. A high GI is usually considered to be 70 and greater, a medium GI is 56-69, and a low GI value is 55 or less.
The following is the GI for a few foods:
- Cornflakes, 83
- Grapefruit, 25
- Watermelon, 72
- Sugar, 64
- Potato chips, 56
- White bread, 70
- Sourdough bread, 54
- Macaroni, 46
- Baked red potato, 93
- French fries, 75
- Yogurt, plain, 14
- Salmon, 0
But the GI in not a straightforward formula when it comes to reducing blood sugar levels. Various factors affect the GI value of a specific food, such as how the food is prepared (boiled, baked, sauted, or fried, for example) and what other foods are consumed with it. For these reasons, the American Diabetes Association has adopted a position that there is not enough conclusive evidence to recommend the general use of a low-GI diet for diabetics. Not all physicians and endocrinologists (medical specialists who treat disorders of the glands, including diabetes) subscribe to the association’s position.
Besides salmon, Perricone has developed a list of what he calls ten “super foods” that are high in essential fatty acids, fiber, or antioxidants, along with foods that help to regulate blood glucose levels. These foods are: Acai (a berry grown in South America), the allium family (onions, garlic, and leeks), barley, greens (blue-green algae, wheat grass, and barley grass), buckwheat
seed, beans and lentils, hot peppers, nuts and seeds, sprouts, and yogurt. Perricone’s anti-inflammatory diet is the cornerstone of his beauty and health program. Its core components are:
- High-quality protein found in fish, shellfish, poultry, and tofu.
- Low-glycemic carbohydrates from fresh fruit and vegetables, whole-grains, and beans.
- Healthy fats from cold-water fish, especially wild Alaskan salmon, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
- Eight to 10 glasses of spring water each day.
- Beverages, such as green tea, that are rich in antioxidants.
Perricone says these foods and beverages act as natural anti-inflammatories and help maintain normal insulin and blood glucose levels. The following excerpt is from the Perricone Website and explains why his diet is anti-inflammatory and how it affects the aging process.
“Our cells use oxygen to produce energy and they generate free radicals as a byproduct of this and many other metabolic functions like circulation and digestion. Free radicals are also produced by sunlight, toxins such as pesticides, cigarette smoke and air pollution. Free radicals are without question the central players in the aging process. But there is another natural phenomenon that affects aging—inflammation. Not the redness, swelling or irritation you may think of but subclinical inflammation, which is not visible to the naked eye, and takes place at the cellular level. What is the relationship between free radicals and inflammation? When free radicals damage a cell, they cause inflammation. Antioxidants scoop up free radicals, preventing the cellular degeneration and production of chemicals within the body that cause further damaging.”
The basic Perricone diet consists of five meals a day: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks. Protein-rich foods must be eaten before the rest of the meal. It also recommends 20-30 minutes of exercise each day. A sample one-day meal plan from The Perricone Prescriptionis:
- Breakfast: Three to four ounces of smoked salmon, one-half a cup of slow-cooked oatmeal with two tablespoons of blueberries, one teaspoon of slivered almonds, and green tea or water.
- Lunch: A four- to six-ounce broiled turkey patty, lettuce and tomato, one-half a cup of three-bean salad, and green tea or water.
- Afternoon snack: Two ounces of sliced turkey or chicken breast, four hazelnuts, and four celery sticks.
- Dinner: Four to six ounces of broiled salmon, one cup of lentil soup, a tossed green salad with olive oil and lemon juice, one-half a cup of steamed spinach, and green tea or water.
- Bedtime snack: One hard-boiled egg, three celery sticks, three red bell pepper strips, and three green olives.
Supplements, topical creams, and cost
One of the biggest criticisms—and drawbacks—of the Perricone diet is the high cost of the more than two dozen dietary supplements and topical creams Perricone says people need as part of his diet plan for a healthy and youthful appearance. The products can be purchased through his company, N.V. Perricone, M.D., Nutriceuticals. A 30-day supply of eight supplements for his weight management program cost $195, as of April 2007. Other brands of the supplements also can be purchased at health food stores, vitamin shops, and many pharmacies.
The primary function of the Perricone diet is to slow the aging process by counteracting the body’s inflammatory process, resulting in healthier and younger looking skin and over-all appearance. Its secondary function is as a weight loss program that stresses a diet high in antioxidants and low in carbohydrates. Weight loss for overweight or obese people can lead to a lower risk for a number of diseases, including some types of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Diet specifics vary slightly among the six major books written by Perricone as of 2007. Since the diet has a soy component, it can be adapted to a vegetarian diet but probably not vegan. Omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained from flaxseed oil rather than fish.
Benefits include living longer and looking younger, according to Perricone. Specifically, Perricone says his diet plan will reduce wrinkles, slow or reverse the visible aging process, clear acne, and eliminate bags and dark circles around the eyes. Perricone says this is because his diet plan reduces inflammation in the body, which is the root of most of the physical appearance issues associated with aging. The Perricone diet and others like it can be beneficial in reducing the risks of many medical problems, such as heart disease and diabetes, since it emphasizes eating fish, vegetables, and fruit.
The Perricone diet recommends regulating blood sugar levels by eating foods that have a low glycemic index. The American Dietary Association, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, and the United States Department of Agriculture do not endorse low GI diets and these organizations do not support extreme intakes of fish. Such extreme intakes make the diet unbalanced. Since the diet advocates the use of numerous dietary supplements, persons considering the Perricone diet should check with their doctor or pharmacist to see if any of the supplements interact with any prescription medication they are taking. Persons who are on a blood thinner, such as Coumadin (warfarin) should consult their doctor before going on the diet. Women who are pregnant or lactating should not go on the diet without consulting their physician or obstetrician. People with existing medical conditions, including heart disease and diabetes, should discuss the diet with their physician before starting it.
In the UK, the FSA have set upper limits for oily fish consumption that are no more than two portions per week for girls and women of childbearing age and no more than four portions per week for boys, men, and older women due to the risk of contamination.
Although his books have been best-sellers in the United States and elsewhere, there is not general acceptance of most of his philosophy and claims by the medical community. There is also very little scientific research to substantiate most of his claims regarding the anti-aging aspects of his diet. There is research that shows a diet low in carbohydrates can promote weight loss but most of the studies followed participants for a year or less.
The consumer watchdog Website Quackwatch http://www.quackwatch.org takes a skeptical view of many of the claims made by Perricone. “Dr. Perri-cone would be more credible if he could show us a study demonstrating that people who followed his prescription lived longer, had younger skin demonstrated by objective measures, or felt better than those on a placebo program—or that they were better in any measurable way,” physicians Harriet Hall and Stephen Barrett wrote in a Quackwatch article dated August 12, 2004. “Instead, he provides only testimonials, exaggerated claims, partial truths, and incorrect statements.” For example, they say the Perricone books fail to mention that a diet high in salmon may pose health risks due to mercury contamination in the
fish. They also say the books fail to mention the toxic effects of high doses of some of the nutritional supplements Perricone recommends. The physicians do say his diet is low in calories and appropriate for weight loss.
The diet plan gets a mixed review on the popular and long-running health Website WebMD http://www.webmd.com. In an article dated September 1, 2005, it quotes Roberta Anding, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association as saying she did not think the Perricone diet would harm anyone and praised it for its emphasis on fish, vegetables, and some fruits. Lona Sandon, a registered dietician with the dietetic association, took aim at the diet’s emphasis on the gly-cemic index, saying the effects of foods with a high glycemic index are not proven by scientific research. Sandon also disapproves of Perricone selling his own line of products to supplement the diet. “Any time a diet is sold along with additional supplements and creams that cost more than what most people spend on amonth of groceries, that raises a red flag,” Sandon said.
In a article in the New York Times Magazine (February 6, 2005) Perricone admits that he has no peer-reviewed research to support his diet claims. However, he answered critics of his diet program by saying, “I’m standing on the shoulders of other scientists and translating for people. I’ve gotten the message to millions that eating makes a huge difference in the way you feel. If you’re eating salmon now, or taking fish-oil capsules, I’ve helped you.”
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Perricone, Nicholas. The Perricone Prescription Personal Journal: Your Total Body and Face Rejuvenation Daybook New York: Harper Collins, 2002.
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Perricone, Nicholas. The Perricone Weight-Loss Diet: A Simple 3-Part Plan to Lose the Fat, the Wrinkles, and the Years New York: Ballantine, 2007.
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Born, Pete. “Perricone, The Retailer.” WWD (May 7, 2004): 5.
Espinoza, Galina. “Very Berry Smooth: Dr. Nicholas Perricone Says the Secret to Young Skin Lies in Salmon and Blueberries.” People Weekly (September 9, 2002): 101.
Foss, Melissa. “Is Your Diet Making You Fat?” Harper’s Bazaar (August 2003): 50–51.
Murphy, Myatt. “Look-Good, Feel Better Foods: Smooth Wrinkles, Burn Fat, and Shed Stress By Eating Right to Fight Inflammation.” Men’s Fitness (September 2003): 70–73.
Nagel, Andrea. “Perricone Pitches Wellness on Madison Ave.” WWD (March 25, 2005): 12.
Sachs, Andrea. “Skin Deep: A Dermatologist Says He Can Reverse Wrinkles. Others Are Unconvinced.” Time (October 21, 2002): A11.
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American College of Nutrition. 300 South Duncan Ave., Suite 225, Clearwater, FL 33755. Telephone: (727) 446-6086. Website: http://www.amcollnutr.org
American Diabetes Association. 1701 N. Beauregard St., Alexandria, VA 22311. Telephone: (800) 342-2383. Website: http://www.diabetes.org
American Dietetic Association. 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000, Chicago, IL 60606-6995. Telephone: (800) 877-1600. Website: http://www.eatright.org
American Society for Nutrition. 9650 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20814. Telephone: (301) 634-7050. Website: http://www.nutrition.org.
Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. 3101 Park Center Drive, 10th Floor, Alexandria, VA 22302-1594. Telephone: (703) 305-7600. Website: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov.
N.V. Perricone, M.D. http://www.nvperriconemd.com. (April 13, 2007).
Ken R. Wells