If you are over 50 and you are trying to lose weight, small changes are usually better than extreme diets. In fact, unless you are overweight or you have some medical issues, being on a diet in midlife is not always recommended: some diets can have negative health consequences, particularly if you’re living with a condition such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
And even if you do lose weight in the short term, you may put that weight back on if you return to old eating habits.
More than searching for online advice that may lead to unreliable sources, midlife women should embrace body neutrality and maybe improve their well-being with the help of a nutritionist or a registered dietician and level up their workout.
Diet for women over 50: three important nutrients
In particular, according to Jason Ewoldt, RDN, LD, a wellness dietitian at Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, women over 50 should target three important nutrients to combat the most common changes in their bodies caused by ageing: calcium for bone health to fight osteoporosis, protein for healthy muscle mass, and vitamin B-12 for brain function.
However, by better understanding the most common types of diets, you can decide which one works best for your lifestyle and overall goals.
Here are the most popular ones and their pros and cons, according to experts.
“Intermittent Fasting is the most popular diet online, receiving a huge 1.2 million average monthly searches worldwide – says Anthony O’Reilly, a NASM-certified nutrition coach – Kourtney Kardashian and Jennifer Aniston are among the many celebrities to endorse the benefits of Intermittent Fasting. It involves consuming all your calories within a set time period and then fasting for the rest of the day“.
There are different approaches to intermittent fasting, with the most popular being an 8:16 split – meaning you consume your calories in an eight-hour eating window and fast for the other 16 hours of the day. You can also do a 10:16, 16:10, or even a 6:20 eating: fasting split.
The concept is that you will be eating fewer calories since you are squeezing them into a narrower timeframe, instead of consuming them throughout the day.
Advantages: It leads to weight loss, helps improve insulin resistance, reduces oxidative stress on your cells and stabilises blood sugar levels.
Disadvantages: It can be difficult to stick with long-term due to low energy, cravings, habits, and the discipline required to stick to the specific time frames. Studies investigating intermittent fasting also point to certain side effects that may occur during the fasting stage, for example, mood swings, constipation, dehydration, or diminished sleep quality.
The Mediterranean diet is often called the “heart-healthy diet” because it blends basic healthy eating habits with traditional Mediterranean flavours such as vegetables, grains, fish, fruit, olive oil, and nuts. Consumption of red meat is kept to a minimum, and dairy intake is moderate and consists of high-quality sources such as yoghurt and cheeses.
Advantages: It has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and type 2 diabetes. It can also lead to better mobility and quality of life as you age.
Disadvantages: The risks associated with a Mediterranean diet are low, but include possible iron and calcium deficiencies from eating less red meat and dairy.
The paleo diet is based on what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic, or prehistoric, era prior to modern farming. It consists of lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Foods such as dairy, legumes, refined sugar, salt, potatoes and grains are excluded from the paleo diet. It also excludes any highly processed foods.
Advantages: Because the paleo diet focuses on lean meat, fruits and vegetables, it may be linked to weight loss, improved glucose tolerance, better blood pressure control and lower triglycerides. However, there have not yet been any long-term studies to understand the benefits and risks of a paleo diet over time.
Disadvantages: Researchers warn against the diet’s exclusion of whole grains and legumes, which are good sources of fibre, vitamins and nutrients. It also excludes all dairy products, which provide protein and calcium.
The Ketogenic Diet
In recent years, the Ketogenic diet has arguably been one of the most discussed and debated diets. Keto, as it is called for short, prioritises fat (65-75 per cent of your daily calories), with moderate protein consumption (20-30 per cent) and very few carbs (only about five per cent, though some versions prohibit carbs altogether).
The Keto diet was designed to keep the body in a near-constant state of ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body uses fat, rather than carbohydrates, for energy. Basically, a ketogenic diet forces your body into ketosis by limiting your carbohydrate consumption to 20-50 grams per day. Those calories are replaced with healthy fats from meat, fish, eggs, nuts and oil.
Advantages: A ketogenic diet can aid in weight loss by reducing overall calories, focusing on healthy fats and putting the body in ketosis. It has also been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers.
Disadvantages: A ketogenic diet should always be followed under a doctor or registered dietician’s close observation. Low carbohydrate intake can lead to flu-like symptoms, lower energy, stress on your kidneys, digestive issues, nutrient deficiencies, dangerously low blood sugar and decreased bone density.
Going gluten-free has become a massive diet trend in the past 5-10 years. You don’t necessarily need to have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity to embark on this diet. Rather, people are adopting a gluten-free diet to lose weight. All foods containing wheat, barley and rye (such as pasta and traditional baked goods) are avoided, while whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, dairy, healthy fats and seeds are promoted.
Advantages: Lots of whole foods are included, and these are always healthy choices. There is a tendency to steer clear of packaged and processed foods, which tend to be high in sodium and preservatives.
Disadvantages: Lack of fibre, essential vitamins and nutrients.
Before choosing to embark on any new diet adventure, do your homework to understand what the diet is really about and if it’s safe and effective for you. Whether your goal is weight loss, weight gain, better digestion or merely a better quality of life, a medical or dietary expert can help you make smart food choices without compromising your health.
“The best type of diet to choose is one that is sustainable for the long term and fits your food preferences,” says Betsy Fears, a registered dietitian nutritionist at RET Physical Therapy Group to US News. “It also shouldn’t feel like a ‘diet.’ Typically, diets are viewed as short-term changes to eating patterns to achieve a goal and they can (feel) very restrictive. In order to reap the health benefits of these diets view them as a change in long-term eating patterns and pick one you will find enjoyable.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that adults eat at least 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day and opt for lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. Consume saturated fats, added sugars and salt in moderation.