In a new study, researchers found that older adults on a diet designed to help patients with high blood pressure got big health benefits.
The research was conducted by a team at South Dakota State University.
More than 41% of older Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control Statistics, and the National Council on Aging reports that 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease. Most also do not exercise regularly.
The team sought to evaluate whether adults age 65 and older on the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, or DASH, with prescribed protein intake, would maintain muscle mass and strength.
The DASH diet is a food group-based diet consisting of grains, dairy, protein, fruits, and vegetables. The diet emphasizes whole food, no processed foods.
Muscle maintenance is a way to reduce older adults’ risk of falling, thus improving their quality of life while reducing health-care costs. Participants consumed 126 grams of meat a day, evenly distributed among breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The diet also included 391 milligrams of cholesterol a day, which is actually more than the recommended limit of 300 milligrams.
American dietary guidelines recommend that sedentary older males consume 2,000 calories per day, while women should have 1,600 calories per day.
The research team prepared meals for the 15 men and 21 women in the study that contained 1,800 calories a day.
The team found the 36 adults who completed the 12-week study lost an average of 6% of their total body weight and maintained their muscle strength.
Participants lost an average of 1.1 pounds per week, for an average total weight loss of more than 13 pounds.
Though all bodyweight components decreased dramatically, the greatest loss was fat mass. The participants lost an average of 4.5 kilograms (nearly 10 pounds) of fat mass.
As body mass decreased, grip strength increased. The participants’ ability to move from a sitting to a standing position also improved. Though they did not build any muscle, their muscles became more efficient at utilizing energy.
In addition, the dietary changes actually helped improve their metabolic health, thereby reducing their risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and fatty liver disease.
The average blood pressure for the study group also dropped from 133/76 mmHg to a healthy 120/70, eliminating blood pressure as a risk factor.
Now, the researchers are evaluating the diet’s effect on biomarkers of metabolic health, such as cholesterol, glucose levels, and insulin sensitivity.
The team anticipates this dietary approach will also benefit patients diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, who are at higher risk for having heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
The lead author of the study is Assistant professor Cydne Perry of the Department of Health and Nutritional Sciences.
The study is published in Nutrients.
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