There are many different approaches to lifestyle modification, but one size does not fit all. What is important is taking steps — one day at a time — to improve one’s health, losing weight if necessary, and finding a way to incorporate healthy habits into daily living. Studies have shown that losing even 10 pounds can significantly lower blood pressure and cholesterol — both major risk factors in the development of heart disease. Often, blood pressure will drop within two weeks of beginning a lifestyle modification.
Consult with your physician before beginning any new lifestyle modification, such as a change in diet, to determine which plan best fits your goals and health status.
The following options are highlighted in this article: the DASH Diet, the 5:2 Fast Diet™, and an anti-inflammatory diet.
The DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)
For the seventh year in a row, the DASH diet was rated Best Diet Overall by U.S. News & World Report, based on the calculations of an expert panel of the country’s top nutritionists, dietary consultants and physicians specializing in diabetes, heart health and weight loss. The DASH diet was first developed in 1996 by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [part of the National Institutes of Health] to prevent and control hypertension.
The DASH Diet — plant-based diet
|Servings per day|
|Fruits||4 to 5 (one serving equals 1 medium fruit or ½ cup frozen or canned)|
|Vegetables||4 to 5 (one serving equals 1 cup raw leafy, ½ cup cooked or chopped raw)|
|Whole grains||6 (serving size varies – ½ bagel, ½ English muffin, 5 low sodium crackers)|
|Low-fat dairy||2 to 3 (one serving equals 1 cup milk or yogurt, 1 ½ ounces cheese)|
|Fish, poultry, lean meats||5 to 6 ounces per day (3 ounces equals the size of a deck of cards) Avoid cured or processed meats|
|Nuts, seeds, legumes||4 to 5 per week (one serving equals ½ cup legumes; 1/3 cup unsalted nuts; 2 tablespoons seeds or nut butter )|
|Healthy fats, oils||2 to 3 (one serving equals 1 teaspoon vegetable oil)|
|Sweets||5 or fewer per week|
|Sodium||1,500 mg per day|
For more detailed information about the DASH diet, including meal plans and recipes, visit www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/new_dash.pdf.
The 5:2 Fast Diet™
The 5:2 Fast Diet became popular in the United Kingdom following a BBC television documentary, Eat, Fast and Live Longer, written and presented by Michael Mosley, a psychiatrist and journalist who experimented with fasting to lose weight, and lower his blood pressure and cholesterol.
Another proponent of intermittent fasting is Mark P. Mattson, PhD, professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging. He is one of the leading researchers in the area of the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying multiple neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
“Intermittent fasting enhances the ability of nerve cells to repair DNA,” says Mattson. “Neurochemically, when the brain is challenged by physical exertion, cognitive tasks, or caloric restriction, the body produces a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which not only strengthens neural connections and increases the production of new neurons but can also have an anti-depressive effect.”
The 5:2 Fast Diet equates to five days of normal, healthy eating and two non-consecutive days of reducing caloric intake to 500 calories for women and 600 calories for men.
As with starting any new routine, begin slowly, perhaps fasting one day a week before proceeding to two non-consecutive days. Not all people benefit from fasting.
Breakfast: one poached egg (78 calories), ½ cup fresh berries (41) = 119 total calories
Lunch: salad: 1 cup kale (33); 1 cup spinach (7); 1 medium grated carrot (25) ; 6 cherry tomatoes (18); 3 olives (18); ½ cup broccoli (16); ½ bell pepper (12) = 129 total calories
Dinner: 3 oz salmon fillet grilled (177); 1 cup steamed broccoli (31); fresh squeezed lemon (7); salad: 1 cup spinach (7) 6 cherry tomatoes (18) and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (18) = 258 total calories
Total calories for the day: 506
Vegetables are a good way to feel full and may be eaten as salads or soups.
Some people eat three meals a day while others eat only one evening meal totaling 500 to 600 calories. It is important to drink plenty of water — tea and coffee are optional. If possible, try not to eat after 7 p.m. Fasting at least 12, and up to 16 or 20, hours provides the most benefit. To help track calories on fasting days, view calorie-counting apps online. More 5:2 fast diet details, plus recipe and tips may be found online.
The anti-inflammatory diet is not intended to be a weight-loss program although that can be a benefit of following the program. Rather, it is a way of eating foods that can minimize inflammation — the root cause of many illnesses — including heart disease, certain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.
There are several variations of this eating plan. Renowned integrative medicine pioneer Andrew Weil, MD, created an eating plan called Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid which can be found at DrWeil.com.
Another version of the anti-inflammatory diet is known as the elimination diet, the purpose of which is to discover symptom-triggering food. By eliminating common inflammatory foods during a specific time period, participants may then add back one food at a time and observe their reaction to that food. If their symptoms do not flare up (it can take as long as 72 hours for reactions to manifest), they may keep the food in their diet. Common inflammatory foods include: dairy products (lactose and casein), wheat (and other gluten-containing grains), eggs, corn, peanuts, tomatoes, shellfish, all citrus fruits and juices, sugar, chocolate, coffee, black tea, alcohol, soy, artificial sweeteners and yeast.
Fresh, organic whole foods are key to the anti-inflammatory and elimination diets. All processed foods should be avoided to better determine trigger foods as they are added. More information is available online or through a health care provider knowledgeable in these eating plans.
When starting any new eating plan, consulting a physician is recommended. It may be helpful to work with a qualified health provider when first beginning the anti-inflammatory diet.