With so many diets out there, each offering different benefits, how do you choose? What are the best midlife diets? It’s no secret that metabolism slows down and keeping weight off gets tougher during our 40s and 50s. But how do you control your weight and set yourself up for good health in the coming years?
Let’s look at some of the most popular and highly-rated diets in light of midlife concerns and priorities.
DASH your way to lower blood pressure
In US News and World Report’s annual diet review, DASH and the Mediterranean Diet tied for first place among Best Diets Overall.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. To me, the acronym recalls “Mrs. Dash” salt-free seasoning. As the name indicates, this diet’s primary goal is to help you lower your blood pressure. DASH has regular, weight loss and vegetarian versions. It emphasizes fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and low- or nonfat dairy. It also has you take in more minerals associated with lowered blood pressure such as calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Proponents of DASH suggest that it is an Americanized version of the Mediterranean Diet. The two eating plans are roughly similar. But DASH is a specific diet that derives from scientific research. It has a lot of guidelines. Some people may find it easier to know what they can and can’t eat on the DASH diet. If you want specific rules, DASH should be a top choice among best midlife diets.
A Mediterranean approach to healthy eating
On the other hand, you might prefer a few basic principles instead of many specific rules. In this case, check out the Mediterranean Diet. It’s not an actual diet program, rather an overall approach to eating. Scientists observe that Mediterranean people tend to live longer, healthier lives than many Americans. Hence the Mediterranean “diet” espouses benefits of an active lifestyle and certain general eating habits.
It means eating less red meat and more fish and seafood. You focus on whole grains, fruits and veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds, poultry and dairy in moderation. You have to limit sugar and saturated fat, but olive oil is good for you. Plus, you get to drink moderate amounts of wine — especially red wine.
I like that last point in particular. The Mediterranean Diet may not be geared to help you lose weight, but it embodies an ethos of moderation and enjoyment of the good life.
So many diets entail depriving yourself of the good stuff. But the best midlife diets are more realistic. Mediterranean Diet principles actually sound like something you could do. Besides, there’s romance in letting yourself imagine you’re eating à la Santorini or Marseille.
Eat to guard your MIND
The MIND Diet combines elements of DASH and the Mediterranean Diets to emphasize brain-healthy eating. The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) plan advises leafy green vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. It suggests avoiding foods from five “unhealthy” groups: red meat, butter, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.
A study funded by the National Institute on Aging and published in 2015 found that people who followed the MIND diet rigorously over a 4-year period lowered their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 53%. Even following the diet moderately turned out to lower one’s risk by 35%. Study researchers concluded that modest diet changes — even those falling short of DASH or Mediterranean Diet principles — could still reduce one’s risk of cognitive decline.
Lose It then Live It with the Mayo Clinic
The Mayo Clinic Diet focuses on healthy eating patterns you can sustain for life. You can jump-start weight loss with a two-week “Lose It” plan. In this phase you don’t count calories, get to snack as much as you want on fruits and vegetables, and limit sugar and saturated fat. You also ban eating in front of the TV and eating out unless you can adhere to diet do’s and don’ts in the restaurant.
The “Live It” phase teaches you about serving sizes and helps you make life-long diet changes. It recognizes that occasional diet cheating happens. But the key is getting back on plan and not letting these things derail your journey to better health.
The Mayo Clinic Diet* offers guidelines for heart-healthy, brain-healthy eating. It’s on my list of best midlife diets because it focuses on manageable changes to improve health. You can learn more about diet specifics in the book.
Lose pounds with Weight Watchers
Weight Watchers scored #1 in US News’ rankings of Weight Loss Diets. It ranked fourth in Best Diets Overall and first in Commercial Diets (diets that involve a fee). Weight Watchers’ Beyond the Scale program, launched in 2015, uses SmartPoint values rather than calories to help participants make healthier food choices. Thus, higher amounts of sugar and saturated fat have higher point values, while protein and veggies score lower points.
The goal is to keep your total SmartPoints under a certain daily amount. Two foods with the same number of calories may have vastly different point values if one is high fat, for example. By following the diet and counting your points, you learn healthier eating habits.
According to the company, Beyond the Scale dieters lost 15% more weight during their first two months on the new program. To support your weight loss journey, you can choose to join in face-to-face meetings, customized consulting or a variety of online tools.
Oprah bought 10% of the Weight Watchers and joined its board in October 2015. Her endorsement and other management changes, plus a strong equities market, have resulted in a stock price that’s now more than three times what it was back when Oprah bought in. An ideal midlife spokesperson, Oprah helps Weight Watchers earn a spot on my list of best midlife diets.
Turning around the company has involved significant business changes. But its strong financial results also give evidence of Weight Watchers’ broad appeal and perceived value for the money. In short, the diet works.
Flexitarian Diet for plant protein (mostly)
The Flexitarian Diet, ranked #3 in Best Diets Overall, takes a flexible approach to a vegetarian diet. The term originated in 2009 with The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life*.
Flexitarian eating revolves around plant protein like tofu, beans, lentils and nuts. It also includes veggies, fruit, whole grains, eggs and dairy. You eat vegetarian most of the time, but when you have an occasional urge to order a steak, you can do so without guilt.
Many people report that switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet has helped them lose weight and feel better. The Flexitarian Diet is among the best midlife diets because it emphasizes plant protein while accepting limited consumption of meat. I like this realistic approach to eating vegetarian.
A new diet is good, a new mindset is better
There are lots more popular diets that I haven’t discussed. For example, the Atkins Diet is a perennial favorite. Some people swear by the Paleo Diet, or eating like our caveman ancestors. More recently, Fast and Whole 30 have gained in popularity as ways to revolutionize our approach to food. Various juice cleanses offer spiritual as well as physical benefits.
I advocate trying a new eating plan, if only for a short time. While the more restrictive ones like Whole 30 can be tough to follow, they also can impart learnings about how certain types of food affect you. You can lose weight with any number of diets. But to keep it off, you have to change your mindset and attitude toward eating.
This changed-mindset thing is the toughest aspect of dieting. It’s hard to accept the fact that you will always have to limit “bad” carbs and sweets, for example. Yet at midlife, improved cardiovascular and cognitive health take on a higher priority than they once did. Maybe even a priority high enough to motivate developing a new mindset?
The best midlife diets have sensible goals
The best midlife diets approach food and weight loss in a sensible fashion:
- Mediterranean Diet
- Mayo Clinic Diet
- Weight Watchers
There no “magic bullet” among them. But each emphasizes balanced meals with fresh ingredients. Some focus on things to benefit your cardiovascular or cognitive health. They all aim to change your mindset toward food and make healthy eating a part of your ongoing routine — not just something you do to lose a few pounds.
My favorite is the Mediterranean Diet. Since it describes a way of life rather than prescribes exact guidelines, it’s vague enough to let me think I have no “real” restrictions. Only better and worse choices. Plus, who doesn’t want to live with a little Mediterranean cachet?
The best midlife diets suggest sensible eating habits that promote good health for life. While they offer guidance to people at any age, these plans are particularly relevant to people at midlife. You may want to lose weight. But by midlife, you’ve tried enough crash diets to know weight usually returns after the diet ends.
The best midlife diets require mindset shifts
Living healthier is a long-term life choice. For many of us, it’s a new mindset. Michael Jacobson, who popularized the term “junk food,” said in a recent article that eating healthier isn’t all that complicated.
But you have to get rid of the idea that a diet is something temporary. The best midlife diets give you guidelines for how to eat for the rest of your life. A longer, healthier life.
I’m glad to make different food choices so I can live longer and feel better. At the same time, sometimes you want that bowl of ice cream. Or that slice of cheesecake. Your happiness in that moment may even depend on eating cheesecake.
You know what I mean. Rules were made to be broken. And by midlife, we’ve earned the right to decide when we want to break the rules. So go ahead and eat that ice cream from time to time.
Eat it mindfully, eat it with joy. Because tomorrow you’ll be back on your diet, eating your way to long healthy life. Hopefully life that will include more ice cream ahead.