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Dept of Daft: How safe is the Dr Perricone Diet?

May 1, 2009 Reviewed by Marta 6 Comments
I recently embarked on reading David Ewing Duncan's fascinating new book called Experimental Man. In the first few pages he runs a rather foolhardy test on himself by eating a lunch of halibut (a fish with a mean mercury level of 0.26 parts per million) and then for dinner a platter of swordfish (which typically is high in mercury at 0.97 ppm). The level of mercury in Mr Duncan's blood, according to his before/after tests, went from a 4 micrograms per liter (below the EPA's safety threshold of 5.8) to 14 micrograms. And, for some reason, this prompted me to contemplate the safety of the Dr Perricone Diet.

The Perricone Diet is, primarily, an anti-aging program, rather than a weight loss diet. Follow the diet and, it is promised, you will look younger and live longer. It has garnered loads of publicity, with appearances on Oprah and Courtney Cox is supposedly a fan. His theory is that we should eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and that this will reduce inflammation, one of the causes of aging.

In order to get all that omega-3, Dr P recommends eating an awful lot of fish. Salmon to be precise. This is the daily meal plan he provides for a three-day trial run.

Wake Up
8 to 12 ounces spring water

3 egg whites and 1 whole egg and/or a 4- to 6-ounce piece of broiled salmon
1/2 cup cooked oatmeal (not instant)
4 oz cantaloupe OR 1/4 cup fresh berries
8 to 12 ounces spring water minimum, (more if desired)

4 to 6 ounces grilled salmon or tuna packed in spring water
2 cups romaine lettuce
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste
4 oz cantaloupe OR 1/4 cup fresh berries
8 to 12 ounces spring water minimum, (more if desired

Mid-afternoon snack
2 ounces low-salt, sliced chicken breast OR 6 oz plain yogurt.
4 raw, unsalted hazelnuts
1/2 green apple
8 to 12 ounces spring water minimum, (more if desired)

4 to 6 ounces grilled salmon
2 cups romaine lettuce
1 tablespoon olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste
1 cup steamed asparagus, broccoli, or spinach dressed with a little olive oil
4 oz cantaloupe OR 1/4 cup fresh berries
8 to 12 ounces spring water minimum, (more if desired)

Before-bedtime snack
2 ounces low-fat low-salt turkey/chicken breast OR 6 oz plain yogurt.
1/2 pear or green apple
3 or 4 almonds or olives
8 to 12 ounces of spring water

Aside from the fact that I find the thought of salmon for breakfast vaguely repulsive, I couldn't help but be struck by the amount of salmon that one is suppose to consume in one day: as much as 18 ounces! The amount of fish recommended by the FDA is a maximum of 12 ounces per week. Although salmon is nowhere near as mercury toxic as swordfish, three six ounce servings would mean you'd be imbibing 5.1 mcg of mercury.

Dr P seems to think this is all perfectly safe and, on the contrary, he regards the average person's breakfast of orange juice, a bowl of cereal with skim milk and bananas, a low-fat bran muffin with margarine, and a cup of coffee as downright hazardous. He says it will cause "a rapid acceleration of the aging process, increasing the risk of heart disease, every known form of cancer, memory loss, and mental deterioration." It will leave you "fat, wrinkled, and fatigued."

Not for the first time, I wondered whether Dr Perricone is a little nuts. Actually, this might not be far from the truth - assuming he follows the Perricone Diet. The phrase as mad as a hatter is thought to be a reference to the days when hat makers suffered from brain damage as a result of the mercury in the felt they used.
  • November 12, 2009

    by Sigridur Olafsdottir

    Hi, in Iceland people eat a lot of all kinds of fish, cod, haddock, salmon and lots of herring especially during christmas time and the Icelanders are among the oldest people with pretty good skin. But of course we also have clean air and lots of natural spring water. I think this tells us how important it is to take care of what we eat and drink for the sake of health and healthy looking
    All the best to you all - Sigga

  • May 4, 2009

    by Elsa

    From what I understand grass fed beef and bison is also rich in omega 3 fatty acids. It appears that grass fed red meat is much healthier than corn fed red meat.


  • May 2, 2009

    by Zoe

    Thanks for the post, Marta! I've often wondered the same thing--about Dr. Perricone and about others who urge us to increase the amount of deep sea fish we eat. I do know that heavy metals and other pollutants are, in fact, a health concern for Native people, not just from salmon but from other marine animals that they eat which are even higher up on the food chain. But plenty of experts still recommend that we eat more fish, so I guess the good outweighs the bad on this one? I think, however, that I'm going to stick with the FDA on this one.

  • May 1, 2009

    by fastbluebunny

    I'm pretty sure he specifically says that the salmon has to be wild Alaska, to reduce the risk of mercury.

  • May 1, 2009

    by marta

    I am sure it is. Alaskan seas are doubtless more pristine than the Atlantic.

  • May 1, 2009

    by Niall

    I grew up in Alaska, and we easily ate more salmon on a daily basis in the summertime than Dr. Perricone recommends. I never noticed any bad side effects. And the native inuit peoples eat even more salmon, and they seem quite healthy.

    Mercury may be more of a problem with Atlantic salmon than with Alaskan salmon, I don't know.

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