Rating Alternative Diets for Seniors

The Eat More, Weigh Less Diet for Seniors

Dr. Dean Ornish is famous for his strict low fat diet program that reduces heart disease risk and even reverses arterial damage. The findings from his now famous "Lifestyle Heart Trial" research, which show that major lifestyle changes can significantly reduce the risk of developing atherosclerosis and heart disease, are so well accepted that participation in one of the lifestyle program's hospital sites is even covered by some health insurance companies.

Quick Take

  • A very low fat diet (10 percent of total calories)
  • Includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes
  • Prohibits sweeteners and refined carbohydrates
  • Requires meal preparation to ensure variety in the diet
  • Encourages meditation and exercise

This Diet Is Best for:


People who are ready and willing to overhaul their lifestyle and eating habits and to sacrifice some of the pleasures of eating. Following the diet may only be possible if your whole family is up to the challenge.

Who Should Not Try This Diet:

If you have trouble adjusting to change, then this diet is not for you. If you're into convenience foods and aren't willing to spend time preparing special low fat dishes, don't choose this diet.

The Premise

Ornish's program restricts fat intake to ten percent or less of daily calories and prohibits animal products, oils, and sugar. The Ornish plan calls for eating a very low fat vegetarian diet, relaxation, and exercise. A side benefit of the program, he discovered, is weight loss.

How much the diet benefits you is not a matter of age but how well you follow the program. This book is already a classic; it was one of the first to advocate such a major cutback in fat while increasing the intake of complex carbohydrate foods. Here Ornish translates the Lifestyle Heart Trial program for people focusing on weight loss.

The Rationale

Ornish believes that it's better to make broad, comprehensive changes in your diet all at once rather than to make small, moderate changes. Thus, he advocates dropping your fat intake from the typical 30 to 40 percent of calories to 10 percent and switching from a diet high in sugar to one that contains virtually none.

The rationale for the drastic reduction in fat, Ornish says, is that fat calories are more easily converted to fat in the body. A diet high in complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, is inefficient at converting the calories to fat. In fact, some calories are wasted during the conversion, allowing you to eat more calories than you could on a higher fat diet.

Moreover, a diet low in fat is by default low in calories and reduces the body's production of free radicals, which are destructive compounds that are believed to contribute to the aging process.

Eating on the Eat More, Weight Less Diet

Eat More, Weigh Less provides more recipes than most diet books -- and with good reason. It's tough to buy and prepare foods with such a low fat content. In fact, more than half the book's pages are devoted to recipes.

A typical day's menu might include Scrambled Mexican Tofu, salsa, whole-wheat toast, and orange juice for breakfast; Black Pepper Polenta with Bell Pepper Sauce and Shiitake Mushrooms, Italian Bean Salad, Tossed Green Salad, and Melon Sorbet for lunch; Roasted Tomato Sandwiches, Anasazi Bean Soup with Corn and Chili, Oven-Roasted Potatoes with Fresh Herbs, green salad, fresh fruit, and Apples and Raspberries in Apple-Ginger Consomme for dinner.

A table of some common foods and their nutrient content is also provided at the end of the book.

What the Experts Say

Most experts acknowledge Ornish's body of research showing the dramatic opening of clogged arteries experienced by most people following his program. However, the biggest problem most experts have with Ornish's diet is that it's just not realistic for most people.

The real test of any diet program is how easy it is to stick with over the long haul. Regardless of how healthful a diet may be, it's useless if you can't stay on it. That lack of stick-to-it-ability may be the downfall of Ornish's plan for the majority of people.

There's no doubt that if you're able to stick with it, Ornish's diet works. The question is whether you're willing to go that far with your dietary changes. Though exercise is encouraged, especially walking, few specifics are provided about how to get started and keep going. And because the diet is so low in fat, you'll need to do some special food preparation every day if you want to avoid meal monotony.

While the diet should help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, it could be low in some fat-soluble vitamins that are so important as you age, such as vitamins D and E, if you don't supplement them. The same is true of calcium. While calcium-rich, fat-free dairy products are allowed on the diet, the sample menus provide only about one serving a day -- not nearly enough to meet your increased calcium needs.

Calorie quota: There is no calorie quota and no food exchanges or allowances. The focus is on the type of calories, not the number. Generally speaking, it's rather difficult to overeat on a diet that contains only ten percent calories from fat.

Yes: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, meditation, exercise

No: Fatty foods, oils, sugar, sweeteners, refined grains

Other similar diets: The Pritikin Weight-Loss Breakthrough

In the next section, get information on how to eat right for your body type and find out if this plan is safe and effective.

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