Rating Low-Fat Diets for Seniors

Low-fat diets are the mirror image of the trendy low-carb diets that have been popular in recent years. As a senior, a low-fat diet might help you control your weight and reduce your risk for heart disease.

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The best way to determine the best diet for you is to examine the pros and cons of each diet and see how it fits into your lifestyle.

In the following pages you will find out all you need to know about these diets:

  • The Choose to Lose Diet for Seniors
  • The Fight Fat Over Forty Diet
  • The Low-Fat Lies, High-Fat Frauds Diet for Seniors

Continue to the next page to read about the Choose to Lose Diet for Seniors.

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The Choose to Lose Diet for Seniors

The Choose to Lose Diet has been lauded by many healthcare professionals as one of the most sensible diets on the market. Learn more about this plan below.

Quick Take

  • A balanced diet that includes a wide variety of foods
  • Encourages fresh foods but makes great allowances for convenience foods
  • Allows occasional splurges
  • Encourages exercise
  • Not just a weight-loss diet but a healthy eating plan for life

This Diet Is Best For

Anyone who wants to be as well informed as they can about what they put on their plate. This is a diet plan that could benefit anyone of any age, and it will certainly help people over 50 fend off debilitating, age-related diseases. This is a detailed, practical guide to good nutrition.

Who Should Not Try This Diet

Those who are looking for a "secret formula" for quick weight loss or for promises of extended life and extraordinary fitness

The Premise

The Goors have been writing about eating a healthy diet for approximately 20 years. The Choose to Lose series, billed as a "food lover's guide to permanent weight loss," tells you everything you need to know, and more, about eating healthy and losing weight. Taking the opposite tact of many diet books, Choose to Lose encourages carbohydrate consumption, as long as most of it comes from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

The focus of the diet is fat: finding it, counting it, and budgeting it. It explains how to plan your own personal fat budget, read food labels, ferret out the fat in the foods you eat, fat-proof your home, eat out healthfully, and switch to healthy fats. They encourage dieters to keep a food diary, at least in the beginning, to learn about their own food habits and to reveal their weaknesses.

One of the reasons the book is so long is that it provides a comprehensive food table with the nutrient content of each food, plus discussions of everything, literally, from soup to nuts. The information tells dieters what's good (low fat, high-fiber, and most nutritious), what's bad (high fat, low-fiber, empty calories) and how you can plan your new diet to keep some of your favorite foods on your weight-loss menus.

The Rationale

While some diets focus on limiting carbohydrate intake, the Goors' plan focuses on limiting fat intake, especially saturated fat, since fat is the most concentrated source of calories in the diet and saturated fat is linked to heart disease. The diet plan has no gimmicks or hooks; it's a no-nonsense approach to good nutrition that has withstood the test of time. Fat intake is limited but not excessively restricted, and the diet even allows for an occasional high-fat splurge.

The goal, say the Goors, is not to think of Choose to Lose as a diet but as an eating plan for life. Foods are clearly divided into groups according to how much of them you can eat. The diet also provides examples of "before" menus and then shows better "after" alternatives. Follow the guidelines of their plan, say the Goors, and over time you will adjust your taste buds to a lower fat diet without having to greatly restrict your food choices.

Eating on the Choose to Lose Diet

The Goors' diet provides more information about specific foods than most other diets, and it gives a week's worth of sample menus and recipes. More than 250 of the book's pages are devoted to food tables that give the calorie, fat, and saturated fat content of foods. You'll find brief, informative sections on such foods as bread, potatoes, cereals, chicken, seafood, popcorn, and pretzels, just to name a few.

A typical day's menus might include oatmeal and whole-wheat toast with jelly, cottage cheese, strawberries, and skim milk for breakfast; chickpeas, whole wheat pita, a tangerine, carrot sticks, and orange juice for lunch; tortilla soup, chicken, green beans, rice, squash, cauliflower, nonfat yogurt, and blueberries for dinner; and nonfat yogurt and popcorn for snacks during the day.

Total calories: 2,300. Guidelines are provided for cutting calories to 1,500 to 1,600 -- the minimum they recommend. Supplements are not recommended. Follow a balanced diet, they say, and supplements shouldn't be necessary.

What the Experts Say

Information is power, and the Goors' plan provides dieters with power over their diets and, ultimately, their health. The diet plan goes hand-in-hand with what most experts currently recommend.

It's a diet high in complex carbohydrates -- mostly from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes -- with limited fat intake, most of it from healthy fats such as olive oil. Though it's not billed as such, the diet is in line with dietary recommendations for reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.

If you follow the Goors' plan, using the recommended calorie adjustments, it should allow you to lose weight successfully. You get a lot of variety and choices on this diet, which also offers much-needed guidance for keeping the diet balanced and realistic. One chapter is devoted to exercise, which they sum up as "Eating Right + Exercise = Perfection."

Calorie quota: The basic diet in the sample menus provides about 2,300 calories a day, which would accommodate an average man or an active woman. But it also provides information on ways to reduce the calorie count to between 1,500 and 1,600 without sacrificing good nutrition.

Yes: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, variety, patience

No: High fat foods, especially foods rich in saturated fats; junk foods; fast foods; absentminded snacking

Other similar diets: Richard Simmons, Weight Watchers

In the next section, learn how to fight fat over forty!

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The Fight Fat Over Forty Diet

In this book, Dr. Pamela Peeke, an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and an adjunct senior scientist at the National Institutes of Health, details how chronic stress contributes to weight gain and threatens the length and quality of life after the age of forty.

Quick Take

  • Geared toward women over 40
  • Based on hormonal changes that occur during menopause
  • Provides a balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Emphasizes physical activity

This Diet Is Best For

Women who want to improve their diet and their physical fitness

Who Should Not Try This Diet

Women who are not willing to give up after-dinner munching

The Premise

Peeke sets out to bring women harmony of mind and body by working with and around hormonal changes that cause what she calls "toxic stress."

Toxic stress triggers the release of stress hormones, which, she says, leads to toxic weight gain. In fact, the average weight gain during the years preceding menopause (lasting five to ten years) can be two to three pounds or more per year. Part of that is due to a gradual decline in energy requirements. (On average, women older than 40 require about 15 percent less energy than they did in their 20's.)

In addition, Peeke also points to the role daily hormonal fluctuations play in weight gain and identifies what she calls "The Cortizone," the period between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. when levels of the hormone cortisol are lowest and you're most at risk for overeating and storing fat. She offers a variety of tips for navigating The Cortizone, including not eating carbohydrate foods after 5 p.m. and not eating at all after 8 p.m.

The Rationale

By controlling your diet -- both what and when you eat -- and making exercise a regular part of your lifestyle, Peeke says you can minimize weight gain and stay fit at midlife and beyond. In her plan, stress management, regular exercise, and physical fitness are as critical to weight management and weight loss as diet.

Her fitness requirements for stress and weight management are not negotiable and include 45 minutes of exercise five or six days a week, whole body strength training at least twice a week, and daily stretching.

Eating on the Fight Fat Over Forty Diet

According to Peeke, women are either stress resilient, stress overeaters, or stress undereaters. The diet plan for stress overeaters is designed for weight loss. For the stress-resilient profile, she offers a basic healthy balanced diet. For the stress undereaters, she includes extras such as nutrition bars and shakes, granola, and nuts for extra calories.

A typical day consists of cereal, fresh fruit, and skim milk for breakfast; a sandwich, carrot and celery sticks, fresh fruit, and skim milk for lunch; poultry or fish, two vegetables, and fresh fruit for dinner; and a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. Generally, each meal is made up of about 55 percent carbohydrates, 15 to 20 percent protein, and 25 to 30 percent fat.

No matter which stress profile fits you, Peeke says your daily diet should include at least six servings of whole grains; six to eight servings of vegetables; five to six servings of fruits; two to three servings of low fat dairy; two servings of meat, poultry, fish, or beans; and two tablespoons of vegetable oils.

All diets should include 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day and at least eight glasses of water. And everyone should minimize or avoid eating foods made from refined processed sugars.

What the Experts Say

The diet itself is a healthy one that follows all the accepted healthy eating guidelines. What hasn't been proved, however, are the reasons behind her admonition to avoid eating carbohydrates after 5 p.m. and not to eat at all after 8 p.m. If you have a problem with out-of-control munching in the evening, then perhaps you should heed her advice.

But there's no evidence to suggest that carbohydrates in particular or food in general is more likely to turn to fat if you eat it after a certain hour. Peeke's insistence on physical activity to maintain health and control weight, however, is to be applauded.

Following the balanced diet plan for 1,500 calories a day and including all the suggested servings of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy should result in weight loss and provide all the nutrients you need, with the possible exception of calcium. The two to three servings a day of dairy that Peeke recommends provide only about 600 to 900 milligrams of calcium, not sufficient for any adult, let alone post-menopausal women who need 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams a day.

And since fortified milk is the only realistic dietary source for vitamin D, two to three glasses a day would also fall short of current recommendations for the vitamin. If you try this diet, take a daily multivitamin that contains 100 percent of the Daily Value (DV) of vitamin D and 300 to 900 milligrams of supplemental calcium.

Calorie quota: Though calories are not the focus, Peeke says her diet plans provide about 1,500 calories a day. She does not recommend going below 1,200 calories a day.

Yes: Physical activity, stress reduction, a balanced diet including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nonfat dairy, lean meats, reduced-fat cheeses

No: High glycemic-index foods (foods that cause blood sugar levels to surge), fried foods, eating after 8 p.m., inactivity, stress

Other similar diets: SugarBusters!

On the next and final page of this article, read about the Low-Fat Lies, High-Fat Frauds Diet for Seniors.

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The Low-Fat Lies, High-Fat Frauds Diet for Seniors

This diet book, written by a physician and a nutritionist team from Brown University, espouses neither a low fat diet nor a low-carbohydrate diet. In fact, it's not really a diet book, if by "diet" you mean a weight-loss plan. Rather, Low-Fat Lies, High-Fat Frauds is a book about healthy eating, with weight loss as a side benefit.

Quick Take

  • A healthy diet modeled after the traditional diets of people in Mediterranean countries
  • Higher in fat than most diets, with much of the fat coming from olive oil
  • Includes lots of fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, fruit, and whole grains
  • Recommends drinking one to two glasses of red wine a day

This Diet Is Best For

People who like vegetables and whole grains and feel they would benefit from the more liberal dietary guidelines the authors advocate

Who Should Not Try This Diet

Those who have a problem with alcohol and those who feel they need more specific dietary guidelines.

The Premise

Kevin Vigilante, clinical associate professor of medicine at Brown, and co-author Mary Flynn, a nutritionist and Brown faculty member, advocate the Mediterranean style of eating, a diet that is rich in olive oil, fish, vegetables, fruits, beans, and lentils and includes a daily glass or two of red wine. Research confirms that the Mediterranean diet lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of cancer, and this book explains why and how.

In addition, the authors "expose the failures, false promises, and potential dangers of low fat diets," as well as those of the popular high fat (and low-carbohydrate) diets. Vigilante and Flynn also acknowledge the importance of exercise but say you can get the exercise you need to lose weight and stay healthy without becoming a "gym rat."

The authors point out that some of the largest consumers of olive oil, such as people who live in Spain, are also among those with the longest life spans. Moreover, the diet promises to help prevent killer diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, which become so much more common with age.

The Rationale

Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet has, for thousands of years, resulted in some of the lowest rates of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes in the world. Much of the research is discussed in the book, which has an impressive 300 references. The authors disagree with the official diets of the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health, which recommend limiting fat intake to 30 percent of calories.

Rather, they say that cutting back on fat can backfire, leaving you hungry and with a high level of risky fats in your blood. The Mediterranean diet provides about 40 percent of calories from fat, primarily from olive oil, which has heart-healthy properties. They maintain, and provide the science to explain, that the right kind of fat actually helps you stay healthy and lose weight.

Eating on the Low-Fat Lies, High-Fat Frauds Diet

The book provides a week's worth of menus for a 1,500-calorie and a 2,000-calorie diet, along with about 75 recipes for healthy dishes that fit the Mediterranean eating style. The diet includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil.

Four tablespoons of olive oil are allowed on the 1,500-calorie-a-day diet while 6 tablespoons are allowed on the 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, which doesn't leave a lot of room for "cheats." The diets provided aren't prescriptive for weight loss; the authors advise that you simply eat fewer calories if you don't lose weight.

Because of its heart-protective properties, a glass or two of red wine a day is included in the Mediterranean diet. It's unclear whether the calories from the wine are included in the two diets, as the sample menus don't list wine, but throughout the book the authors recommend that one should drink it.

What the Experts Say

The American Heart Association cautiously acknowledges that the incidence of heart disease in Mediterranean countries is lower than in the United States. But it points out that other lifestyle factors may play just as important a role in reducing risk. While some experts have researched the Mediterranean diet and are advocates of it, others believe the diet is an open invitation to overeat.

The Mediterranean-style diet the authors promote is generally an excellent one that incorporates all the foods that nutrition experts say we should eat more of. And it also advises cutting back on foods we eat too much of, such as meat, processed foods, and high fat junk. Some experts fear that the diet is too liberal and can easily result in eating too many calories because of the higher fat content.

And several experts have a problem with the recommendation to drink a glass or two of red wine each day, fearing it could open the door to drinking problems. If you currently take any medication, be sure to check with your doctor about any potential interactions. You may also fall short of calcium and vitamin D since the authors don't emphasize low fat dairy products or supplements, putting you at increased risk for osteoporosis.

The authors claim that because the diet isn't high in protein, which leeches calcium out of the body, less calcium is needed to maintain healthy bones. However, to be safe, take supplemental calcium and vitamin D to ensure healthy bones.

Calorie quota: There is no set calorie limit. Sample menus are provided for 1,500- and 2,000-calorie diets.

Yes: Olive oil, red wine, vegetables, beans, lentils, fruit

No: Reduced-fat foods, hydrogenated fats, and foods high in saturated fat, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products

Other similar diets: The Origin Diet

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Densie Webb, Ph.D., R.D. is the author of seven books, including Foods for Better Health, The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!, and Super Nutrition After 50. Webb also writes about health and nutrition for numerous magazines, including Family Circle, Fitness, Parade, Men's Fitness, and Redbook. She is a regular columnist for Woman's Day and Prevention magazines, a contributing writer for The New York Times, the associate editor of Environmental Nutrition newsletter, and a writer for the American Botanical Council.

Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D. is a nutrition consultant and writer. She is the author or co-author of five books, including Super Nutrition After 50 and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler. Ward is a contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition newsletter and a contributing writer for WebMD.com. She also writes for publications such as Parenting magazine and The Boston Globe.