The diet that helps seniors lose fat, keep muscle and gain bone mass

The older you get the more difficult dieting can be and not just for the same reasons as when you were younger.

Yes, you still have to deal with possible cravings, avoiding unhealthy options and the ultimate groan-inducer — exercise — but now, there’s even more you have to worry about. That’s because as you age, dropping pounds can also mean losing muscle and even bone loss. Yikes!

Luckily, a new study found a way around that problem…

Researchers at Wake Forest University have discovered what to eat when you want to lose weight but stay strong.

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Safe weight loss without muscle loss

The researches set out to quantify the risk of doing nothing by comparing results from a weight loss group vs. a weight stability group.

They recruited 96 adults over the age of 65 and randomly assigned them to one of two groups:

  • A six-month low-calorie meal plan that included more than 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, plus adequate calcium and vitamin D
  • Or, a weight stability group targeting .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, which is the current, government-recommended dietary allowance, who maintained their normal diet and activity level

You might be happy to hear that the researchers decided not to include exercise, since many older adults may not perform the volume and intensity of exercise needed to keep their muscles and bones strong.

And, even without exercise, the low calorie, high protein meal plan had big benefits!

Here’s what the researchers found:

  • Participants on the diet lost about 18 pounds, most of it fat, and preserved muscle mass. The control group, on the other hand, lost about half a pound.
  • And, even when participants lost weight using the high protein meal plan, they maintained bone mass. In fact, their trabecular bone score, a measure of bone quality that predicts the risk of future fracture improved.
  • The high protein group also lost the fat from around their stomach, hips, thighs, and rear, which is important for preventing and controlling cardiometabolic diseases like diabetes and stroke.
  • Their score on the Healthy Aging Index, which measures biomarkers that predict the risk of death how long you’ll live, even improved by 0.75 points.

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Basically, the diet made them thinner, stronger, healthier and likely to live longer.

“Doctors hesitate to recommend weight loss for fear that losing muscle and bone could cause mobility issues or increase the risk of injury,” said Kristen Beavers, assistant professor of health and exercise science at Wake Forest and principal investigator of this study. “This study suggests that a diet high in protein and low in calories can give seniors the health benefits of weight loss while keeping the muscle and bone they need for better quality of life as they age.”

What should you eat?

In the study, the weight-loss group followed a high-protein, nutritionally complete, reduced-calorie meal plan that included four meal replacements, two meals of lean protein and vegetables and one healthy snack.

The researchers were quick to say however that any high-protein, nutritious low-calorie meal plan should deliver the same benefits. Just remember those three things — more protein, fewer calories and nutritionally rich.

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  1. New study shows more protein and fewer calories help older people lose weight safely — EurekAlert!
Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.