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Rating Alternative Diets for Seniors


Eating Well for Optimum Health for Seniors

Dr. Andrew Weil is a well-known guru of alternative medicine and the author of several books on health and nutrition. This diet guide ties together his philosophy about lifestyle, nutrition, and well-being. His "eating well" program is designed not just to keep you fit and healthy but also to satisfy your senses, giving you pleasure and comfort.

Quick Take

  • Based on the principle that eating should be an enjoyable as well as a healthy experience
  • Primarily a vegetarian diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • No specific calorie counts or meal plans
  • Not a weight-loss plan per se but a diet plan to improve health

This Diet Is Best For

Anyone who wants to be gently guided into a new way of eating healthfully that makes mealtime a slow-paced, enjoyable experience. The diet is well-balanced and is well-suited to anyone of any age who wants to feel their best.

Who Should Not Try This Diet

There really are no caveats against following Weil's Eating Well plan.

The Premise

Austerity is not a part of his plan. Weil presents his eating-well plan as one strategy for managing disease and restoring health. Much of the book is devoted to providing good, basic nutrition information, and only one chapter is devoted to weight loss. But weight loss or weight maintenance are not Weil's primary goals here. Instead, he focuses on eating a variety of healthy foods and adopting a healthy lifestyle.

The Rationale

Weil says that by embracing and enjoying the eating experience rather than trying to subdue and deny it, you'll find it easier to make wise food choices that can improve your quality of life for years to come. His message on diet and health seems to be that you should delight in eating, choose foods wisely, exercise, and be happy.

The diet is one that follows almost all of the tenets currently accepted as the nutrition path to good health, including eating less refined and processed food, avoiding foods containing partially hydrogenated oils, including soybeans and soy foods in your diet, eating fish at least two to three times a week, keeping your protein intake between 10 and 20 percent of your caloric intake, reducing your consumption of red meat; eating beans, legumes, and whole grains; and eating lots of fruits and vegetables.

Eating on the Eating Well for Optimum Health Diet

Though there are no menus nor a strict diet plan to follow (only eating guidelines and recipes), Weil recommends that your daily diet provide about 50 to 60 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 10 to 20 percent of calories from protein, and about 20 percent of calories from fat.

If you drop below 20 percent of calories from fat, he says, you may develop a deficiency of essential fatty acids. Weil encourages a diet filled with high-fiber complex carbohydrates, and low glycemic-index foods (those that don't raise blood sugar much). He discourages sugary foods, foods sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, and products made with refined flour but says that many popular diet plans are overly concerned about sugar intake.

The book provides several lists of foods and sample meals, but the mixing and matching and menu planning are up to you. He does, however, give about 80 tasty-sounding recipes.

Weil doesn't come right out and recommend a complete vegetarian diet, but you won't find any meat- or egg-based dishes in the meal plans or recipes. He does suggest minimizing your intake of animal-based foods while increasing your intake of plant-based ones.

What the Experts Say

Weil enjoys considerable respect from both conventional and alternative camps alike. His dietary advice, for the most part, is in line with what most mainstream health experts and nutritionists recommend. However, he does steer readers away from dairy products, which could make it tough to get all the calcium and vitamin D your bones need to stay strong.

His recommendation for fiber intake is higher than most -- about 40 grams a day -- and could cause some stomach discomfort if you don't ease into it gradually.

If you follow Weil's guidelines for eating well, you may not only lose weight and improve your health but actually allow yourself to enjoy your meals. If your diet doesn't include all the foods in his healthy eating plan, he recommends a variety of supplements, including B vitamins, vitamin E, and selenium, to bridge the gap.

In addition, it would be a good idea to take supplemental calcium and vitamin D as insurance against the increased loss of calcium from bones you experience as you age.

Calorie quota: Calories are not counted, and there are no specific meal plans. You should lose weight, though, if you follow Weil's advice on which foods to avoid and which ones to eat more of.

Yes: Lots of fruits and vegetables; soy foods; foods rich in omega-3 fats; minimal amounts of dairy, eggs, meat, and poultry; plenty of fluids; leisurely meal times; satisfying hunger

No: A lot of animal foods, such as meat, poultry, and dairy; inactivity; severe dietary restrictions; not enjoying meal time; high glycemic-index foods; overly processed foods, especially those that contain hydrogenated oils, which are high in trans fatty acids

Other similar diets: Eat More, Weigh Less; Eat Right, Live Longer

On the next page, read about the Fit for Life Diet for Seniors.

To learn more about senior health, see: