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February 14, 2019

High-protein, low-calorie diet promotes healthy weight loss in obese seniors, researchers say

This diet reportedly allows seniors to maintain muscle mass and bone strength

Senior Health Diets
protein rich meal unsplash Mark DeYoung/Unsplash

The world of health and wellness loves to spout off one-size-fits-all approaches to diet plans and fitness regimens, but a new study claims to reveal the best diet for some older adults.

A high-protein, low-calorie diet helps older adults with obesity lose more weight, maintain more muscle mass, improve bone quality and lose "bad" fat, according to a study out of Wake Forest University.

Geriatricians, the doctors who specialize in the health care of older adults, have long struggled with how to recommend safe weight loss for seniors, because dropping pounds can lead to muscle and bone loss, according to a news release from Wake Forest. With that in mind, researchers aimed to quantify the risk of doing nothing by comparing results from a weight loss group vs. a weight stability group.

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Researchers said 96 adults over age of 65 were randomly split into two groups: a six-month, low-calorie meal plan that included more than one 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 and served as the control group. 

It’s worth noting that researchers decided not to include exercise in this study, because, according to the researchers, many older adults are unlikely to perform the volume and intensity of exercise needed to preserve muscle and bone.

After the six-month period, researchers found that participants in the higher-protein group lost about 18 pounds, most of it fat (87 percent), and preserved muscle mass. On the other hand, the control group lost about half a pound. The majority of fat was lost in the stomach, hips, thighs and rear — important areas for preventing or controlling cardiometabolic diseases such as diabetes and stroke.

Following the study, researchers had the weight-loss group follow a high-protein, nutritionally complete, reduced-calorie meal plan that included the use of four meal replacements, two meals of lean protein and vegetables prepared by the participants, and one healthy snack. That said, any high-protein, nutritious low-calorie meal plan would likely work in the same way.

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